The veteran barista competitor reflects on finishing second at the World Barista Championship in October.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of World Coffee Events
Andrea Allen had waited a long time for this. The barista competitor—who also co-owns Onyx Coffee Lab headquartered in Rogers, Ark.—started taking part in barista competitions in 2014, and logged three second-place finishes at the United States Barista Championship (USBC).
That changed in February 2020, though, when Andrea finally won the USBC, earning a spot in the World Barista Championship (WBC). However, we all know what happened in the following month—the global pandemic arrived, throwing the world into chaos, and canceling the 2020 WBC.
Andrea waited, though, and finally got her shot at the WBC in Milan, Italy, in October 2021. She made the most of it, too, advancing through the competition and ultimately placing second in the world. Andrea became the 11th U.S. barista champion to make the finals of the WBC in the competition’s 21-year history, and her second-place finish marked the best result by an American at the WBC since Charles Babinski’s second-place finish in 2015.
We checked in with Andrea to hear more about her impressive WBC run.
Chris Ryan: You won the USBC in February 2020, and had to wait 20 months to compete in the WBC. Can you describe your relationship with competition during that long hiatus? Did you think about it a lot, have it in the back of your mind, worry about it? Or did you push it out because we all had more pressing things to worry about with the pandemic?
Andrea Allen: This is such a great question. I think many thought that the time would give me so much extra preparation, but honestly that time was filled up with so much work at Onyx, just doing all the things that the pandemic necessitated. I did think about competition a lot, especially as the pandemic wore on and we kept discussing when we thought the competition would happen, how the pandemic had changed coffee, etc. When the WBC was announced in Milan in July, I had not been practicing and immediately got to work.
You made some adjustments from your USBC-winning routine for WBC. Can you describe how you were able to take elements of the original routine but update them to reflect world events?
Originally I was planning to take most of my routine from USBC to worlds. At the time, I felt it was the best presentation we had been able to put together, and the coffees and drinks were so fantastic there was no reason to tinker with them.
However, once the pandemic started, coffee and hospitality—and more so the entire fabric of our social lives—changed. I’ve always tried to bring something to competition that is relevant, that reflects where we are as an industry and where we’d like to go. The isolation and polarization of ideologies during the pandemic had me and so many others longing for community, for real change, for all of the things that we loved and missed about coffee. It felt appropriate to bring that into my routine. I had previously washed my judges’ hands in a routine during the 2017 season, and we decided that the time was right to do it again. I really want to do something bold to break the barrier between the judges and I, both physically and metaphorically, and also for that to be a symbol of the kind of service that I think is needed to help heal our community and to push coffee forward.
What was the actual experience of competing on the world stage in Milan like for you? Did COVID end up having much of an effect on the experience? How about having your colleague and friend Elika Liftee competing at the WBC at the same time, and essentially having a big Onyx representation there?
It was such an incredible experience. I have watched from a distance the various coaches and teams and figures that ended up being on that stage, and to get to rub shoulders with them there was so fun. I don’t really think COVID had much of an effect on the experience. In fact, to be at a coffee event after so long was so incredible. The only thing that was kind of funny was that the volunteers were dumping out the drinks after each course, so we weren’t able to taste the drinks. There’s sort of this funny culture of bus tub diving backstage where lots of folks try the very last slurp of coffees and drinks. And as much as that is kinda gross, I mean, it’s the best coffees in the world, so why not? Lol. I missed that.
Having Elika be there and do so well was just amazing. I’m so proud of him. He had to switch coffees TWO WEEKS before WBrC. His poise, determination, dedication to revising his routine, his brew method—it was extremely impressive. I mean, he’s an absolute upstanding coffee professional already, but to accomplish what he did is so cool.
Finally, after so many years competing, you finally got to do it on the biggest stage, the World Barista Championship. Can you reflect on what it was like for you to finally reach that platform, and to place so well there?
I mean, the whole experience was just incredible. For me I always have pride in our coffees, our team, and our routines, but I never really knew how we would play on the world stage. To have all of that work validated is just awesome. And beyond that, having our team there be so excellent, and to see how they all did, felt like an incredible accomplishment. From Elika to Lance (Hedrick) and Dakota (Graff), who were there supporting, to Josh (Edens), who was there judging, I really saw everyone shine. They all impressed me so much.