WBC Finalist #4: Colin Harmon, Ireland

Colin Harmon is a perennial crowd favorite. And it’s not because a rowdy bunch of Irish folks follow him from competition to competition, throwing green balloons and cheering him til their voices go hoarse. No, it’s because he is genuine, he is kind, he is professional. And Colin is also approachable. In fact, that element of service was the backbone of his spectacular finals round performance today in Vienna.

Team Colin representing.

Did you know that Colin had a very successful career in finance before he decided to make his obsessive coffee hobby into a profession? True story. He bought an Aurelia and set it up in his small Dublin apartment. And he went on to win again, and again, and again. He placed fourth in London at the ultra competitive 2010 WBC. And now he’s back again.

Back to service: Colin stripped down his stage time to the barest basics—or so it would seem. He chatted with the judges about what he sees as the owner of a cafe—some people coming in knowing all about coffee and trends, the intricacies of specialties. Others, however, walk in and feel daunted immediately by the small cups, the minimalistic menu that often accompanies a quality cafe. So Colin has made it his mission to make sure these people, “the regular people,” he says, feel as comfortable, if not moreso, than those who know the business.

Colin's deceptively empty service table. Would make you think his performance would be one dimensional, but nothing could be further from the truth.

So he structured his performance as more or less a lesson. At the beginning, he asked his judges to write down some descriptorsL red fruit acidity; creamy texture, apricot sweetness; and bitter peach finish. He went on to create a signature drink that was a caricature of what he found in the espresso (those descriptors). He had in a white thimble 4 apricots that had been dried and ground down, and he instructed the judges to dump that into an espresso. Then he had them pour some soda water from a small bottle into a large glass that already had some sort of peach water (forgive me, I missed that). And finally, there were tastes of a red fruit jam-looking thing. So he had them taste all these things.

The set of canisters with tastes in them facing the judges.

Then Colin pulled out a drawing (created by fantastic illustrator Bruno, who is the husband of Monika, the Slovakian Champion who works for Colin in Dublin) and explained to the judges that this was a caricature of Colin himself, with various features exaggerated. That was the parallel with the drink: an exaggerated presentation of what the espresso inherently possesses.

Colin with the cartoon.

Colin’s presentation was simply brilliant, and simply simple all the same. He found a way, and though I watched the entire thing, I still don’t know how he did it, to make coffee as exciting for the novice as for the expert. All spectrums enjoyed it, and the message he wanted to leave his judges with could not have been more successfully communicated: “Make nice drinks. Be nice to people. Earn trust.”

Bravo, Colin.

Final time: Under 15

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.