Coffee king perks up to brew winner in Dubai contest
DUBAI // The best baristas in Asia and the Middle East gathered in Dubai yesterday in a bid to be crowned the king of coffee.
The 12 Costa staff served up hot or cold cups of coffee mixed with everything from orange juice to After Eight chocolate as part of a two-day competition at Le Royal Meridien hotel. Each of the finalists in the Middle East and Asia Barista of the Year competition had won national competitions in countries including Oman, Cambodia and Kazakhstan.
“What we see here is the creme de la creme,” said Judd Williams, director of Middle East and Asia at Costa. “They are all champions of the countries where they come from.”
The first-day finals involved making espressos and lattes at speed, as well as fixing a broken coffee machine.
Andy Marshall, the managing director of Costa’s international franchise network, said the judges had to taste about 44 cups of coffees on the first day. “God bless them, the judges yesterday were as high as kites on caffeine,” he said.
Thankfully for the judging team, the second day of the contest involved tasting no more than 11 cups, with each competitor making their own signature coffee based on a recipe of their choosing.
Lasantha Pigera, 25, one of two UAE baristas taking part, created a cold coffee made with ginger, lemongrass and white chocolate. Mr Pigera tested his brew out on colleagues, and occasionally customers, before the competition.
“I had to go outside the shop to find the ingredients,” he said. “It took me about 50 or 60 attempts to make the syrup just right.
“I listened to a lot of feedback from people and made adjustments. The challenge is to not listen to people in the last week before the competition because everyone says something different and it can affect your confidence.”
Mr Marshall said the creation, called ginger lemesso was “a nice after dinner drink”.
“I thought the lemongrass would overpower it but it’s very balanced,” he said.
After last year’s competition, Costa began selling a rose-flavoured mocha made by one of its champion baristas.
Mr Marshall said discovering new tastes and combinations was part of the reasons for holding the competition. “We’re looking for real innovation in how they take our coffee and turn it into a speciality drink,” he said. “If we find some great drinks, we’ll bring them into shops.
“This isn’t just a game for our people to make them feel good. There’s a reality where we can turn their great thinking into fantastic products.”
In addition, he said the competition helped improve staff morale.
“If we can give them more passion and excitement about the product, then they’ll look forward to getting up to go to work,” he added.
This year’s winner was Jonathan Kahano, a Filipino who works at the Costa branch in Saudi Arabia’s Dammam Airport. He will now travel to the Costa World Championship in London on October 22 where he will compete against baristas from China, Europe and the UK.
The first prize for becoming world champion is a trip to any coffee growing country in the world.
“You won’t be surprised that most people choose Brazil and then spend their holiday in Rio,” said Mr Marshall.
“However, the most important thing for people who take part is just to raise the trophy and show that they are the best.”
Updated: August 29, 2013 04:00 AM