Dan Fellows on Successfully Defending His WCIGS Title: Part One

We talk to Dan Fellows of the United Kingdom, 2019 World Coffee In Good Spirits (WCIGS) champion, about joining the small club of repeat World Coffee Championships winners.


Cover photo by Jeff Hann for World Coffee Events

From the editor: This year, the World Coffee Championships in Berlin crowned four new champions, and we got to chat with all of them for Barista Magazine Online. Our first installment of this four-part series can be found here with World Cup Tasters champ Daniel Horbat. We now present the second installment, an interview with the World Coffee in Good Spirits champ, which will run as a two-part piece.

Winners at the World Coffee Championships don’t typically attempt to defend their titles. It takes such a commitment of time, skill, and effort to win one of these prestigious global contests that when competitors do break through to become champions, they usually prefer to go out on top.

Such was not the case for Dan Fellows, a veteran coffee competitor from the United Kingdom. After winning the 2018 World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Dan opted to defend his title at the 2019 World CIGS Championship in Berlin in June. The risk paid off for Dan, as he became the rare World Coffee Championships winner to repeat their title. (Costa Rica’s Juan Gabriel Céspedes won the 2015 and 2016 World Cup Tasters Championships.)

In the first part of this interview, we talk to Dan about why he decided to compete again and how he approached and designed his 2019 routine.

Dan Fellows of the United Kingdom is the 2019 World Coffee In Good Spirits Champion. Photo by Jeff Hann for World Coffee Events.

Chris Ryan: First, how has the last year been as the reigning World Coffee In Good Spirits champion?

Dan Fellows: It has been the most amazing time since becoming World Coffee in Good Spirits champion in Brazil last November. I have been incredibly fortunate to have traveled far and wide spreading the word of coffee cocktails to baristas and bartenders from around the world. I have genuinely loved everywhere I have visited since Brazil, and I’ve met some amazing people along the way. 

Can you talk about your decision to compete at WCIGS again after winning in 2018?

While preparing for WCIGS 2018 in Brazil, I was also developing a concept and routine for 2019. When I won in 2018, I always knew that I wanted to present the 2019 routine, as I was immensely proud of it and excited by the concept. Many people (almost everyone!) asked me why I would take such a huge risk and enter a world championship I won previously, but I always believed that I would regret not showcasing the routine more than doing so and risking not winning. This belief pushed me to deliver the routine as well as I possibly could.

How did you approach the competition in 2019? Did the fact that you won last year affect your approach and preparation? 

Although Brazil 2018 allowed me to improve my approach to practice, logistics, and backstage time, I intentionally tried to ensure the drinks and routine for 2019 were totally different to 2018. The level of competition increases every year so I wanted to make sure I pushed myself hard to deliver a routine which had an identity of its own, with concepts that truly inspired me.

With his 2019 WCIGS win, Dan became just the second World Coffee Championships winner to defend their title. Photo courtesy of Dan Fellows.

The concept for the 2019 routine began to take shape in early 2018 and has been in constant development since then, but I spent around 500 hours solely on run-throughs and tweaking recipes until I was happy with them. Although this does sound like a lot, I do believe it is the tiny changes that make all the difference and, as long as practice is focused, this allows almost everything that can go wrong to go wrong in practice, preparing you for any situation when it comes to your time onstage.

You centered your routine around the question of whether the coffee or the concept comes first in developing coffee cocktails. How did you come up with this framework?

The overall theme that brought my ideas together was very organic. In almost all coffee cocktail master classes I run, I am asked where I begin when creating a drink, and there is no one right answer to this. I am a big believer that every great cocktail should have a story and a reason to exist, but they may start with a concept, an inspirational coffee or ingredient, or a method which you want to explore further. My 2019 WCIGS routine explored this idea, and I really enjoyed telling the stories of each drink to the judges and everyone watching. Now I am excited to share the drinks with as many people as I can! 

Check back on Tuesday at Barista Magazine Online for the conclusion of our interview with Dan.

About Chris Ryan 263 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.