Listen to This Podcast About Martin Shabaya, the Barista Champion of Kenya

James Harper follows the journey of Martin Shabaya, the Barista Champion of Kenya, in the first episode of his new podcast, a radio drama that tells stories about coffee.

To see Martin Shabaya of Artcaffe Coffee and Bakery advance to the semifinal round at this year’s World Barista Championship (WBC) in Seoul, South Korea, was incredible. This was the first year the three-time Barista Champion of Kenya advanced, and it was the first time a champion representing an African country made it to the WBC semifinals. James Harper was there, recording Martin’s reactions and following him as he prepared to do his routine again. After Martin’s name was announced for the semis, James ran up to him and met a smiling and laughing Martin. “I gave away all my coffee,” Martin told James. Not expecting to advance to the next round, Martin gave away his competition coffee to his colleagues backstage, and had to figure out a way to get it back so he could do his routine again for the judges.
Did he get his coffee back? You will learn this and other amazing details of Martin’s journey on Filter Stories (this is a working title), a podcast project started by James Harper, formerly of The Barn in Berlin. “Filter Stories is a true-life radio drama that follows coffee people finding meaning in their lives. It’s like short movies for radio. I want the listener to imagine the world through the eyes of the characters and float through the strange and beautiful worlds they live in,” James says. “These stories will range from specialty-coffee farmers who fight to make ends meet [and] big politicians who are almost assassinated and decide to start growing coffee instead, to stories about barista  champions trying to change the world.”
James Harper, pictured above, is producing a radio drama that tells stories about coffee. Photo courtesy of James Harper.
When James says “radio drama,” he’s not exaggerating. The stories are compelling, the production value is incredibly high, and he manages to weave knowledge fit for any coffee professional with a narrative that’s easily understandable for non-coffee folks who just want to hear an amazing story. James released his first episode about Martin just a few days ago and is currently working on his first season, set to be released in mid-2018. James is creating this podcast all on his own—he chooses stories, he researches, he edits, and he is financing the entire project. “This story took 70 hours to make, with 10 hours of recordings (all transcribed word for word), eight separate editing rounds … and that’s not including the 40 hours I spent making my first pilot about a completely different team which I had to drop because all the feedback suggested the story wasn’t strong enough,” he says. But the work is worth it—the podcast sounds just as well-produced and polished as any being made by a professional podcasting company.
James chose to follow Martin for his inaugural show because his story is unique, yet it resonates with so many people. “Martin’s dream is to open a café in Kenya. But he can’t because Kenyans don’t drink coffee. His plan is to win the World Barista Championships to change Kenya’s coffee-drinking culture forever. But, he’s all alone and up against the richest barista teams in the world,” he says. James chronicles Martin’s attempts at winning the WBC—from his first try in Seattle in 2015, where Martin’s coffee was improperly packaged so his espresso had no crema, to 2017 in Seoul, where Martin was determined to gain the attention of someone in the Kenyan government and hopefully change the drinking preferences of his home country.
Martin’s story is also compelling because it reveals just how complicated it is to do well at this world-level competition. “The story reveals just how hard it is to win at these competitions and how big an impact money plays. Plus, it reveals the challenges of trying to start a business in a developing country and how it affects him personally,” James shares. “I would love to see Martin compete next year and win at the 2019 championships, and I hope this story can get him the attention and funding he needs.”
James is hard at work researching stories for the rest of the season, and he can use your help! He’s always looking for suggestions and ideas to pursue—take a listen to the first episode, and suggest ideas in the comments section for stories you want to hear and that can transcend industry lines. “This podcast is for a general audience, not just coffee people,” James shares, “and I want to get more people drinking specialty coffee through great storytelling.”
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Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at