WBC Day 3 – The Finals

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Well it’s no surprise by now, the day after the WBC came to a close, who won. But it may be a surprise for those of you who weren’t able to be here in Tokyo to see just what happened yesterday at 10:30 am.

First let me set this up for you this way, the Tokyo Big Sight is a very futuristic, modern, Japanese, manga-esque crazy looking building. It’s very Tokyo. But that’s really just the outside. The inside is fine. I have no complaints, but it is a cavernous, usually empty building. That is it’s a convention center and as such it’s intended to be just like every other convention center in the world. And convention centers have things like trade shows in them. The day the SCAJ show and the WBC ended for example an E-learning convention was starting in another hall in the building. This is all just my way of saying, usually convention centers are not where you go to find crowds lined up waiting for the doors to open. It’s not like U2 plays convention centers.

But when Nick Cho and I walked into the Big Sight yesterday, there were literally hundreds of people already in line, waiting for the corregated metal doors to roll up. We had to hassel with security just to get Nick (the mc) in the side door. Security was tight for the WBC!

So as the clock hit the magic number, and the door started going up: it was a stampede! Seriously. People were ducking, sliding and dashing under the door as soon as the could fit through, racing to get a prime seat for the WBC finale. No one I talked to had ever seen anything like it. And if you don’t believe me, just take a look below.

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So obviously, we were in for another record setting crowd for the WBC, and media coverage was crazy. I had spent the previous two days on the stage shooting pictures of every competitor’s routine, but for the finals, I had to dodge not just competitors, judges, volunteers, the overhead feed camera, and Bellissimo’s film crew, but also Japanese TV, and literally dozens of other photographers.

But of course the WBC certainly wasn’t about me or any of those other media types covering the event, it was about the coffee and the baristas and the connection they made with the thousands of people in the audience. These people:

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So without further ado, here are your six finalists for the Eighth Annual World Barista Championship.

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First up was Anna Kaepelli, national barista champion of Switzerland. If the crowd, media attention and competition gave her any nerves, they certainly weren’t evident. Anna was a the very picture of a professional barista, and she invited the audience and judges to join her on her “journey through her world of coffee.”

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Anna began working a barista five years ago, and her passion for coffee has only grown stronger as she has dug herself deeper and deeper into its world and her craft. She was also obviously proud of her country, and spoke lovingly of her alpine homeland and represented it with honor, finishing the competition in fifth place.

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When the second competitor of the day, Miyuki Miyamae, barista champion of Japan took the stage, the crowd roared. When she called time, the place erupted!

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Miyuki works as a barista in Kobe, and she said she simply loves being a barista. “My customers give me a lot joy and happiness.” Miyuki does not speak English, yet she delivered her entire presentation in the language. She had memorized what she wanted to say in a completely foreign language and spoke flawlessly throughout her performance while at the same time giving tremendous attention to her work. Frankly I find the ability to do all of these things at once under the eyes of thousands of her countrymen, cameras, judges, and all the rest without flinching simply amazing, though it’s true that I feel that pretty much all of the barista performances here in Tokyo were outstanding. Miyuki is sure to bring her customers even more joy now that she has a fourth-place WBC finish under her belt.

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Some guy named James Hoffmann when next. He’s from the United Kingdom. I think everyone there only drinks tea, so I’m not sure if he realistically had a chance at winning the competition, but it was nice of him to try. We all appreciated the effort even if it cut into our time watching the telly.

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James created a signature drink with single origin Costa Rican and Kenyan coffees, roasted hazelnuts, garlic and tobacco among other ingredients. We’ve heard rumors that some judges say it was the best drink they had ever tasted, but James’ coach, Stephen Morrisey implied that they were probably being sarcastic and said James should have listened to him and used his secret recipe for a pizzaccino instead. Seriously though, James’ signature really must have been fantastic as it was awarded Best Signature Drink of the competition.

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New Zealand’s Carl Sara was the fourth competitor of the day, and as always, his loyal support team sported their matching all-blacks jerseys and lustily cheered him on. It was Carl’s third time in the WBC Finals, and for this year’s signature drink, he used a special vaporizer-like contraption to separate the aromas from his espresso. It looked pretty wild, and certainly drew the crowd’s interest.

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Carl put on a terrific performance and did his country proud with a strong third-place finish.

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Heather Perry, the first two-time USBC winner, was the fifth competitor of the day, and once again she put on a fantastic performance. She communicated her passion and love for coffee clearly and said that it was her first trip to origin that really brought her future into focus for her and saved the world from another lawyer.

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As if Heather’s dad, Mike Perry, owner of Coffee Klatch Roasting, needed any more reasons to be proud of her, Heather also won a new award introduced for this competition, best espresso! Heather finished in second place, the highest finish ever for a woman and for an American.

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The final competitor of the day was Silvia Magalhaes from Brazil. She works on a coffee farm in her home country and as a barista trainer. Silvia is a two-time national champion, and the first WBC finalist in history from a major coffee producing country.

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Silvia’s sixth-place finish in Tokyo was further evidence that the professional barista community continues to expand and is truly worldwide in scope, and proves without a doubt that baristas from producing countries will be seen in many more competitions to come.

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