We sat down with Barista League’s La Rumba winners to learn more about their experience competing and their dreams for the future.
BY VASILEIA FANARIOTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT
Photos courtesy of The Barista League
Lorena Villanueva and Carolina Pinilla are the two Colombian baristas who recently won first place in the 2023 La Rumba competition, organized by The Barista League in Bogotá. The two baristas have dedicated years of hard work to hone their coffee-making skills; their victory is a testament to their passion for specialty coffee.
In this interview, Lorena and Carolina share their experiences as baristas in Colombia and offer advice to aspiring coffee professionals. From learning calibration techniques to finding ways to overcome obstacles, Carolina and Lorena’s story provides insight into what it takes to succeed as a barista in Colombia.
Meet Lorena and Carolina
How did you get into the coffee industry?
Carolina: I found out what specialty coffee was when I worked at a Bogotá tennis club. There, I met the wife of Don Luis Fernando Vélez, founder of Amor Perfecto, and worked in a franchise that awakened my passion for the barista profession.
Lorena: It was by complete chance, thanks to a professor who offered me a job working as a barista. Over time I decided to specialize and learn everything that’s behind a cup of coffee. The science behind it captivated me.
What inspired you to compete in La Rumba Barista – Bogotá 2023?
Carolina: The structure of the competition and how it was judged by abilities.
Lorena: I was inspired to compete because it was a different form of competition. I liked that all participants had access to the same tools and the same raw materials. And thus we could show both how we handle and how we enjoy our time behind the bar.
Can you describe your experience during the competition?
Carolina: Exciting, enriching. Meeting many baristas from different places, celebrating and enjoying their profession. Every round challenged us to think and play with what we do daily.
Lorena: I felt very good! I had a lot of fun, and the idea of socializing with people from other countries was very cool. Sharing knowledge about coffee and learning was wonderful, plus the event was very well organized.
What was your favorite moment during the La Rumba competition?
Carolina: The first test, where we discovered which coffee we had, when we calibrated and found a profile that we quite enjoyed. Talking with the judges and sharing that sensory experience gave me an incredible adrenaline rush!
Lorena: I had more fun while pouring the espresso and drinks with milk. Calibration was very challenging but as always we approached it full of good energy, so we could present delicious drinks.
What does this victory mean to you?
Carolina: It is a before and after, perhaps the result of study, dedication, and love for what I do. And I finally see it reflected in the result.
Lorena: This victory means a great professional achievement since there were excellent and well-known competitors. What we did was reflective of our love of each drink we prepared. (We) showed that the important thing is to believe in yourself, and that good teamwork is very important.
How do you hope to use this victory to inspire others to get involved in the specialty-coffee industry in Colombia?
Carolina: I would like to show others that nurturing skills makes you a better professional. Helping each other and enjoying encounters with other professionals makes us better baristas.
Lorena: I would like to motivate all the girls in the guild, since they normally do not participate in the competitions and are not widely seen. But they are really wonderful and also make excellent drinks. The greatest reward is daring to participate and build confidence to do better day by day, regardless of the comments of other professionals.
Dreams for Colombia
What advice do you have for aspiring baristas in Colombia?
Carolina: Doing things with love, enjoying each step, each process. Study, analyze. And persevere; find in yourself what skills make you a better professional.
Lorena: In Colombia we have to promote the consumption of good coffee, that is our responsibility. Have a sense of belonging and respect when preparing coffee, and also enjoy all the learning and never lose humility in situations of growth. Coffee has given me everything, so really just love what you do.
What challenges have you faced as a barista in Colombia, and how have you worked to overcome them?
Carolina: When I started working in coffee, there were few specialty stores to be able to practice, or learn. Today, there is also little sponsorship. To overcome these obstacles means to improve the culture in the store itself. Inciting curiosity and sharing experiences leads to developing better skills. Above all we need to take advantage of the fact that in Colombia we can observe the traceability of coffee, from the farmer to the store.
Lorena: One of the challenges was to speak and describe my drinks properly, to feel (more) knowledgeable, to make people feel that my opinion is also valid and that I can create excellent drinks like my colleagues.
Looking ahead, what would be your goal or dream project related to coffee in Colombia?
Carolina: I want to learn to roast, try many different types of coffees, keep competing, meet more baristas, and talk about our experiences. I’d also like to have my own brand of coffee.
Lorena: Goal or dream, it would really be to work in the industry with my own project, where I can learn from different parts of the specialty-industry value chain and be a reference as a woman and an excellent barista.
Carolina and Lorena have won a spot at The Barista League’s 2024 Mystery Coffee Vacation trip, where they will join the winners from the 2023 competition season.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vasileia Fanarioti (she/her) is a senior online correspondent for Barista Magazine, and a freelance copywriter and editor with a primary focus on the coffee niche. She has also been a volunteer copywriter for the I’M NOT A BARISTA NPO, providing content to help educate people about baristas and their work. You can follow her adventures at thewanderingbean.net.