10 questions with Alan Bruce about competing in the Fushan Cup

Alan Bruce of Flight Coffee Roasters was invited by the organisers of the Fushan Cup International Barista Championship to fly to China to compete in the competition. The competition has been running for six years and is run by the local government. It is the same format as the World Barista Championship it is an invitational competition for competitors who have performed well at a national level, so while not everyone is a champion, there’s an expectation of a high standard of performance.
In previous years International competitions have reached out to the NZSCA for a New Zealand Barista Championship Competitor to compete in their competitions. Carl Sara, Aymon McQuade, Hanna Teramoto and Luciano Marcolino have all competed in the Asian Barista Championship which is held bi-annually in Singapore. This is the first year that organisers from the Fushan Cup reached out to invite a top ranking New Zealand Competitor to compete in their Championship.

Alan building his signature drink. 

How did you get involved with this competition?
The organisers got in touch with Emma Markland Webster a few weeks before the competition to see if any of the New Zealand competitors would like to compete. When she approached me to ask if I was interested, I didn’t really have a coffee or a routine  but it was too good an opportunity to pass up!
What is your most memorable coffee experience?
This has probably been my most memorable experience. It’s the first time that I’ve really interacted with the coffee community internationally. I met some awesome people and it was particularly interesting to meet baristas from coffee producing countries (the Colombian and Kenyan entrants finished 1st and 5th, respectively).
Had you ever participated in any coffee competitions before? Which competitions were they?
I’ve competed in the NZBC four times now, I think. This year I also had a go a the Brewer’s Cup, which was interesting because it’s a little less stressful in terms of nailing down a performance to the second. I’m pretty keen doing both again. Not Latte Art though, never Latte Art (I’ve got nothing against it, I’m just rubbish).
Tell us your results if you want to.
So, in Fushan, things didn’t go too well for me and I think I ended up 16th out of 21 competitors. I was less prepared than I would normally be because there was a fairly short notice period and so a few things went wrong on the day.
What did you learn from the competition process?
What I learned from the competition process this time round is don’t count on airlines paying attention to ‘FRAGILE’ stickers on your cases! My case that had my grinder in it took a bit of a beating, so the grinder’s a bit dinged up now. It’s the first time I’ve travelled to a competition, so a lot of what I learned was around being organised and having backup plans. I’m used to being able to grab stuff on the day when the competition is in Wellington!
How did you find your Championship city?
China sort of defied my expectations. Fushan is not a Shanghai or a Beijing. It’s a fairly rural town that is very much ‘under construction’. There are high rise apartment blocks being built everywhere, but there’s no one in them, so it’s quite eerie as it gets dark and there are no lights on anywhere.
What was the best coffee you had in that city?
The best coffee I had was a sip from a fellow competitor’s coffee backstage. It was a natural processed Gesha from Panama. It was a super light roast for espresso, but still had plenty of sweetness alongside those classic jasmines and citrus notes. The other notable coffee was the local style – roasted in a pan to second crack, then covered in butter and roasted some more, then thrown into boiling sugar for another few minutes. After cooling, it was ground in a stone mill with very little regard for particle size distribution, then brewed in a big ‘sock’ style pour over and mixed with condensed milk. It’s insanely sweet and strong and not for the faint hearted.
Is there anything you would change about the Championship? What feedback would you give to the international organisers?
The only change to the competition I would suggest is the supplied machine. It was a two group FAEMA Legend. Almost all of the competitors had issues with unstable water temperatures, ridiculously hot cups, and the fixed steam wand. The stage was also a bit bouncy, which wreaked havoc with sensitive scales. That said, the competition was well organised and stayed on schedule for the whole two days.
What would you like to be doing in five years? Still in coffee?
I don’t even know what I’ll be doing in five minutes! I think I’m in it for life. There’s always more to learn about coffee, and that really appeals to me, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it. I’ve gone from barista to trainer, to roaster so far and I still feel like a novice some days.
Is there anyone in coffee who particularly inspires you? Why?
I’m a big fan of the Hoff (that’s James Hoffmann, not David Hasselhoff… although). I enjoy the way he thinks and writes. And Knight Rider.
What advice would you give next year’s National Champion?
Learn from your scoresheet, know where you missed out on points and pick them up in Seoul!

Coffee roasting in Fushan