Barista Champion of the United Arab Emirates

Editor’s note: As we approach the beginning of the 2014 World Barista Championship, which takes place in Rimini, Italy, June 9 “12, at the SCAE’s World of Coffee event, we would like to introduce you to the National Barista Champions who all worked incredibly hard to earn a position in this preeminent coffee contest. Profiles of all 54 competitors will appear on Barista Magazine’s blog between Monday, June 2, and Monday, June 9, and can all be accessed under the category header “WBC 2014 Rimini.”

Kushal Kumar Balami
Raw Coffee Company

United Arab Emirates'
United Arab Emirates’ Kushal Kumar Balami

Coach: Matt Toogood

About you: Hi, I am Kushal Kumar Balami. I am from beautiful Nepal. I am married and I have two children. I hope they are watching me now. I was a very hard working farmer, growing fruits, tomatoes, corn, and rice. I then worked in a hotel in Kattmandu serving food before coming to Dubai. I have been working in Dubai for 6 years with Raw Coffee Company. We have all learned together at Raw. Before I knew nothing about coffee, all the time we are still learning, there is so much to know about coffee to make it consistently good. Mostly now I am the roaster, roasting on an 18kg coffee [roaster]. We roast 16 different origins, some days I am roasting 450 kgs in a day. I also enjoy training and helping our customers to learn to make the coffee properly. I am really excited to be traveling, this is my first time to Europe, and my first time at the WBC. I placed second for two years, but this year it is my turn. Coffee for me has become not just a job, but I have met many new friends, now I have a profession, and I hope in the future, I will go back to my own country and start a small business using coffee grown in Nepal.

Before coffee, did you work in a different job or industry, or what did you study in school?
Before coffee I was a farmer in Nepal growing tomatoes, corn, rice, and fruits. I then went to Kattmandu and worked in the restaurant of a hotel. At school I studied political science.

How did you get started in coffee?
The hiring policy at Raw Coffee is that if you are a good employee, you are allowed to recommend a friend if they are looking for someone new. My friend Ram recommended me, and that’s how the whole thing started. I only drank Nescafe in Nepal, but I take my own coffee back for my vacations now.

What was your first amazing experience with coffee?
I really remember my first SCAE barista training with Joey (Johanna Wechselberger) when she came down to Dubai and we did a team training. We thought we knew and understood the basics but it was really good to have it described so well. I really understood a lot more about the variables.

Who has been your greatest influence in coffee? Why?
It would have to be from Kim and Matt who I work with. We all continue to keep learning together. We have bought new roasters, we are improving our roasting profiles, we understand how to get the best out of our coffee now. Matt was the barista champion a couple of years ago, we have a culture of competing now in Raw, so each year we are getting better.

What would you like to see change about the coffee industry/community?
I would love to see more companies trying and buying the coffee from Nepal. I would like to see Dubai recognize the barista as a profession and pay proper salaries to their barista staff. I think this would really help the growth of specialty coffee in the region.

Name a coffee luminary (famous person) you would like to meet, and why:
I would love to meet last year’s WBC winner Pete Licata.

Name a barista you admire, and why:
I met Francesco Sanapo recently in Dubai. He was really friendly and a really good coffee ambassador. Jamie Elfman works in Dubai with one of our customers, he has given me lots of good tips. Ricardo Cartinez was a Mexican barista champion. He comes into the roastery a lot and we work together sometimes, drinking coffee and making coffee.

Do you have a favorite customer? If so, tell us about him or her.
So many favorite customers that come in every day. There are quite a lot of people that come in and always ask for me to make their coffee, particularly the young beautiful women!

Besides your own cafe, what cafe do you think everyone should visit?
If you come to Dubai there are two really good independent cafes at the moment: Tom & Serg and Spill the Bean. They are both making really good coffee and they care about their coffee.

Which coffee producing country you would like to visit, and why?
I used the Colombian Nabusimake coffee for my competition when I won. I would love to visit Colombia and this place sounds amazing, no roads going in to it, beautiful mountains and forests, rivers, really isolated and clean air, very green (Dubai is very beige – sand!).

What are your interests outside of coffee?
I play the harmonium, play sports games, bicycle riding, swimming in the ocean, watching movies. When my family is together when I am home, we make traditional food and all get together, go visiting in the hills to our friends and share the food.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I would like to be back in Nepal, but I am not sure. I need to put my children through their schooling. I would like to have a small business back at home, small roastery, small cafe, with my wife and family. This would be my dream.

Is there anyone you would like to thank or who helped you prepare for the WBC?
Definitely all the guys I work with at Raw Coffee, my team. Matt who trained me, we were helped by Jamie, Ricardo, by Matt Wade, Dimitri Grekhov, Chef Michael and Chef Helen from the Emirates Academy of Hospitality. A lot of people have supported me to prepare for this event, even other competing companies down in Dubai that are also members of the SCAE.

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