Barista Magazine

FEB-MAR 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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N NOVEMBER 10, Dale Harris—Baris- ta Champion of the United Kingdom— stood under the bright lights on a massive stage for his World Barista Championship (WBC) debut in the preliminary round, his wiry frame clad in a crisp white dress shirt and dark slacks, a snappy white apron cinched around his waist. He started the clock, approached the judges, performed his routine…and wasn't entirely happy with how it went. "I made some mistakes in my setup that meant that I was sloppy and I wasn't quite where I wanted to be," Dale recalls today. Later that day, huddled with his coach, Pete Williams, awaiting the live-scoring results, Dale was anxious. "I was scared that one of those sloppy mistakes would have cost me a chance to do it properly," he says. Dale and Pete had built an information-packed, science-infl u- enced routine intended to show how the steps taken by coffee produc- ers infl uence the fl avors in the fi nal cup. But it was at risk of being a one-and-done performance. When the results came down, Dale felt immense relief: He had placed in the top 15—good enough to live another day. With that scare behind him, Dale relaxed and nailed his semifi nal performance, nab- bing a coveted spot in the fi nal round as one of the top six among 57 national champions. And he sailed spectacularly through it. "Competing on fi nals day was a much easier and happier process—I felt I had proven to myself that I could perform at that level, I had achieved more than I expected, and I could go home happy," he says. "Looking at the other competitors, I expected to place sixth." At the awards ceremony, he stood shoulder to shoulder with exceptional baristas, many of whom had made it this far before. Dale knew it was unusual for a barista to win the WBC on their fi rst appearance—only four had done it before: the fi rst WBC champ, Robert Thoresen of Norway, in 2000; Stephen Morrissey of Ireland in 2008; Gwilym Davies of the U.K. in 2009; and Sasa Sestic of Aus- tralia in 2015. When the announcement came, Dale vastly exceeded expectations, becoming the 18th World Barista Champion crowned. While his WBC run is a story of resilience and triumph, it also mirrors Dale's life. From his fi rst job as a barista wiping tables at a roadside services station, to last November's win, Dale seems to have a "slow and steady" approach to life that allows him to perse- vere through challenges both big and small. These are the traits that those closest to him admire deeply. "Even when the going gets tough, nothing ever seems to phase Dale or change who he is: a pragmatic optimist with a high emotional intelligence and a constant drive to improve," says Jenn Rugolo, Dale's partner and managing director of the Tamper Tantrum podcast and lecture series that is the brainchild of Dale's boss, Hasbean's Steve Leighton, and 3fe's Colin Harmon. Since 2010, Dale's professional aspirations have been largely focused on Hasbean, the U.K.-based roaster for which he is director of wholesale. In a touching twist, the WBC emcee announcing Dale's win was Steve himself. "From the fi rst time I met him to announcing him as world champion, he has always been the same guy: happy, positive, smart—an all-around-amazing person," says Steve. "I love working with him: He challenges everything, but once we make a decision, he supports it and make things happen. His loyalty is only surpassed by his dedication to hard work." That hard work, of course, helped Dale become a global barista ambassador. Pete, his coach (himself the 2014 Barista Champion of Ireland), says that both Dale's work ethic and his willingness to listen to others have helped him excel. "He doesn't compete to just say he's the best or to get the title," says Pete. "He wants to learn, and he doesn't let his ego get in the way when someone says something isn't working or they don't like it. He goes away, reworks it, and makes it better every time." We had a chance to sit down with Dale after he was back home in Shrewsbury, U.K., about his pre-coffee life, his long journey through the U.K. barista competition circuit, his 2017 WBC experience, and much more. Chris Ryan: Firstly, Dale, give us some sense of your background please. Dale Harris: I grew up in a small town called Somerset in the south of England; it's actually the home of Clarks shoes. Growing up, most of my family worked for that company (my twin brother still does). It's a rural area with lots of muddy fi elds and dairy herds, and within the U.K., people from Somerset are normally thought to be a bit slow because our accent is associated with farming and country bumpkins. Like anyone from a small town, I dreamt of moving away to a big city, or just being somewhere different. When I was growing up, I spent most of my time wanting to be Alan Grant from Jurassic Park, or for a very little while, maybe something with the Air Force. CR: I understand you worked in fashion retail before coffee—how did that come to be and what was that career like? DH: As I grew up, Clarks invested heavily in setting up an out-of town shopping center, a big thing for our local area that created lots of jobs. While I was studying history at college, I began working in a shop owned by the Ben Sherman brand. As college fi nished, I took a full-time role there. This pretty quickly led to a national training role focused on improving service and presentation standards in stores, and helping the staff to better understand the brand. For a short time, this made me think I was pretty good at sales. But later, when I moved to a different brand (Billabong) and tried to apply those skills to my new job, I realized I'm actually just really good at talking about things I like with nice people. While I could see the quality of the product even though I'd never surfed, I really struggled to engage with it, and it became an unhappy thing. I decided whatever I did next, it would be working with something I enjoyed. I enjoyed coffee, so I followed that. CR: Can you tell me more about that transition into coffee and your early experiences with it? DH: Coffee has always been a part of my life, and it's been a steady pro- gression from the instant coffee I used to make my mum, to percolator brewers with freshly ground coffee that I drank lots of while studying, to mochas and fancy lattes as I began spending time in cafés. When I started working in coffee, I was a home enthusiast reading Barista Magazine and using a cheap home espresso machine trying to learn latte art. Because of where I lived, there were no real jobs in specialty—barely any jobs in coffee, really—so I followed the jobs to where they were and took a job working for a U.K. chain behind bar in a service station. I learned a little while I was there—mostly that it's hard work—but I followed the brand standards and learned what I could from the training until that job took me fi rst to working in a bigger store and later to managing a few stores in the southwest of London. Because of my experience working with fashion retail, I already knew a lot of the skills required to manage a small team and keep a shop profi table and tidy, so I progressed pretty quickly and went from wiping tables to managing fi ve stores within 18 months. I was a little sad that, beyond my own efforts, I stopped being taught about coffee after the second week. O 56 barista magazine

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