BOGOTA — Their life, their work and their passion revolve around coffee, yet this is the first time the world barista championships have taken place in a major coffee-producing country.
“My passion is coffee. For others it is football,” said the Romanian Mihai Panfil, one of the 56 national winners of the coffee-serving contest trying to succeed world champion Michael Phillips of the United States. “It is something I love,” he said.
Panfil, along with other national barista winners, arrived in Colombia at the beginning of the week. Like many of the other contestants, he had never been to a coffee-producing country. “For me it is a dream come true,” said Panfil. “Representing my country, and visiting a coffee farm. For me and all the other baristas, that’s very important.”
Now in its 12th year, the World Barista Championship will crown the barista who makes the best espresso, cappuccino and speciality drinks. Previous contests were held in the United States, Norway and Switzerland, but this is the first time it’s been held in a coffee-growing country. Colombia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers.
The host of the event, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, represents some 500,000 family coffee farms, and is taking the national winners on a tour of Colombia’s principal coffee belt.
Frenchman Ludovic Loizon, who has spent 15 years as a barista and represented his country four times in the world championships, said that in France, the coffee culture is influenced more by the English tradition of filtered coffee than espresso, a thicker coffee which is made by forcing hot water through finely ground beans.
“I want to improve the quality of the coffee consumed in France, and pass on the message of perfection and quality,” said Loizon, who has founded his own barista school to do just that.
Both Panfil and Loizon say the secret to being a great barista is the passion they bring to their work.
Vicky Fitz-Henry, a three-time participant in the Irish barista championships, finished second twice before winning her country’s championship this year.
“It’s hard to put into words what I like about being a barista,” said Fitz-Henry, who joined the profession in 1999. “It was an accident, and not a very romantic one: I just needed a job. But I immediately fell in love with the drink.”
Fitz-Henry said she knew that Colombian coffee had an excellent reputation, but what she will remember was “all the pieces that come together to produce a cup. And the passion of the producers.”
Panfil, Loizon and Fitz-Henry are each nervously awaiting the outcome of the finals, hoping to reach the top 12, which were to be announced Friday, and the top six, which will be decided on Saturday.
Judges evaluate the taste of the beverages, as well as the barista’s presentation, technique, cleanliness and service skills.