Iranian Barista Champion Morteza Bagherpanah talks to us about his routine, the ever-expanding coffee scene in Iran, and what it feels like to not be able to represent Iran at the World Barista Championship in Amsterdam in June.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Morteza Bagherpanah
In May, Morteza Bagherpanah beat out dozens of baristas to win the title of 2018 Iran Barista Champion. The coffee scene in Iran has grown rapidly in recent years—the local coffee community formed the Iranian Barista Guild and was recognized by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) in 2012, and it has steadily grown ever since. Iran hosted its first barista competition in 2015 (the champion from Iran was not allowed to compete at the World Barista Championship that year, which was held in Seattle, due to U.S. sanctions against Iran), and the country’s coffee community has continued to host barista competitions and grow in membership.
The SCA recently announced that Iran will not be allowed to participate in this year’s World Barista Championship, which will be held in June in Amsterdam. Because the event management group World Coffee Events (WCE) is owned by the SCA, which is a co-juncture of entities in the United States and Europe, U.S. sanctions against Iran still apply. We still want to honor the hard work and dedication that Iranian baristas have put into building their community, and we’ll continue to share stories about coffee from Iran, starting with this interview with Morteza.
Ashley Rodriguez: Can you tell our readers a little bit about you—how did you first get into coffee and where do you currently work?
Morteza Bagherpanah: My brother and one of my friends worked in coffee before me, and they helped me work with them. We created a group named “Buno” and began searching for coffee. Then we decided to establish an academy in order to share knowledge and information in this city, Mashhad, and I work there now.
AR: What motivated you to want to compete? Had you competed in a barista competition before?
MB: Our team goal was to work on analyzing and developing a coffee. This issue motivated me to explore new ideas, to compete, and to develop what is related to coffee. The competition has provided me the opportunity to have more new ideas and to share them with the coffee community. Now, I’m getting familiar with bigger challenges in coffee.
AR: What is the coffee scene like in Iran? I understand it has grown very big very quickly.
MB: In my idea, coffee in Iran is like a child that is trying as hard as he can to learn and try to walk! I think the coffee community has the potential to upgrade and to develop in coffee. Baristas and roasters are always searching and learning and presenting new ideas about how to make coffee better than before.
AR: Tell us about your routine—what coffee did you use, did you want to communicate a specific message to the judges, and what did you do that was unique?
MB: I don’t enjoy competing when I’ve practiced too much. This makes my presentation feel unreal in the competition. Competition is a live event where a barista serves a coffee for the judges while he only has 15 minutes. In my view, this means an interesting challenge! Although I practiced my routine for less than a week for the competition, I had been thinking about what I was going to do for three months. For this reason, my competition was full of many challenges, which I think the audience and judges enjoyed watching me face.
I used specialty coffee cultivated at a lower height at 1,580 meters from producer Pedro Rodriguez called Las Alasitas from Bolivia. I also used a coffee from El Salvador called Los Pirineos, cultivated at a height of 1,350 meters. Nonetheless, I believe by focusing on decoction, or extracting the coffee’s essence, it was possible to enhance the quality of these coffees’ tastes to its highest level. These coffees were amazing—I tried getting to know their flavor and how they would behave in different process, as well as the proper decoction to present flavor and aroma in a cup in its best condition.
AR: What does it feel like to not be able to compete in Amsterdam?
MB: It definitely does not sound good. Baristas from all over the world have been practicing for so many years, and they are taking part in the competition—to get more experiences and to be able to take part in the world championship and develop this craft by participating was also my wish. Like all the other baristas, it was a chance to interact with the great community of coffee. But, I have the support of the Iranian Barista Guild and great people like Lem Butler and Leila Qanbari (Ghambari), and they prove that we can be like a light in the darkness, and no rules will cover the beauty of this union.
AR: What inspires you to keep going in coffee? Will you compete again?
MB: The amazing, challenging, and unlimited world of coffee helps me be more motivated in this industry—competition was just the beginning!
AR: What do you hope for the future of coffee in Iran? What do you hope for your future in coffee?
MB: Coffee in Eastern Asia has been developed remarkably; the same will happen in middle Asia sooner or later, and Iran will not be an exception to this progress. The coffee community in Iran will probably face many challenges, but we all are doing our best to [weather] these challenges.
I do not see the future of my activity in coffee just in Iran. I have always loved communicating with the bigger community of coffee in the world, and I will always try to influence the coffee industry in Iran.
AR: What would you want our readers to take away from an interview with you? What do you want people to know about Iran and you?
MB: I am not allowed to take part in the World Barista Championship, even though it has been one of my goals. But I take my energy from the depth of my heart and aim it at the winners of other countries during the world championships, and I wish them luck.
Iran is a country with a lot of different people; in spite of Iran’s current condition, Iranians are the most compassionate and hospitable people.