The 13-minute film showcasing Equator Coffees & Teas’ Talya Strader in the 2017 United States Barista Championship is perfection.
BY SARAH ALLEN
Photos courtesy of Equator Coffees & Teas
If you’re serious about coffee and the work of the barista in particular, you’ve seen the films. There have been a bunch—cinematic accounts of the barista competition as a production, with the barista contestants as players. Most of them—heck, I’ll even say all except last year’s epic feature-length The Coffee Man—have been fairly weak. I mean, it’s great to see directors and producers interested in our strange, fanatical obsession—i.e., barista competitions, from regionals to nationals, to the almighty World Barista Championship (WBC), where coffee careers are literally made. Seeing the film Barista show up as a choice on an international flight was pretty darn cool.
The films about barista contests, however, have thus far largely failed for lack of focus, with the filmmakers trying to tell too big of a story and therefore never delivering a complete account. Much of this is often due to said filmmakers’ obvious absence of a thorough understanding of what these competitions are all about. The reason 2016’s The Coffee Man—which chronicled the journey of Australia’s Sasa Sestic as he traveled the world in search of his competition coffee, tried to balance family time and run his business, Ona Coffee, went on to win the highly competitive Australian Barista Championship in 2015, and then do what for thousands of coffee professionals is the unimaginable: win the WBC—was such a success was primarily due to producer-director team Roland Fraval and Jeff Hann’s dedication to not only understanding the coffee world, but actually living it for several years alongside Sasa. Further, they got a pretty perfect ending handed to them when Sasa won the most sought-after coffee competition title in existence.
A 13-minute film released on July 6 by San Francisco Bay Area-based Equator Coffees & Teas, directed by Billy Yang, is similarly larger than life. Exquisitely filmed, masterfully cut and edited to showcase a comprehensive story from beginning to end, the short film will excite and touch seasoned coffee professionals and coffee newbies alike. It’s really great, folks—I started crying around minute six.
I just wish it wasn’t called United States Barista Championship, because that wasn’t the story the film so beautifully told. In fact, what unfolds on screen is a meaningful, authentic experience belonging to one woman and her team: Talya Strader and Equator Coffees & Teas. Billy Yang dexterously brings us up to speed: This is Talya, Equator’s retail district manager. Here she is opening the shop for the day in the quiet, dark early morning, but we don’t linger there. The story, after all, is Tayla’s journey with her Equator squad to placing third in the United States Barista Championship (USBC), arguably the most competitive and elite national barista contest of the more than 70 participating nations worldwide.
After Talya placed second at the USBC Qualifying Event in Austin, Texas, in February, Equator owners Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell rewarded her with a trip to Panama to visit the farm where her competition coffee was grown. That farm, Finca Sophia, is in fact owned by Brooke, Helen, and two other partners, so the journey was something extra special. More than that, it was Talya’s first experience seeing a coffee farm in the 16 years she has worked professionally in coffee.
Director Billy Yang doesn’t linger in Panama either, though. He brings the viewers there just long enough for them to grasp the beauty of the place, the wonder Talya feels when she picks coffee that she’ll bring back and use in the USBC, and the excitement Helen and Brooke feel to be completing this magnificent circle of producer to barista and back again. Then we’re swept up gently and brought back Stateside. We meet Talya’s coaches, Tovara Salley and Devorah Freudiger, both of Equator, who work through endless practice sessions at Talya’s side. We hear Helen speak passionately about the coffee and the competition, but also give Talya the room she needs to own the stage, which she totally does. It’s quite remarkable how well we know these players by the end of just 13 minutes.
When Talya realizes she’ll advance to the final round of the USBC, she says into the camera, “I’ve never experienced this kind of elation,” and we believe her. Later, we watch her accept third place, and we are glued to her—that’s where this film has made us want to be. We see Kyle Ramage—the eventual champion—as he reels when his name is called, but it is Talya’s gentle hand on his back as he moves past her to the front of the stage that is most important here, because—I’ll only say it one more time—this is Talya’s story.
The next time a consumer asks me what these barista contest things are all about, I have another film to recommend besides the feature-length The Coffee Man. Equator’s and Billy Yang’s 13-minute capture of the real feelings, hard work, and unimaginable intensity of the experience of being at as high of a level as Talya was at the 2017 USBC is not only enlightening and engaging, it is nothing short of dazzling.