As we move towards 2024 and the return of regional barista events we want to acknowledge and celebrate the past and the people that were part of the journey in New Zealand. We asked our past champions about their journey in coffee competitions in NZ to help inspire the competitive baristas and coffee community of 2024.
Where and when did you start in coffee?
I started coffee in 2007, the same year I migrated to Christchurch from Japan. Back then, I had no experience in hospo and no work experience in NZ so I took some hours of personal barista training which is where I really got interested in coffee. My first job as a barista was at a eatery/cafe called Inferno where I made my very first friend in NZ!
When did you first start to compete?
2009 Christchurch Regionals was my first year competing in NZBC.
What did you learn along the way?
Skills and knowledge of course, but I think the biggest part I learnt was more on the mentality side. Keeping the mindset of professionalism and staying proud of being a professional barista, but at the same time reminding myself to be humble helped me learn new things from the younger generation.
What was your motivation, what did you want to achieve?
I think competition is not only about the placing. Actually, my biggest enemy is myself because I know my weakness better than anybody else. My motivation is over coming my weakness because I don’t want to accept myself knowing the weakness but not facing it. Competition helps me grow into a stronger and gentle person at the same time by pushing my limit and understanding the pain and sacrifices we make along the way. As long as I can admit my weakness, I will keep competing. Recently, I found a new side of me that I enjoy expressing myself through coffee so I think it’s helping me to analysis myself too.
Most memorable experience as a champion, what did you get out of it?
It’s definitely the ticket to compete overseas that gave me the opportunity to connect with coffee professionals from other counties. Making friends with like minded people who work in a different country is definitely stimulating and for most, you learn something new from them. I had a coffee shop called Catalyst back in the days and that was run by myself and the Singaporean champion from 2014 when we met at WBC. These things do happen by knowing the outside world!
Who helped you along the way?
I’d been competing for quite some time. Each year those people who helped me has changed except one person, Akio. Akio helped me from Day 1 and we grew together. Eventually, he expanding his territory and now I’m not even allowed to touch my gears on the competition day until he finish the preparation. My job is to rest as much as possible so I won’t be tired when I go up on stage. This is literally a team work, just like rally where he is in the passenger seat navigating and me in the driver seat listening to his words carefully. It took us long time to get to this point but now I can’t even think of myself competing without his support.
Where are you now?
I worked as a barista for 15 years. I avoided being a manager or in other positions after learning that behind the machine is where I belong. However, pandemic changed the way how I think. I can come back to working as a barista but I knew I had much more to learn beyond making coffees and so I am now working at Coffee Tech as general manager. It may sound like my coffee journey has been put on pause but the truth is, I am learning a lot more about coffee itself now more than any other time. This knowledge helped me win the NZBC2022 and helped Akio win the AeroPress this year. I’m eager to learn more in this environment now to one day come back as a better barista than what I use to be.