The 2018 WBC runner-up talks about his approach to his final barista competition—and the memorable experience that followed.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of World Coffee Events
At the 2018 World Barista Championship, barista champs from 57 countries around the globe made the lengthy journey to Amsterdam. For Lex Wenneker, things were different: The barista champion from Netherlands simply stayed in his home city of Amsterdam to do battle on the world’s stage. Whether it was the home turf or simply years of experience—this was Lex’s third WBC appearance—the barista champion of the Netherlands rode a wave of success to finish in second place at the 2018 WBC. Lex talked to us about his coffee background, the Amsterdam coffee scene, and why this year’s competition was so memorable to him.
Chris Ryan: Can you tell me how you started working in coffee?
Lex Wenneker: I started working in coffee about 10 years ago as a hobby, making espressos at home using a small manual lever machine from La Pavoni. I always wanted to start my own business, and I realized I could maybe do that with coffee, combining hobby and work.
To learn, I started working for the Coffee Company (a small coffee chain based in Amsterdam). I found that I liked many things about the industry: the way the espresso machines are made and designed; working and talking with people behind a bar; and [finding out] where the coffee is from, how it’s grown, and in the end how all of this affects the flavor of the coffee. I don’t think I will ever get bored with coffee.
CR: What is your current job? How long have you been doing it, and what do you like about it?
LW: I own a small Amsterdam-based roastery called Friedhats Coffee Roasters, and we’re currently opening a café as well. Together with my business partner, Dylan Sedgwick, we started the roastery about two years ago. Before that I used to own another roastery/café, but I actually started with The Espressobus, a small Citroen HY van that I rebuilt as an espresso bar to make coffee at festivals and other places.
I like having my own company. I like investing time and effort to make it into a nice company, and I like the freedom it gives me to do whatever I want. 🙂
CR: How did it feel to compete in your home city? What’s the coffee scene like in Amsterdam at this moment?
LW: It was great to compete in my home city! We had a big crowd, and it was a great honor to do the WBC in Amsterdam for the first time.
The Amsterdam coffee scene has grown a lot since I started working in coffee 10 years ago. Lots of good cafés, and lots of small roasteries. But it can always use some good publicity to give it another boost. I think the World of Coffee in Amsterdam really helped with that!
CR: I know this was your third WBC. What expectations did you have going into it this year? What did you hope to gain from the experience?
LW: This year we were of course aiming to improve our result of being sixth in the WBC 2016. But every year the competition get tougher, so we were really happy just to be in the finals again. I don’t think any of us dared to dream about second place though!
The experience by itself is just one of the best memories ever. That’s never going to go away. I really like that idea.
CR: How would you describe your 2018 WBC experience? What did you learn from it?
LW: This year was really the most relaxed year. It was in Amsterdam, I had done it a couple of times, and I knew this was going to be my last year. So there was a lot of time to really enjoy being on stage.
Every year of competing, I’ve learned so much about coffee and what it is that gives each coffee its specific flavor. We take this experience and put it to good use in our roastery and our café. I also learned again that the competition, the way I do it, is really a massive team effort. I could not imagine doing this by myself. It’s good to realize this every now and then.
CR: Do you have any advice for current and future competitors?
LW: Yes, try to enjoy the moments on stage and also the moments before and after. It’s a serious competition, but if you don’t have fun doing it, what’s the point?
Stay close to what you believe. You can look at what others are doing, but it’s more important to stand behind what YOU are doing.
CR: Do you think you’ll compete again?
LW: Hahaha, no, this was my final tour.