Joy’s Barista Competition Survival Guide

The best part about competitions is the gift of perspective. You inevitably learn about the limits of your own views on things. You are forced to question your foundations, in order to strengthen them or refresh them – or even change them. And you learn about how you can see things differently, in order to do things differently to achieve different, and better, results.

This year, I decided to compete in the Singapore National Barista Championships and I got schooled all over again about everything I ever knew or thought about specialty coffee.

My experience in this competition taught me many lessons, some humorous in retrospect, and others, more serious with regards to my approach to coffee and my guests at VXX. Everyone knows that you need to be prepared for the competition, do the trainings and the hard work etc. So here are 7 less boring, more light-hearted truths I’ve learnt:

1. The Last Minute is a very powerful Minute where endless possibilities await. I don’t recommend leaving things to the last, but if you find yourself hugging Buddha’s feet, hug them tight, take a deep breath, and just get through the tasks at hand. Contrary to what you may believe in that dreaded Last Minute, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Having at least 8 hours of sleep is important. But if you don’t sleep, it is still possible to function well. Food and water generally help, but so does a fresh haircut and a 30-minute solid foot massage.

3. Everything that you think can go wrong will, at some point. But at this point, the kindness and love of people that care about you will inevitably tide you through. Have some faith in people and yourself.

4. If you’re going to sort your coffee, start early. Like really early. Get at least 4 people to help you. And don’t use a pair of tweezers. Getting chaff out is sadistically addictive, but really, you’re better off doing something else.

5. The technical score sheet is boring, but it is that boring, dependable Good Friend of yours who can save your life when bad things happen. Get to know it. Hug it to sleep. Recite it like your life depends on it. Nail it. You won’t regret.

6. If you’re not sure that you’re going to do well, it’s okay. Almost everyone will feel that way. Just make sure you have a killer playlist that’s superbly curated. For 15 minutes, you can give everyone a great time with good music, including yourself. Michael Jackson is always a good idea.

7. Get a coach who can really push you and whom you trust implicitly. That’s the only way you’ll get perspective of yourself. You’ll feel like crap most days, but if you take some breathers in-between, you and your coach can achieve many things together. At the end of it, give your coach a violent punch and a love-filled hug. He/She will probably have deserved both.

Now for the more serious bit. When I decided to compete, we at VXX knew that the competition stage would be a great platform for us to talk about things that really mattered to us. The coffee was always going to be important, but so was the theme of my performance. This forced me to ask myself some fundamental questions about why we opened up VXX, and what VXX is really all about.

The two big questions that kept coming up were:

1. We want to be quality-focused. But what does “quality” really translate into?
2. Is quality sustainable? What keeps a “quality-focused” business going?

I’ll cover this bit in Part 2 of this post. Keep up with this. I promise it will be worth it.


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