Our Barista Champions: Carl Sara 2004, 2005, 2007 & 2009

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.

Start in coffee

I started in Coffee in 1999. I finished a role as manager for a rural property development where we took blocks of farmland and developed them into smaller blocks planting significant Olive Groves making the largest in the southern hemisphere at the time, alongside a nursery, Ag contracting, and other surrounding skills that would emerge as useful later in my coffee career. I was working with a colleague who became a good friend out there on the development, and as the property development work concluded, we looked for a business to move into. We almost bought a motorbike touring company but ended up in a Muffin Break Franchise as a 22-year-old looking for a system that could help teach us more about running a business. One day I was working farms, operating excavators, bulldozers, and tractors, the next wearing an apron, baking carrot cakes, and making coffee. It was a bumpy transition.

Early competitions

A lady walked into the café to order coffee and was wearing a “Christchurch Barista Competition” t-shirt. I laughed at her that there could be a competition for making coffee (early 2000), and she encouraged me to enter, I asked if I’d make more money if I entered and she said “Sure” so I entered. After a couple of comps, we started to get some good marketing traction progressing into the WBC 2004 (Nationals in 2003). My first big break in a competition was the regionals in 2003 when I free-poured from a straight-walled jug with no spoon.


It wasn’t until I had returned from Trieste, and possibly even through the 2005 WBC that I viewed the competitions as more than a marketing exercise. The competitions began to change my life when the experiences I was having, and the people I was meeting opened my eyes to the true scope and potential that coffee holds. The non-linear inherently entrepreneurial career opportunities presented as very liberating and exciting. It became clear that coffee was so much more than making money in a 30sqm kiosk in a mall, but could be a life of global adventures, people, technology, networks, finance, and a full scope of interesting coffees. Competitions pushed me to be better at making coffee, but they also gave me a better life.


At first the money, then experience, and a career opportunity I am extremely proud and fortunate to have.

Memorable Experience

I have so many experiences with competitions that have been mind-altering for me. Being able to represent our Baristas from New Zealand on the global stage is incredible and something I am grateful for, but it has been the ones that have humbled me fully that have made big differences for me, and taught me a better perspective, but also what is possible. The natural losses and disappointments of competitions, how to manage them, and how to turn them into opportunities would be my biggest gain on a personal level. Beyond that the hundreds of incredible people I have met at events, parties, and poker games have been incredible.

Who helped

What defined “Team New Zealand” in the early days, was that in all other countries, there was a competitor who might have had some supporters from their employers, but New Zealand arrived at every event with a team representing our whole industry. Each event we had 15-20+ people who came to support and cheer me on. Our team of ever-supportive NZ’ers was my biggest sense of pride arriving at an event.

Emma MW, Chris White, Scott Manderson, and my Wife Rachael have been the cornerstones of my competing years and without a second of doubt, I could not have competed without them. Each of these people that I might not see every day, are some of the most important in my life who without question have supported and guided me over the years. Beyond this group, there are many many people, too many to name who have supported me with coaching, coffee, advice, sponsorship, or mentorship.


I now work at Sucafina, a Green Trading company as Managing Director for NZ and China. I split my time between those two countries importing coffee from every Origin, and in China, we are also producing coffee. We have built a large Wet Mill, and two Dry Mills in Yunnan which has been an incredible and challenging experience, alongside having been able to build some great teams to help us get everything done in NZ and China.

Without a doubt, competitions opened up the world of possibilities for coffee to me. I’ve owned cafes, a roastery, and an importing business and now also build and run Origin business’ processing and trading coffee with futures and forex, build and deliver sustainability programs and projects. I am incredibly proud to work in coffee and forever grateful to the competition and it’s people who got me to this point.