Interview with Alan Bruce – New Zealand Cup Tasters Champion 2019

We interviewed Alan Bruce after his legendary fifth placing at the World Cup Tasters Championship in Berlin, June 2019.
You’ve entered the Brewers and Barista Championships before, what made you finally decide to enter the Cup Tasters? 
I haven’t competed in the Barista Championship for a few years and I’m not sure if I’ll do it again, I don’t have the time to commit to it these days. It turns out I still have a bit of a competitive side though, so I felt like this would be a good time to try Cup Tasters. I had no idea that I would win, though. That came as a huge surprise!
Did you feel fully prepared for what the competition would be like at the Worlds given that this was your first time competing at that level?
I did once I got there! I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of difficulty, so we tried to make my training as challenging as possible in the weeks leading up to it. Once I started tasting the first few sets, I knew we’d prepared enough. My only aim was to get past the first round, so to finish fifth was an incredible feeling.
Tell us about your feelings during the performance:
I was very nervous in the opening round, [as I was] one of the first people to compete. I could barely get the spoon to my mouth with my shaky hands. As the rounds went on, I got a bit more confident and started to relax a little.
Did you learn any hints and tips from the other cuppers? 
Not directly, but I do know that Daniel (Horbat, 2019 Cup Tasters Champion) was on an insane diet for months leading up to the competition to try and keep his palate as clean as possible. I don’t know if I could put myself through that, I enjoy my food and drink too much.
People have described Cup Tasters as a mind game, what advice do you have for competitors new to the competition?
I think the key is to practice. You’ve got no idea what coffees you’re going to be tasting on the day, so you need to taste a range of coffees in the run-up to the competition. Set up proper triangulations and practice as though it’s the real thing. It’s a different discipline from the tasting that you might do cupping or dialling in, so you need to treat it differently. Don’t let the time pressure get to you.
Apart from the cancellation of your flight there, delaying your journey by two days, what was the most memorable thing that happened? 
The most memorable thing was getting to meet a few baristas that I admire, like Agnieska Rojewska and Cole Torode. Also, feeling all of the support from New Zealand via Instagram and Facebook was amazing – I got so many messages and congratulations – I couldn’t believe how many people were watching, especially considering the time difference with Berlin.
What was the best thing to come out of your experience in terms of professional development? 
I think my skills as a cupper have improved greatly over the course of preparing for the competition. Even though Cup Tasters is a different discipline to full cupping, there’s a huge benefit to the speed with which you’re able to process the information.
What would you do differently next time? 
Well, ideally I’d get every cup right! I don’t think I would adjust my strategy too much – maybe I’d take my time a little more in the later rounds, and concentrate on accuracy over speed.
Has the experienced encouraged you to compete again… like are you going to defend your title again next year?! 
I’ve definitely still got the competition bug! It’s the best way to keep pushing yourself to progress. I’m not sure about defending the title yet, it’s a lot of pressure to live up to, but I’ll definitely compete again. I’m also going to be doing some more coaching this year.
Where would your dream World Coffee Events location be?
For the competition itself, I don’t think it matters too much where you are. My dream location would probably be somewhere that I haven’t been yet – Maybe New York?
During the downtime in Berlin, what exciting coffee/adventures/tourist things did you discover? 
It was mostly coffee, beer, and food! I visited all of the usual suspects – The Barn, Five Elephant, etc
What’s next for Alan Bruce?
That’s a good question. I’m coaching for the New Zealand Barista Championship next year and I’ll continue to train for Cup Tasters. Other than that, I’m going to be training for Q certification and focusing on becoming the best roaster I can be.
Anyone you’d like to thank? 
Absolutely. I couldn’t have made it without the support of Flight Coffee and especially my coach/training partner Luise Metelka who really pushed me to practice much more often than I would have otherwise. I’d also like to thank the NZ Specialty Coffee Association for putting together a great national championship, and supporting me through my time at Worlds.
Thanks for your time Alan and especially volunteering to MC at both the Meadow Fresh Barista Championship and Meadow Fresh Latte Art Championship 2019.
We are looking forward to the 2020 season. More details here>