Carolina Ibarra Garay Reflects on Winning the World AeroPress Championship

The 2018 World AeroPress Champ describes her experience at the event in Australia, her brewing approach, and her goal to help more women succeed in coffee competitions


Cover photo by @single_o

Carolina Ibarra Garay had never taken part in a coffee competition before this summer. After having a great experience in the L.A. AeroPress Competition in June, she seized a last-minute opportunity to compete in the U.S. AeroPress Championship in September, and the rest is history: Carolina won that competition to earn a spot in the World AeroPress Championship in Sydney, Australia. This month, she won that competition too, becoming the first U.S. competitor to earn the global AeroPress title.

While it has been a whirlwind of competition success for Carolina, her coffee connection runs deep, having grown up in Quimbaya, Colombia, in the coffee-producing Quindio Department. While she worked outside of coffee for many years, she returned in recent years, and currently serves as the manager of Café de Leche in Southern California. Her passion for coffee has translated to a spirited and committed attitude throughout her AeroPress run; when we interviewed her in October and the topic of her chances at the World AeroPress Championship came up, she told us: “Maybe it’s me! Maybe I am the chosen one!”

In the wake of winning the title, we talked to Carolina about winning the 2018 World AeroPress Championship.

CR: In the world championship, unlike the U.S. competition, every competitor uses the same coffee, and you don’t find out what it is until shortly before the competition. What did you think of that rule, and what was that experience like?

CG: Yes, at this competition, one of the rules is “same beans for all competitors.” I think it makes the competition a bit tougher because you are being evaluated for making the best-tasting cup of coffee, and there’s no chance one competitor can win simply because of their coffee. Because of this rule, I did some practice for the event, but not a lot. The competition beans were not revealed until four hours before the competition, so I knew that once that information was available, I would have to change my recipe no matter what.

Carolina Ibarra Garay is the World AeroPress Champion. She entered her first coffee competition ever earlier this year. Photo by @czhyde.

The competition coffee was a Kenya Mugaya AA roasted by Single O. I was excited it was a Kenya, but at the same time very nervous. I don’t have a whole lot of experience with Kenyan coffees, but at the pre-competition cupping session I was able to figure out what to aim for—citrus, tropical flavors with creamy, soft buttery notes.

CR: Can you share some insight into how you developed your AeroPress recipe?

CG: Yes! My recipe has always been the same, with some tweaks in the grind settings and maybe the final volume. Some people would flip out when I told them my dose because I use bigger doses of coffee than most AeroPress recipes do, with over 34g of coffee. However, I didn’t invent this: Filip Kucharczyk, the 2016 AeroPress Champion, had a very similar recipe. Back in June when I was looking for the best recipe and trying different things, big coffee doses were bringing up all the flavor characteristics I was looking for in different coffees. I have always used slightly bigger doses for most of my recipes including V60 and Chemex, so it made a lot of sense why this would work for my AeroPress recipe. I like chunky, syrupy cups of coffee, and this is exactly what I was extracting with my recipe.

Carolina’s recipe was straightforward, and she didn’t spend too much time stressing over her tasting notes. Once she dialed in her coffee during her practice time, she was done. Photo by @single_o.

One key part of my recipe was that of the 100g of water I used, 50g were at 84° Celsius, and 50g were at room temperature. During my practice rounds back in L.A., I noticed the coffee had to cool to produce the best flavor notes. So I thought: I need to give the judges a cup of coffee that’s ready to drink and will taste amazing. Instead of adding only hot water, I added half of that water at room temperature, and that allowed the cup of coffee to open up! The coffee at serving was about 68° Celsius and exhibited its full characteristics. I think this was a huge step for the flavor of my coffee during my entire competition journey.

CR: What was your experience like at the competition in Sydney?

CG: My experience was unbelievable. The AeroPress folks along with Single O had a welcome party the day before that allowed the competitors to get to know each other and share an amazing and relaxing time together. We all got to talk and play Australian bowling and have fun. During the competition, even though I believe we were all pretty nervous, we were all very encouraging of each other. I was in the practice room next to the competitors from Japan and Venezuela, and we were having fun. I met people from all over the world that I will remember forever. The World AeroPress Championship is a coffee event that brings out the best of all of us. There’s so much encouragement and opportunity to be surrounded by other coffee nerds who love what they do.

Carolina takes her role as a champion seriously. She wants to uplift other folks who are often overlooked in the coffee industry and offer her support and advice whenever she can. Photo by @single_o.

CR: Finally, what are your reflections on winning the championship? I know it’s only been a short time, but what does that mean to you so far?

CG: Winning a world title in coffee as an immigrant woman certainly means a lot. I think it is more than a title—I carry with me a responsibility, and I have a voice now that can reach further. This industry has been led by men mostly, and it’s not like they aren’t doing a good job—I’m certainly thankful for the men in this industry. But as women there’s always this silent necessity for us to prove how good we are before we are heard, and I want to change that. I want us to have the same support and sponsorship a man will receive when they decide to compete. I want us to have teams behind us that never doubt what we can achieve.

A world title is a huge step and I worked hard to get there, but the harder work has just started. I want equality in coffee competitions, and I want to see rooms filled with women champs. My goal is to be there for them, to coach, to help them prepare mentally to believe that they are winners already. I won this title for the U.S., but most importantly, I won it for all the women in coffee, especially the immigrant women.

About Chris Ryan 262 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.