Greece’s own back-to-back two-time Hellenic Barista Champion gave us the run-down on what we call: The story behind the Barista Champion.
Nikos poured up a cup of hot filtered coffee and shared his journey with us. It went a little something like this:
I’ve been involved in the coffee industry since 2009. It wasn’t exactly where I thought I’d end up considering I was studying Medical Engineering at the time – totally different ends of the earth! The best way to describe this relationship: As soon as I started learning about how much really goes on behind the ‘bean to cup’ process, I instantly fell in love with it – and was so eager to learn more. So that’s exactly what I did. Let me take you through my journey: 🗺️
My Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) journey began in 2013 when I would part-take in seminars and courses that educated us on each stage of the coffee process from start to finish. It was through these learnings that I turned my attention towards the farming process behind the coffee. For example, the cultivating, harvesting, and fermenting that is so important to the quality of coffee we drink every day.
“ In fact, that’s what has always made my eyes light up about being in this industry since day one. Seeing the whole process come to life from start to finish and seeing how it’s much bigger than just the final product of a cup of coffee. ”
I took part in my first SCA competition in 2015. Since then, I’ve been competing every year for 7 years and have been 100% involved – it’s a relationship I hold very close and put a lot of my pride into.
The Samba Coffee Journey:
Let me start by saying that Samba Coffee Roasters has played a huge role my success. I started working at Samba in 2016 as a barista and took on the position of Head Roaster in 2018.
Working in a role that is centred around quality control monitoring and liaising directly with customers, I found really expanded my knowledge on specialty coffee sourcing/farming. The more I learnt, the stronger my love for the coffee process developed.
You can take the specialty coffee out the farm, but you can’t take the farming out of the specialty coffee. 🧑🌾
Not only did I learn about this process, but being face-to-face and speaking with customers every day really helped me understand more about consumer behaviours.
2022 - 2023 Barista Champion
I've competed in the Championships for 6 years total. Between 2015 - 2018 I participated in the Brewers Cup, in 2020 I came 2nd in the Barista Championships, and in 2022 I finally earned the winning title of Barista Champion! Every year, I would get asked why I continue to compete, but I refused to give up no matter how many times I had to go back to square one. To say it was my passion is an understatement.
“ This success gave me more drive to re-compete the following year, which to my surprise, I ended up winning again! I'm still pinching myself over the fact that I won the barista championship twice. ”
For me, the most important part of my success story is having people around me that helped me conquer every obstacle - teamwork makes the dreamwork.
Q-Grade Coffee Certificate
In 2019, I set my goals on obtaining the Q-Grade Coffee Certificate. I was so nervous about competing that I started my training 6 months before.
It consists of a 6-day seminar taking you through 21 different exams, including cupping, coffee grading, acidity and aroma testing, and identifying defects in the green beans.
As if each round isn’t intense enough, the hardest part was knowing I had to pass every single exam. Luckily for me, my months of hard work paid off and I finished the 6-day seminar with the Q-Grade Certificate in my hand as one of the youngest to obtain this certificate! 🌟
The most exciting part of these certifications? I’m able to help farmers, which has always been my overarching goal.
Q-Grading skills for greater good:
Later that year, I was travelling around Colombia to different coffee origins. We visited Tolima for some coffee cupping in the local association – this process involves an assessor (or cupper) who evaluates the coffees in-order to fix a selling price.
One of the coffee producers who was being assessed was a friend of mine. When the assessor tested their coffee, he noticed a defect. What this means is that the selling price would become so low that the family wouldn’t make enough money to pay their works or cover the cost of their bills.
As a Q-Grader, I had the experience and the training to identify if there was a defect in the coffee against the correct parameters, which is exactly what I did. I asked the assessor to set a new cupping course 12-24 hours later as outlined in the protocols. The next day, we cupped the sample, and the coffee scored just fine. To say this family was relieved is an understatement.
“ That was one of my proudest moments in my career; using my knowledge to help others in situations where it really makes a difference. ”
This also leads me back to the trend that excites me the most right now: Farms entering a new level of harvesting. Finding different fermentation and the overall elevation of quality due to the heathy competition between farms. For the roasting part, the most exciting aspect for me is the new technology available.
It’s crazy just how much technological advancements have evolved since I started. We’re not only seeing different machines, but we’re also seeing different tools and technology that helps us identify defects in the green beans. These advancements also allow us to observe a new-crop vs. past-crop and measure the water activity and humidity in the beans. These updates not only help expand our coffee process knowledge, but they also really help with the financial aspect as you’re able to pick up on potential problems before they become hazardous and costly.
The importance of a clean machine
With saying that, the key to the perfect coffee is always the functionality of your machine, which is very closely linked with the cleanliness. When a machine (or coffee equipment) is not cleaned properly, it opens up the possibility of blockages which can cause the machine to work improperly and give you a bad tasting coffee.
That’s why it’s extremely important to back up your quality coffee machine with trusted, quality cleaning products. With all these advancements becoming more readily available, I predict that in the next 5-10 years our wider coffee community will be better educated to elevate the quality for the consumers. That’s also one of my personal goals – to train people on all the different elements that make a quality coffee.
I would like to thank everyone who has helped me throughout my journey so far. I look forward to connecting with even more communities in the future to use my knowledge to bring out their full potential. ❤️