As we move into 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 cut my teeth on Wellington’s Parade Cafe coffee machine (when Sam Low was a 5yo), having initially started working there in the kitchen, the front of the house looked to be where all the fun was. But, the coffee bug bit hardest when I started working at a cafe in Sydney, soon after.
When did you first start to compete? 2011
What did you learn along the way? I learned that I’m annal-retentive af. I learned that I’m more competitive than I’d thought. I learned that, like anything, getting good at presenting takes practice. And aside from the things I learned about myself, I learned more than I ever thought there was to know about coffee.
What was your motivation, what did you want to achieve? I was not motivated by winning. I was motivated by a want to learn. It could have been a tea championship, I just wanted to learn stuff from other people. I also wanted to challenge myself by putting myself in an uncomfortable environment (on stage).
Most memorable experience as a champion, what did you get out of it? There was that one time when Emma MW bought us KFC for lunch during one of the workshops. But, the opportunities which opened up for me were extraordinary. Invitations to compete in South Korea, in Singapore, and (before becoming Champ) an invitation to be a calibration barista for the 2011 Word Champs in Bogota, Colombia. What did I get out of it? World travel, new friends, exposure to myriad other cultures, tasting mind-blowing coffee, a huge boost to my personal brand (which profoundly helped me into the role as the inaugural Exec Director role for the NZSCA), plus so much more!
Who helped you along the way? The shoutout list is long but I remember Emma MW saying to me one day when I was having moments of doubt ‘Well, someone’s gotta win it!’ Stu Hargie and David Burton had a huge impact on me re knowledge and mindset. And, of course, Alla Heta was my rock – supporting me in the lead-up to the NZ Champs, and then of course my +1 at the World’s. True legends.
Where are you now? Still loving coffee, still making coffee (FW for my wife in the morning). But, I work in HR now. It’s been a healthy change, but the coffee in the office is trash, so I bring mine from home, obviously.