Places and Faces

Bogotá In Review

Writing this now (or at least beginning it), I’m about 7 hours from home. My hopes of a blogging spree, not surprisingly turned to be overly optimistic, as Bogotá went by in a blur of late nights, early mornings and long days.

On Wednesday we built the Brew Bar, literally (see time lapse on Uber Project Blog for an idea). Every component had to be put in place, even to extent of putting together junction boxes for the electrical supply. Corferias, the venue hosting the WBC, itself was under construction, and from what I understand, there was a whole lot less venue only a few weeks ago. It is a credit to all that come kick-off everything was ready. In the background, judges calibration was in full swing. An impressive level of organisation and attention to detail were on display, far more than I’ve witnessed at any other time.

Come Thursday morning we were ready. The brew bar crew was ably staffed by Brian Ludviksen and Lem Butler of Counter Culture Coffee,  Tyler, Mike and Chris of Handsome Coffee Roasters, Rusty Angell from Bunn and a whole host of volunteers. It was a privilege to work beside them. Interestingly, one observation about brewing at altitude, aside from having to brew at a lower temperature, was that water moves through a coffee bed far more slowly, requiring us to grind far coarser than we normally would.

I spent a good deal of time on Thursday and Friday helping Steve Leighton and Monika Palova prepare for Friday’s first round. Monika had won her National Championships only a couple of weeks previously, it also being her first time competing. Take away the time penalty from Monika’s score (not to mention her grinder which broke in transit), and the achievement given her lack of time and resources becomes all the more impressive. I look forward to seeing Monika competing again. I expect great things.

As was the case in London a lot of excellent baristas didn’t progress into the semis, some were agonizingly close, small mistakes, time issues, some as in past years didn’t really want to “play the game” so to speak. It is a game though, one that does not always reward moving too far from what is expected. I can empathise with a desire for originality and for principles, but there has to be a clever way to do it, otherwise you are just pissing in the wind.

The hometown support for Colombian champ Lina was beyond anything I have witnessed outside of a football stadium. You could tell a massive effort went into her routine, not least learning a new language. It was very interesting to see she was in first place in round 1.

Lina’s omission from the final six by virtue of a time penalty highlights what a cruel and unforgiving competition this can be at times, but the final six was a great mix, and going into the last day it seemed it was anyone’s trophy.

The final result announcement was surprisingly emotional. I’m not sure why. Aside from seeing Alejandro’s three performances, and meeting him and his team backstage, I couldn’t really say I knew him well enough to justify an emotional response to his success. Nonetheless that is what happened, and I was not alone. There did seem, from my vantage at least, a building sense of inevitability that Alejandro would win. The reaction when he did seemed almost euphoric.

Any of the six finalists would have made great champions. There were no passengers.

I must also note how much the win meant for Steve Leighton. Steve has invested as much time and effort in supporting baristas as anybody I can think of. We likened Steve’s efforts in the WBC to a scene in the golf movie Tin Cup where Kevin Costner keeps trying an impossibly long shot, repeatedly landing in the water. Even though Steve says he only manufactures golf balls, right now he’s the golf-ball manufacturer to world’s best golfer.

The barista party also deserves a mention, as being the singularly weirdest and most enjoyable party I can recall. It was quite the antidote to the obligatory post-results anti-climax (not to mention the speedy destruction and strip down of the brew bars). I only wish I didn’t have to leave early to catch a plane.

[photo courtesy of James Hoffmann]

Vienna has a lot to live up to. As James has noted in his recap, it will probably be impossible for Vienna to match Bogotá for passion and atmosphere, but at the very least it should match or better the organisation side. Let’s not repeat the London mess, or even worse that of Copenhagen (as I am told by third parties – I wasn’t there).

It has been mooted that all previous champions should re-enter their national competitions this year. We had a few interesting discussions about which champions might still win. I only mention it here that I might fan whatever tiny flame exists. Wet dream stuff.

I come away from Bogotá more than anything with a head full of ideas, with a perhaps clichéd, though genuine respect for the amount of work that goes into all aspects of this at times, surreal, but ultimately worthwhile event. I come away thinking perhaps that post-Maastricht I may turn my thoughts once more to swinging that club.

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3 thoughts on “Bogotá In Review

  1. Isa Verschraegen says:

    Really nice write up on the WBC… I couldn’t agree more with how wonderfully well organized it all was, how much atmosphere and fun there was, how honored I was to work the brew bar beside extremely talented and knowledgeable people, how emotional the final announcement was, how bummed I was to miss the barista party completely cos I had to catch a plane and how I’m now thinking about swinging that same club next year…. after Maastricht 🙂

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