Federico Bolanos on Guiding Baristas to World Championships

The El Salvador-based barista coach who worked with the last two World Barista Champions discusses his approach to competition and more.


Cover photo courtesy of Federico Bolanos

In the new issue of Barista Magazine, newly crowned World Barista Champion Diego Campos graces the cover, sharing his story of resilience and perseverance in capturing the 2021 World Barista Championship (WBC) title in October in Milan, Italy. 

One of the people included in that story—and who helped Diego achieve his recent success—is Federico Bolanos. If you follow the World Barista Championship closely, you surely recognize that name. Based in El Salvador, Federico coached many national barista champions in the country before achieving success on the global stage when he coached Alejandro Mendez. Alejandro worked with Federico at his then-café chain Viva Espresso in El Salvador to attain victory at the World Barista Championship in 2011. 

Federico continued coaching baristas on the national and world stages, and broke through again in 2019 when he worked with Korea’s Jooyeon Joon, helping her win the WBC in Boston that year. He started working with Diego Campos later in 2019 for the 2020 WBC, but their quest for victory was paused when the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancelation of the 2020 event. They continued on their path though, and Diego eventually nabbed the title at the 2021 WBC, with Federico by his side. 

Here’s our conversation with Federico to learn more about Diego’s recent run to the championship, how he approaches coaching, and much more.  

Federico Bolanos is the only barista coach to mentor three World Barista Champions. Photo courtesy of Federico Bolanos.

Chris Ryan: How did you become Diego’s coach for the WBC this year? What was appealing to you about Diego and the prospect of working with him? 

Federico Bolanos: I met Diego around 2014 while I was coaching one of his friends in Colombia. But we didn’t begin working together until 2019, after he contacted me to coach him for the Colombian National Barista Championship.  

After Diego won the 2019 national, we continued his training for the 2020 WBC, but this process was interrupted because of the cancelation of the WBC in Melbourne due to the COVID pandemic. Diego contacted me again in September 2021 and we resumed his training immediately because we had only one month to prepare prior to the WBC in Milan.

I was thrilled to collaborate with Diego since the first time he contacted me because I have a lot of respect for him. He is an exemplary coffee professional, and most importantly an extraordinary human being. He is humble, passionate, good-hearted, grateful, committed, loyal, honest, resilient, disciplined, and hard-working.

Federico (right) following the 2021 WBC with new champion Diego Campos (center) and 2019 World Barista Champion Jooyeon Joon—both coached by Federico. Photo courtesy of Federico Bolanos.

Can you describe a bit about your role as coach with Diego? Did he already have a full routine that you helped him get the most out of, or did you help him develop it? 

Just like I have done with every other barista I have coached in the past, I helped Diego develop every aspect of his presentation, including: 

  • Deciding which coffee to compete with
  • Tasting and describing the espressos
  • Choosing the brewing parameters for the best sensory experience
  • Creating the concept of his presentation
  • Structuring every action step of the routine
  • Writing his speech
  • Contributing to the creation of the signature drink and milk beverage
  • Suggesting improvements on his workflow
  • Collaborating in selecting all the equipment and accessories used during his presentation
  • Designing the visual materials for the judges
  • Coaching him during the week of competition

What was it like to watch Diego’s success in Italy? Was it different or special in different ways from your coaching in past years? 

Every World Barista Champion I have coached has been a bit different, but each one has been very special to me. 

Diego’s triumph meant a lot to me for several reasons: (1) It was my dream to coach the first coffee farmer to win WBC; (2) After winning my first WBC in 2011 in Bogotá, I wanted to give that happiness back to Colombia; (3) This is the first time a coach has won the WBC three times; and (4) It will hopefully inspire baristas from Latin America and other coffee-producing countries to believe in their potential and continue pursuing their dream of winning the WBC.

Federico helped Diego Campos attain victory at the 2021 World Barista Championship, becoming the first coffee farmer to win the event. Photo courtesy of World Coffee Events.

You’ve now coached three World Barista Champions to victory. What do you attribute to your success? Is it about picking certain people to work with?

I must admit I almost can’t believe I have coached three World Barista Champions! Winning one is extremely difficult, two is nearly impossible, and three is almost a miracle. In my opinion, the main reasons behind my results are:

  1. The training program/system/method I have developed, which provides a structured way to create presentations.
  2. Experience. I have been coaching for barista competitions for over 10 years.  
  3. Creativity. I’m a right-brain person. Developing presentations has been a way to channel and express my creativity.

I don’t think it is about picking the right people. I honestly believe anyone can do really well in competitions if they work hard, passionately, and resiliently under the guidance of an experienced coach and find the right coffee for the scoresheets.

Finally, you are a busy guy, running the roastery ALQUIMIA COFFEE in El Salvador. How do you balance your day-to-day work duties with coaching barista champions? Why is it important to you to continue to do this coaching work? 

Most people think I am dedicated to coaching because it gets more exposure, but what I focus most of my efforts on is to grow my company ALQUIMIA COFFEE. Coaching is important to me because it is something I love to do. It also fills my heart with joy to help baristas succeed and see how this improves their life and their families. I will continue coaching until I stop enjoying it, so I don’t see that happening any time soon!

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.