Vienna – WBC 2012

This years World Barista Championships was placed in Vienna, the city where coffee culture might or might not have started in Europe by accident. Legend has it, the Turks occupied the city, and a spy who finally got them to leave after a long siege, got those sacks of beans that were left behind, and started a coffee shop using them. I have to say though, that Vienna to me is known for one thing only, and that is that it’s now the home town of legend Danny Violence of punk rock heroes The Accidents, among other bands.

I got to Vienna on the Tuesday, in order to meet up with good buddy Charles Stewart who I got to know in Perth some years back. I competed against Charles in 2008, and in 2010 we were both part of a group organizing the WABC, something I had to leave behind due to my move to Sweden, however Charles and the others did a great job setting it up! Charles and his girlfriend Nick were both in Europe to bum around, and took the opportunity to experience the WBC while over here. They happily arranged for me to stay with them in a hostel that was quite a trekk away from everything, but really nice regardless.

The amount of people and parties attended during this week are simply too many to mention, but I have to admit I slept probably around 8 hours in 4 days. Saying that, there were definitely some highlights and some things that could’ve been better.

One of the absolute highlights of the event was working the brew bar. I got to meet some really interesting people to work with, but also had the opportunity to serve a number of people walking up to the seats watching the competitions. Together with Chris, the inventor of the Espro French press, I made some interesting coffees on the Espro. I got to work with people from all over the world, so many people so much better than I am at these things for sure! That’s how to learn, and I am surprised not more people took advantage of this opportunity to work with other baristi and with some spectacular coffees, as well as some really off ones. I especially appreciated the input and feedback from Canadian roasters Phil&Sebastian, who were truly interested in getting feedback from the brewer people as well as anyone.

I’d say that a couple of things regarding the organization could’ve been better. I understand that exhibitors such as La Marzocco and Marco probably paid a lot of money to have top spots next to the stage, but I think those exhibitors would’ve had a pull effect on people anyway. Instead, everyone competed for attention at the same space, and most other areas were almost empty, and on top of that the activity announcements were poorly presented. The Tamper Tantrum stage, which was a really good idea and also ended up online naturally, wasn’t that well visited when I walked past unfortunately. I saw one presentation, which was very interesting, where there were literally two people in the crowd, and one of them was the moderator. The other one was me. This had nothing to do with the person speaking, but the announcing of speakers on the premises. As a volunteer, I had a very good idea of where to go and what to do, but I overheard competitors in various competitions, at several occasions, who had no idea whatsoever where to go or when to be there.

Did I get to try some interesting coffees? To be honest, I attended a few interesting cuppings, one was at Kaffas stand presenting some Coffee Collaborative coffee from Honduras, another one was an invitation from Scott of AIR roasters in Sydney to cup his three competition roasts in the new roasting competition, launched this year. The third interesting coffee to taste was the Costa Rican Barista Champions black honey processed coffee as an espresso, at the Costa Rican stand. The rest of the coffees weren’t anything to write home about. One very famous roasters coffee that we brewed was so awful we had to change it rather soon, which was surprising. But I think it goes to show that the twitter hype around various “excellent”, “awesome” coffees are just a way to pay respect to the roasters behind it, rather than it actually being that extraordinary excellent and awesome.

Speaking of twitter, there was a huge miss from the WBC organization not having free wifi accessible to the audience. Everyone and their friend had to go lurk outside the Nespresso booth to get free wifi, which was kind of ironic. Also, I got really tired of the “starfuckers”, people only interested in stars in coffee. I thought at this level, people came to these kind of things rather open minded, but I guess the scene is still so young, people are impressed with that kind of stardom. At the other spectrum, I got to hang out with some seriously legendary dudes in coffee, with no pretentions what so ever, only pure friendliness and love for the coffee and the people in it.

I also found it really interesting to see that sponsors such as Natvia and Keep Cup had a great hang of what the coffee world is about, and were really accomodating and friendly. I even got to do some interviews for Natvia with some coffee peeps, but not sure if they ever saw the light of day. The guys from Keep Cup actually approached me at a party, recognising me from my Instagram and Twitter where I’ve several time posted pictures of their product, which they were genuinly kind and appreciative of. That kind of recognition is such a treat, and also makes it a real community! Had the best Caipirihna with those guys as well!

One of the nights, I got out of the coffee scene and went to Arena when long time friend Danny Violence works these days. It was an opportunity to see the “real” Vienna, so to speak. Good to catch up with an old friend I haven’t seen in probably 10 years or so. All in all a wonderful week of coffee, friendship and hard drinking. Can’t wait to go to Melbourne next year!!

NP: The Accidents All Time High

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