A Spirited Competition: Martin Hudak on the Power of Coffee and Cocktails

The 2017 World Coffee In Good Spirits champion discusses cultivating a passion for beverages, bouncing back from defeat, and much more. 

BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Cover photo by Jordan Sanchez for World Coffee Events

The 2019 World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship at World of Coffee in Berlin kicks off today! Since 2005, the Coffee In Good Spirits competition has challenged competitors to make delicious beverages combining coffee and alcohol. In this series on Barista Magazine Online, we get to know the competition and talk to some of the organizers, champions, and others who have helped bring it to life. Check out more stories in the series here.

Determination is a key component to many coffee competitors’ success, driving them to work hard to achieve their goals, and to return to compete the next year if they’ve faced defeat. The latter was the case for Martin Hudak of Slovakia, a veteran competitor in the World Coffee In Good Spirits (WCIGS) Championship. Martin made it to the world stage three times but failed to take home the championship; the second two times, he finished as runner-up. 

Martin Hudak won the 2017 World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship. Photo by Jordan Sanchez for World Coffee Events.

But Martin’s determination continued to drive him, and on his fourth trip to the world stage, he came up big, winning the 2017 World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship. In the ensuing years, Martin has traveled the world as a coffee and cocktails consultant and brand ambassador. We talked to Martin about his competition journey, what he likes about WCIGS, and the worlds of coffee and mixology.

Chris Ryan: What did you study in school, and what did you think you would do for a job? How did you get interested in coffee?

Martin Hudak: I studied Hotel Academy, which focused on all aspects of the hotel, restaurant, and café worlds; I passed trainings in back of house and front of house equally. I knew for sure that I wanted to travel a lot in my work, and that I didn’t want to work in the kitchen or with food, as I love people and interacting with them. So, working on bar and with everything related to that was the best option for me. Right after graduation, I started in our local coffee / cocktail bar, where I spent a nice five years. And that was the beginning of my passion for coffee. 

Martin gravitated toward the bartending world while studying hospitality. Photo courtesy of Martin Hudak.

Why did you decide to start competing in CIGS? How long did you compete before you won the world competition in 2017? 

I tried competing in a couple of junior-level competitions involving coffee, but I knew if I wanted to be the best, I needed to start fighting with the real masters. I started competing at CIGS in 2010, and I finally qualified for the World CIGS Championship in Nice, France, in 2013, where I finished in sixth place. The next year I qualified again and placed second at WCIGS in Melbourne, and then in 2016 I returned again and got second place again, this time in Shanghai. 

After three times in the world finals I was emotionally worn down, but I managed to win nationals for a fourth time in 2017 and return to the world stage, and that’s when I finally became the world champion, in Budapest, Hungary. In the end, I feel it’s not about the destination but about the journey, and it looks like I needed seven years to be ready to call myself champion.

Martin won the 2017 WCIGS on his fourth time taking part in the global competition. Photo by Jordan Sanchez for World Coffee Events.

Why do you think the Coffee In Good Spirits Championship is an important competition for baristas? Why is it a good test of baristas’ skills? 

I like Coffee In Good Spirits because it allows baristas to discover a completely new world of flavours available to them through spirits. It also gives them a better opportunity to express their ideas and creativity, and also to be more confident in public speeches. And I think it’s the most difficult coffee competition to participate in, as you need to multitask not only within coffee but also with drinks and bar skills.

What is interesting to you about the overlap between barista skills and bartending skills? How does this competition explore that intersection?

In my case, the Coffee In Good Spirits Championship gave me the opportunity to become a “bridge” between the world of coffee and cocktails. It absolutely gives baristas and bartenders the best opportunity to learn one from each other. In my observation, baristas are good with details and knowledge, while bartenders are more flamboyant and bohemian, and have an extremely good touch for hospitality. Both sides can learn a lot from each other, but they need to first of all respect each other.

Martin says CIGS is a great competition because it allows baristas and bartenders to learn from one another. Photo courtesy of Martin Hudak.

How did winning CIGS help you in your career, and what are your main areas of professional focus now?

When I won the World CIGS Championship, I knew it was just the beginning of spreading coffee cocktail passion around the world and helping to educate baristas about the mixology world and bartenders about the art of coffee. In 2018 I traveled to 26 countries and 45 cities, where I trained over 5,000 coffee and cocktail lovers, and hopefully helped to promote this beautiful competition and combination of ingredients.

Currently I’m based in Australia, where I’m running our new “hotel bar minus hotel” project called Maybe Sammy, inspired by the Rat Pack and the 1950s. I was also appointed as a global coffee ambassador for an Australian spirit brand called Mr. Black, which is a coffee liqueur made in our roastery and distillery. And I’m running my own consulting company, Spiritual Coffee. So all of this keeps me more than busy enough!

While winning a title can help a competitor’s career, it’s all in your hands, and it’s up to you what you do with it! 

About Chris Ryan 236 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.