NZ Brewers Cup Champion, Ria's 5 Reasons why you should compete in the Brewers Cup

New Zealand Brewers Cup Champion Ria shares her experience competing in the world championship:
5 Reasons Why You Should Compete in the NZ Brewer’s Cup
There are many reasons why baristas join competitions. For me it was about forcing myself to take some of my basic brewing skills to the next level, and at the same time getting the chance to zestfully share a good cup of coffee with other people. My work is most of the time systems heavy, the NZ and World Brewer’s Cup gave me an outlet to exploit my creativity, travel through a quest of discovering new tastes and fuel my desire to connect to people with similar passions. And surely enough I was in for a rollercoaster ride! Here are some reasons why you should join the next Brewer’s Cup:
Competitor meet and greet a day before competition. I met so many talented and passionate coffee brewers from around the world!
No1: You are forced to deeply understand basic concepts and build a solid foundation.
There are many variables in brewing as we all know, understanding and mastering all of them takes time and practice. Sure there are scenarios that can be tricky. I did realise that even in the compulsory round, where there is no taste explanation, it can be a challenge to brew and please. After all, strength and balance are a matter of personal preference. It is a good idea to systematically practice for this round using coffees of varying roast degrees and development. What do you do if the roast is not well developed, the coffee has low solubility and bitter? What if you get a grinder that produces an extremely uneven grind? Which brewing method is most appropriate for the amount of time given? These are just some situations to think about and certainly it is wise to practice for the compulsory round as much as for the open service.
6:30 AM. Last dial in at the apartment on competition day. For me, the coffee tasted wonderful, like juicy, sweet oranges!
No2:Practice and experience sharpen your taste buds.
When you accept that taste is relative, that it is built upon taste experiences from when you were a baby, it opens a whole new dimension in understanding flavour. For the next champions, I would definitely recommend having his or her coffee tasted by many people and possibly World Brewer’s Cup judges from around the world. My Asian-influenced taste buds definitely were definitely useful, but judges are sure to come up with taste descriptions of their own based on their taste experiences. I was fortunate I had a lot of experienced NZ coffee people taste my coffee, but I wonder what descriptors I would have been led to discover if I had asked someone in say Malaysia or Amsterdam taste the coffee.
One of the judges picked up cocoa and dark cherries in my coffee, aroma and flavour notes we hadn’t tasted before. Very interesting! (Photo by Dianne Wang.)
No3: Get to sweat the small stuff, at least in competition.
This is what practice does, you get to a point where the little things get noticed, reviewed, criticised, overhauled and eventually changed. It is a cycle that’s inevitable if one would like to improve. We had revised my script just over a week before competition, I felt anxious about it but it needed to be done. Baristas who have competed before on the world stage would know how important the minor details are. Smiling at the right time may affect customer service, cup weight may affect the coffee’s temperature during service as much as room temperature can, and a few more superlatives in the script may have a great positive effect on taste experience. After all, there are only a few minutes to make an impression and prove a point. I was thoroughly pleased to have told the story of my journey on the world stage, however at the end of the day, precious points were awarded to elaborate taste descriptions and sometimes overly geeky brewing methods. The story was probably only 10% important, if I could put a number against it. For the next NZ competitors, I suggest breaking down the score sheets in percentage rather than points so you can see the weight of each attribute in a logical order. Quite an obvious strategy but beneficial if the high weight attributes are prioritised when they are conveyed in the presentation.
It was a chaotic circus in the competitor room. We are lucky to have our competitions in NZ so well organised. Some competitors had a team of coaches, like the Olympics!
Back room

No4: Meet amazing people who are as passionate (and OCD) as you.
From Tim Grocott my cup maker, to the Gallardos my coffee producers, to all the people I’ve met throughout this journey, I can say I have forged friendships which would never have happened had I not competed. It’s an incredibly magical thing to connect through coffee. I’m fortunate to have met genuine people who went the extra mile to help out. Jose and Ailenne Gallardo for example, flew in from Panama to support their champions Lem Butler of the USA, Silvester Samonte of the Philippines, and me. Spending time with them after the competitions was truly special, with tears running down from Ailenne’s eyes before we parted I knew I’m forever part of their coffee family.
Breakfast on a Sunday at 3FE was time well spent with people who have influenced me in coffee. Left to right: Scott Pepler (coach), Silvester Samonte (Philippine barista champion), and the Gallardos, Jose, Ailenne and Arlyn (producers at Finca Nuguo in Panama).
No5: Springboard on other people’s experiences and learnings.
Forget and don’t even think about snobbery and rejection, reach out for help (we all need it) and more often than not, people are keen to offer a helping hand. I definitely would make it my mission to assist the competitors next year and of course the champion. It would be most beneficial to have everyone start where I ended. Yes?
Overall, it was an extremely memorable experience and I managed to keep sane through it all. I’m back to my normal work and family life (thank goodness), and I surely don’t miss my brewing nightmares! There are of course heaps more to learn and uncover in coffee and this competition opened a #newrealm for me. My question is, what could be yours to discover if you compete next year? It all starts with an idea and a decision, so go for it!
Expect the unexpected. My grinder plug after 40 hours of travelling. One of the many things that happened en route to Dublin. Fun!
@rialingad on Instagram
Drinks Ria
Additional images stolen with thanks from Dianne Jialei Wang