Having recently scooped the UAE its first ever world title at the acclaimed World of Coffee global contest in Hungary, the 25-year-old Indian barista and coffee obsessive lets us in on the secrets of his brewing success…
How did you end up in the coffee business?
I started my coffee journey in 2013 as a barista at a McCafé in Dubai. But while my passion was initiated through latte art, I soon realised making the coffee taste better was far more important than making it look good, so I saved some money to buy a decent manual espresso machine to practise on and eventually started searching for better beans – which is when I found Raw Coffee Company. Their coffee knowledge is at another level, they’re coffee crackerjacks, and the fact their baristas were willing to share their knowledge, explore their creativity and challenge themselves got me excited. I joined their team on January 1, 2015, and they have supported and motivated me to learn, experiment and compete at championships ever since.
How challenging is the process of becoming a master barista?
There are no shortcuts and it’s important to stay passionate and open to learning new things. You need a decent palate to understand the flavour nuances possible, but equally important is the willingness to learn about the processes from tree to cup.
How big is World of Coffee and what does recognition there mean?
It’s the largest recognised specialty coffee trade show in the world, and there are seven competitions, each focusing on a slightly different area of the industry. Being crowned world champion means a lot to members of this community and opens many doors that would otherwise remain closed, but it’s not only the outcome that matters. What is more valuable is the learning process and how it flows into self-management, self-confidence and the ability to teach others in an effective way. At the end of the day, the doors open because of the things that you learn along the way to get you on that podium.
How would you describe your experience in the competition?
I rehearsed my whole presentation around 100 times, with our customers acting as judges to allow me to gain more confidence, but the world stage was still really nerve wracking. That said, I had a lot of memorable moments. Just two hours before my final presentation we received the news that we didn’t get the dry ice that was a major ingredient in my signature drink – so my coach went all around Budapest in an Uber looking for ice factories. He was able to get it for me just few moments before I was called to stage!
Did you think going into the competition that you could win?
It was seen as really hard for an Arabic country to win a World Coffee Championship, since we are not known for our specialty coffee culture. But I think that underdog mentality gave us the edge to work harder than everybody else. Being the World Coffee Champion was my life dream, and I achieved it.
Describe the feeling of hearing you’d come first.
To be frank, this year’s competitors were really tough but I had a small feeling I could possibly win. I believed in myself. When they announced the results, I was lost for words. I could only cry out of amazement, happiness, sadness – a complex concoction of emotion I can’t really put into words.
What do you think was the secret to your success?
This is my second time participating in the World Championships. Last year, when I placed third, I asked my judges what mistakes I made, and this year I worked harder and rectified those mistakes. I kept myself open to suggestions from my colleagues and customers, and experimented with my coffee constantly to make it better and better. I left no stone unturned.
What’s next for you?
Before, it was just about me chasing perfection, having an amazing time learning and experimenting. But after winning the World Championship, I feel it’s my duty to grow specialty coffee and pass my knowledge and expertise on to others. I want people to think of baristas as true professionals, with skill sets that must be practised and perfected. I feel a responsibility to make people understand that.