Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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FTER 20 YEARS of the World Barista Championship (WBC), doing something new and strange and memorable has become almost impossible. Consider that more than 1,000 baristas have competed in this renowned global event over its history, and then factor in the rule changes and restrictions, and the increasingly structured nature of the event: The sagacity required of baristas to distin- guish themselves creatively has grown exponentially elusive. Over the many years Barista Mag has been covering this compe- tition—considered the preeminent coffee contest on the planet—a handful of moments in a winning performance stand out: Ireland's Stephen Morrissey working to a thundering soundtrack, almost running toward his judges balancing four espressos on an extended arm in front of him, cinching his 2008 victory; the complexity of Tim Wendelboe's espresso tiramisu, which he served almost coquettishly to judges in 2004, winning the title for Norway; or that complicated table Poland's Agnieszka Rojewska assembled onstage at the 2018 WBC, affording her a performance platform more effi cient and viable than anything we'd seen before. In Boston at the 20th WBC in April, the woman who would become champion delivered a presentation every bit as extraordinary as those standout moments. In fact, she gave us quite a few of those moments, which we'll remember as competition-changing well into the future. On that stage on April 14, she turned the WBC on its ear. Joo Yeon Jeon hails from Gimhae, a suburb of the bustling port city of Bu- san in the Republic of Korea, where she has lived her whole life with her family. She says growing up she was "just a tiny and ordinary girl" who liked hanging out with her friends more than studying. Still, she enrolled in a university program majoring in social welfare after completing high school, and had her sights set on becoming a kindergarten teacher. The job she got at MOMOS Coffee in Busan when she was 20 years old was meant simply to be a revenue stream while she worked on her studies. Today, she's 32, and she's still at MOMOS. Over those 12 years, Joo Yeon hasn't been the only one changing and growing: Specialty coffee throughout South Korea has exploded, with the number of shops sextupling between 2006 and 2011. By 2018, there were more than 26,000 cafés in Seoul alone—and those numbers are continuing to rise. That actually makes the business of MOMOS all the more special, and here's why: Owner Hyunki Lee is emphatic in his focus on quality, which means he doesn't have particular interest in major expansion, something quite the opposite of the meteoric growth in the special- ty-coffee culture elsewhere in the country. MOMOS has an interna- tional reputation as a one-off café, roastery, and bakery with excep- tional coffee and outstanding customer service. It's not at all a stretch to think this was the breeding ground for a WBC champion. Hyunki prioritizes sustainable practices not only in his coffee buy- ing and retail operation, but in the way he treats his staff—that's why so many of them, Joo Yeon included, have stuck around for so long. He says their welfare is imperative; his intent is to keep them happy, healthy, and motivated. Before MOMOS, Joo Yeon didn't even like coffee. Well into her fi rst year at the company, she says she preferred making coffee to drinking it. That changed though, and now, as Korea's fi rst WBC champion, she looks forward to the opportunity to promote this thing she's grown to live her whole life around. "I want to introduce the world of specialty coffee to people, not only the professionals, but also the people who don't know this fi eld," she says. "I want to broaden the public's con- cept of specialty coffee." Make no mistake: Joo Yeon started competing because she had a hunger to win. She fi rst became aware of the WBC in 2009, when it was held in Atlanta in conjunction with the Specialty Coffee Associa- tion of America Expo (SCAA). "For me, WBC 2009 was a very special moment. When I saw [Gwilym Davies of the U.K., who won that year's competition], I was very impressed. Their motions and attitudes seemed wonderful to me. So I wanted to be there as they were," she says. "After [that] experience, my passion for specialty coffee has been much higher." Let's talk about tenacity: The year after watching Gwilym, Joo Yeon competed in the Korean Barista Championship for the fi rst time. She made it to the semifi nal round. The next year, same—semifi nals. She took a year off. Then in 2013, she placed second. In 2014, second again. 2015: third place. Then she took another, longer break. It helped. In 2018, she won the national competition. Joo Yeon couldn't believe it—that she would represent Korea at the WBC in Amsterdam. In considering what that looked like, one person stood out in her mind as someone she wanted by her side: Federico Bolanos. Joo Yeon had trained with Federico for the 2014 Korean Barista Championship—she has great respect for him. Federico has a track record as one of the top barista-competition trainers in the world, which began when he coached Alejandro Mendez in 2011. After Ale- jandro—who at the time was Federico's employee at Viva Espresso in San Salvador, El Salvador—became the fi rst WBC champ to hail from a Central American coffee-producing country, Federico's coaching abilities were in demand. Joo Yeon knew she needed him in her preparation work for Amster- dam, and he was eager to help. "She is committed and hard-working— she knows that there is no substitute for hard work or any shortcuts for success," he says. "She is also determined and persistent with her goals: She understands that achieving great things takes time and requires getting back up from falls along the journey." Upon winning her national championship in 2018, and at the behest of Federico, Joo Yeon spent two months in London in a rigorous English-language program. "Actually, I am good at speaking English, but two months was still a short time to improve my language skills," she says. The most important thing to come out of the study, she says is that "those two months made me overcome my fear about English. I can communicate now with barista friends all over the world." She admits that she probably over-practiced for Amsterdam: "I was so nervous and had too many things to present. It made my mind too burdened. To overcome it, I practiced and practiced—and practiced!— every day to avoid some sort of mistake, because no one can foresee what will happen in actual competition." "My nervousness [caused me to] make a mistake in actual com- petition in Amsterdam, in the end. I didn't do tamping while making espresso in semifi nal! Even the thought of it now, I don't know why I did such dumb mistake." Anyone who watched Joo Yeon in Boston can vouch for the pure pleasure she exhibited during her stage time. After her heartache in Amsterdam, she came to realize that enjoying the process would be necessary for her to succeed. "My fi rst WBC was with endless tension. At that time, I wanted to show everything I have because [I didn't know] if I [would] have another chance," she says. "That made so much [of a] burden for me. I didn't enjoy preparing for WBC at all." With new wisdom and perspective, she, Federico, and her other coach, Jeongsoo Pak of MOMOS, set their focus on the next national championship. Federico is still in awe of how she prioritized an overall sense of well-being and awareness—she knew she needed content- ment and self confi dence to win. "She didn't change who she was as a person, but she defi nitely became evolved as a competitor," he says. "She gained more experience and this made her more self-assured and relaxed on stage." Joo Yeon is quick to agree. "This year was different. I have changed my mind. I didn't care about others' attention, but [rather] focused on 65 www.baristamagazine.com

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