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 had my first taste in making coffee when I did my hospitality management course in 2000 at the Christchurch Polytechnic. I still remember the machine I learned to make my first coffee on (the old La Rocca)
When did you first start to compete? My very first competition was in 2002, which looking back was rather funny at the old Robert Timm’s local competition at CPIT. In 2003, I had my first attempt to make it to the world barista champs, at the Regionals in Christchurch. I remember that I completed against 3 million baristas at the regional, actually 48 competitors if I remember right and I made it into the top 10.
What did you learn along the way? I learned that competing involves a lot of hard work, passion for coffee, and a ton of practice. However, it was satisfying to learn so much about coffee and the challenges that coffee offers.
What was your motivation, what did you want to achieve? My motivation was to do the best I could in the competition, share my knowledge in coffee, and challenge myself to be the best I could be. And like any other barista to represent their country in world barista championships with a dream of winning.
Most memorable experience as a champion, what did you get out of it? Honestly, there are a few, however for me, being a foreigner and representing New Zealand in the world champs was very satisfying. In 2007 my wife Melissa and I opened our first cafe, I believe that the skills I learned through the competitions made me a better barista with lots of knowledge and a greater understanding of coffee.
Who helped you along the way? Lots of people were there to help me on more than one occasion over the years. In no particular order, Mr Bernard Smith and Paul Baker from Vivace with access to great coffee, Carl Sara with his experience (it’s all about the coffee), Emma (Gezza) for telling me off when she was here in Christchurch saying keep practicing those shots Luciano, she was hard to satisfy. Chris White for making a few trips to Christchurch as well to watch and judge me on my runs for the champs, Chris Uren for always being around helping, and last but not least, Melissa my wife for always being by my side supporting me. I reckon by the third time I represented NZ at the WBC she could do my run for me.
Where are you now? Nowadays, we have two cafes, Luciano Espresso Bar and Strange Bandit by Luciano, I am still making coffee every day for my loyal customers and I still love it.