Champion Dale Harris’ Advice for Weathering the WBC

Reigning World Barista Champion Dale Harris of the United Kingdom shares tips for how competitors can stay sane during the hectic competition, from connecting with fellow competitors to eating right and much more.

Editor’s note: We asked reigning World Barista Champion Dale Harris to share some advice for competitors taking part in the 2018 World Barista Championship, which kicks off today in Amsterdam. While he offered some great advice that’s relevant for this week’s competition, his tips could be useful to any barista competitor heading into competition in the future. Read on for some wisdom from the champ!  

Dale performs a version of his 2017 World Barista Championship-winning routine at a 2018 event in South Korea organized by Ediya Coffee. Photo by @blackwaterissue.

Dear World Barista Championship competitor,

Congratulations on making it this far! It’s quite an honor to represent your country on the world stage, and you should be proud.

Now the next stage of the journey begins! By now, pretty much all of your routine is built and finished—big changes from this point on are going to be really hard to insert into your on-site preparation routine. But there are a few things it may help to keep in mind before you present your routine to the world.

In my opinion, now that you’re in Amsterdam, things should be easier from here. You have a long list of tasks to complete on specific timetables, and everybody is working together to make the thing happen. In reality, the days of the competition can be incredibly intense, and as much as you’d like to think otherwise, you’ll spend pretty much all your time behind the scenes at a trade show, working hard to deliver a routine into which you’ve already put a significant amount of time and energy. 

There are massive opportunities for tension between you and your coach whilst you’re together in Amsterdam, but make sure you both leave space for each other and try to be as flexible as possible if (when!) things get difficult. Ultimately, both of you are in similar positions: Your coach has put in nearly as much time and effort as you have, but the end result is completely out of their hands and entirely in yours. They’re also likely just as malnourished, dehydrated, and tired as you are, too! Commit to stepping back from tense issues for a few minutes so that you can communicate clearly and rationally when you’re trying to solve problems; apologies are likely to come from both of you later if things do escalate, but they are still always welcome.

In the run up to your presentation, focus on making sure the drinks taste as you expected in your new situation and that your flavour notes match your descriptors well. Try not to stress too much if things taste different than your expectations in non-competition practice areas, like Barista Base Camp (the backstage area where baristas prep before hitting the stage). Even if everything is dialed into the same specs as the competition area, the environment will be pretty different.

In the early stages of the competition—especially just after orientation—there will be a lot of people in the backstage area and not quite as much space as you’d like. Don’t forget that everyone sharing the tables is in the same situation as you, and that a big part of the opportunity of competing at WBC is to build relationships with your fellow competitors. As the days go on, there will be more time, more space, and more opportunities to taste each other’s coffee and really get to know one another. There is potential to create relationships here that last long after the scores are tallied!

I missed a lot of meals last year in Seoul, despite my team’s best efforts and a steady delivery of food to my table backstage. Bring comforting snacks to eat—even when you feel like you can’t—and make friends with the lovely people at Pentair so you’ll have plenty of water to stay hydrated. It also helps to find out where the closest bathroom is to the backstage area. 

It’s easy to get caught up in all the other activities going on at the show, but try to get the rest you need each night to deliver your presentation as best you can once you’re on stage. You’ll make mistakes each day and it’s good to be aware of them, but don’t dwell on them too much. If there’s an easy solution to a problem, work it out and then let it go—spending your nights trying to sleep (even if you can’t) is a much better use of your time than staying up late and pacing whilst you try to perfect things in your head. 

Try to take things as gently as possible during your practice hour: You don’t need to make coffee for anyone except you and your coach, and all you’re trying to do during that hour is confirm that your coffee tastes the way you expect it to taste. Everything else will come down to the preparation you’ve already put in, so my best advice is to breathe out and enjoy the experience for the next few days, whatever may come.

Finally, when the time comes—and this is coming from someone who neglected to do this to the degree I should have, in every round—triple check your trolley before you wheel it out!

Warmest regards and best of luck,

Dale Harris

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