Michalis Dimitrakopoulos, the second-place finisher at the 2019 World Barista Championship, discusses why competition matters to him and offers advice for coffee competitors.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos by Lanny Huang for World Coffee Events
Michalis Dimitrakopoulos is not afraid to fail. The barista champion of Greece based his 2019 World Barista Championship routine around the idea that encountering failure—and then pushing through it—is a healthy process that allows one to make new discoveries and grow as a person. In his WBC routine, Michalis related this discovery process to both the innovation required to produce the Gesha he used in his routine, and his own growth as a coffee professional.
Though failure was a theme of his routine, Michalis’ coffee-competition career has been marked by much success: He won the 2016 World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, and this year, he finished as the runner-up at the 2019 World Barista Championship. We talked to Michalis—who works at Athens-based roaster The Underdog and co-owns the café The Rabbit Punch—about the Athens coffee scene, crafting his 2019 competition routine, and much more.
Chris Ryan: Tell us about how you got into coffee—what was your first coffee job and what do you do currently?
I started working as a barista in 2009 or 2010, and my first job was at a small espresso bar in Patras, Greece, where I was born. Now I live in Athens, where I am part of The Underdog; I have worked there since the day it opened in May 2015! I am also co-owner of a coffee shop called The Rabbit Punch together with Tasos and Elisabeth, the owners of The Underdog.
What is the specialty coffee scene like in Greece? Can you talk a little bit about what’s happening there and what excites you?
I am so happy that the Greek customers and owners are always looking for a good cup of coffee, and they are trying to discover new flavors! For example, new coffee shops are buying coffee from us to serve their customers specialty coffee. That’s the point for me! We have to understand that we can push the level of our expectations, and we should serve people the best cup of coffee every day.
How long have you been competing, and what made you want to start?
This was my second time competing at the World Coffee Championships—in 2016 I took part in the World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship (WCIGS) in Shanghai, where I took first place and was extremely happy! The passion of my coach Tasos pushed me to try that competition. It’s such a beautiful thing to train yourself with a team around you and grow and develop as a person and a competitor. I was very excited to do it again this year at the World Barista Championship.
What was your approach to this competition season? Why did you choose Finca Deborah as your partner for coffee, and how did you decide on overcoming failure as one of your themes?
As we all know, one of the most important things in our jobs as coffee professionals is trying new things and doing experiments. So failure is always part of the process, but we have to overcome it to find success. This is what inspired me! I wanted to show the coffee community how we can overcome failure to innovate and discover new things. This is one reason why I chose to use coffee from Finca Deborah in my routine—the owner Jamison Savage is such an amazing person and is always trying to push the boundaries of flavors with his coffees. He did that in the coffee I used in competition—a Gesha from Finca Deborah called Echo—which he processed in a new method he developed just for this coffee!
Can you describe your experience of competing at WBC? How did each round go for you?
It was such an amazing feeling, and I was so proud representing Greece! At the first round I was just a bit nervous because I felt like I had been building up to that moment for three years. But I really enjoyed the second and third rounds! I felt like the judges were my friends, like my customers in our shop, and I tried to give them the maximum hospitality!
Did it get more challenging for you as the competition went along, or more fun?
Hahaha, I think it was more fun for me! i just tried to serve them the best I could like a good barista!
Did you have any expectations going to WBC? What were your goals, and how did you feel placing second?
If you ask all the competitors, for sure they want to finish first! For me, success is not only what place you finish in, but the road to get there. So I am so happy about finishing in second place because this is the best place that Greece has ever finished at the WBC. I’m also happy because I’ve only competed at WCC twice and I finished first at WCIGS and second at WBC. I am really proud of these places!
Do you think you’ll compete again in the future?
Maybe yes, but now I would love to relax a little bit!
Do you have any advice for current and future barista competitors?
Just be yourself and try hard for your dreams. No matter the results, you are always a good barista, and you are not competing to prove something to anyone. We are competing for ourselves, to push ourselves forward and demonstrate our craft.
What do you want folks reading this interview to know about you?
We are all the same, no matter the nationalities, no matter the languages, no matter anything! Just follow your dreams, and be humble and kind. I would also like to tell all the people that I am here for them for any questions in the future, and I will be really happy if anyone who visits Greece wants to come and find us!