How to Win National Barista Championship
In Lithuania, we can be proud to have many professional baristas. One of them, Laurynas Arlauskas, is the winner of 2016 and 2017 Lithuanian Barista Championship.
In my last blog post I wrote about the great experience I had in the Lithuanian Barista Championship. I was very happy to get the chance to interview the winner Laurynas Arlauskas. He found some time from his busy schedule to answer some questions and to talk about our favourite drink – coffee.
Laurynas is still a student, but he is also working in one of Coffee Hill’s coffee shops. He is responsible for the training of all baristas and all things related to quality. Now he is also on his way to develop his performance for World Barista Championship in South Korea, Seoul.
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first!
Laurynas, how did you get your start in coffee and being a barista?
Everything started just after graduating high school. I had a gap year and started to search for a job. At that time, I was living in Kaunas and accidently saw an advertisement that coffee shop Coffee Hill was searching for a barista. I applied for the position and successfully got the job. When I started to work as a barista at Coffee Hill, my interest in the coffee field grew every day. I started to drink coffee without sugar, and everything was interesting and new to me. What’s more, I started to read articles and books related to coffee. Many new things regarding the coffee, like the methods of preparation, surprised me every day. I got to know that there are plenty of methods to prepare coffee – and not only espresso, the one I used to know before.
What was your first amazing experience with coffee?
The first time I tasted specialty coffee, I realised the taste was different. It was something like chocolate and it didn’t taste like coffee at all. I thought that this cannot be coffee; there must have been something in it. It was not bitter, and there were plenty of tastes. Then I understood that coffee is not just a drink, it is more than a drink. I will always remember my first cup of espresso.
Which coffee countries inspire you?
My favourite coffee is from Kenya. I have never been in coffee plantations, but I would love to go there to meet locals and to see how they grow the coffee seeds. The coffee from Kenya is exclusively sour and interesting, just charming coffee.
So what is the National Championship for you? What does it take to become a champion?
Everything started when I moved from Kaunas to Vilnius. At the time, my manager Viktorija Kuktorovaitė saw a potential in me and advised me to participate in the championship. The next day after our conversation she came with 20 pages of instructions and told me to learn everything. After that, the preparation had begun. We chose the coffee, I read a lot about coffee, beans, roasting and similar things. I started to prepare in the beginning of December, and the championship took place on February.
Viktorija‘s experience and my devotion were the things that helped us to win. Why I was lucky to win from the first time? Firstly, the level of 2016 championship was lower comparing with 2017. Secondly, I did so much and gave my all. I devoted myself every evening after closing the cafe at my workplace and practiced for 3-4 hours every day. I did a lot of espresso tasting, but in the end it helped me to win the day. The competition was interesting: at the same time complicated, energetic, physically hard, and passionate. Like in sports, I was carried by both the desire to win and the good preparation conditions. That’s how I managed to win.
What do you think, what was your success?
All in all, I had reached Lithuanian record: I took 22 places out of 63. However, this merit is not only mine. My coach, judges and participants from the previous championships helped and advised me. It is also very important to emphasize the growth of Lithuanian coffee culture – that was the thing that helped me to reach the victory.
2017 championship was very intensive because of the lack of time. The championship of 2016 helped me very much, as I took many things from previous contest. I tried to put all my knowledge and practise to one place, and I knew where I can get the highest points. On final day of competition, the taste of espresso revealed much more, so I was more confident.
At the Lithuanian Barista Championship, you had to prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks. Which one gets you the most excited?
The most important drink is espresso, and actually from this drink you might see whether the barista is good at making coffee or not. The espresso must be prepared perfectly.
Everyone brings different techniques, traditions, and flavours to the World Barista Championship. Will you try and create something very exotic for your signature drink?
The professional barista must always prepare the same espresso whenever he/she is making this drink. The technique I use is not perfect, and that is why I use scales. The technique doesn’t always ground equally (0,2 or 0,3 g. for espresso might be way too much). In order to be precise, you need to scale and get the perfect taste.
Have you sought any tips or advice from previous contestants or previous World Champions?
I have been watching a lot of videos from previous participants. The technique everyone is using is very different: one of them prepares milk drinks before the espresso, other stick to traditional way, and some of them scale coffee. You have to scale the coffee in order to be precise. Watching others making coffee is very useful, though it is a huge work since you see others’ good job and mistakes as well. You have to have the rules clear with yourself during the show in order to describe the tastes of the coffee for the judges, and I’m working a lot on this as well. I’ve watched many world championships to see how participants describe espresso and other coffee drinks they made. Some of their techniques I have applied to my show. I communicated with Lithuanian champions as well, the advises they gave me were very useful. All in all, there were many people who were eager to advise me or to contribute to my show.
Besides your coffee, what do you think the judges will pay attention to when you’re on stage? Body language? Facial expression?
The judges of world championship are very professional, and it is a pleasure to make coffee for them. They communicate well without words, just with the eyes, smile, etc. They know when they have to pay attention to my body language, energy, words that I say and when they have to concentrate on the coffee drink. To sum up, they look how you perform all in all: your energy, the coffee you make, whether the process of coffee making is pleasant for you or not. If you make the coffee with no passion, no love – they see it. The most important is to spread good vibes while performing.
Your next step will be to compete against the world best baristas in the World Barista Championship. How do you feel?
It is few months left until the championship. At the moment, I concentrate on the rules because there are some changes, e.g. there is more freedom regarding the set of the tables. Also, it will be possible to regulate the temperature of the espresso machine that might be causing a better quality of espresso. One more interesting thing: the tastes of the coffee must be mentioned just from the good point of view.
I am going to change my show again. I think that I can get stronger coffee (Costa Rica), which I’m waiting from the coffee shop Taste Map (the roaster – Domas Ivanonis). The supplier promises that this coffee will be very special. It is important to stand out with the signature drink, so I am going to pay a lot of attention for that. I will try to create it by myself and will not be afraid to experiment.
Another important and difficult thing is different milk and dishes. Once I will arrive to Korea, I will try the milk since I will have plenty of time for that. I will choose the best milk for me. I will do my best to show all knowledge and experience I have.
Would you recommend other baristas to participate?
I advise for everyone to prepare for this championship. It is a great way to learn coffee making art. The rules are simple and you have to know the basics: cleanliness and positive mood. It is a great platform where you can learn more about coffee, to see the most important things with coffee. I admire the knowledge that I gained: when you know that every coffee bean is collected by hand, you start to appreciate the coffee very much. Coffee is not just black or bitter; it might be apples, cherries or lemons. I truly advise everyone to get interested in this field.
Who helped you with the WBC?
I would like to thank my relatives who support me a lot, and another thanks goes to my trainer Viktorija Kuktorovaitė, Mindaugas Ryškus who helped me a lot. Also, I appreciate that my company allows me to participate in this competition and supports it financially. Thanks to all coffee lovers who support me and who understand that barista is not just a permanent job – it might be your life and the career can also be built in this field. The way to see barista work is changing, and I am very happy about that. The cup of energy and happiness – you have to appreciate not only when you drink it but also when you make it as well.
What makes a perfect barista?
Empathy – that is the thing you need to have. It is not just making the drink. It is important how you serve the person who came to you. A good barista should be positive and communicate with the customer. We serve more than hundred people per day, but it is important to be sincere and to make the connection with every customer.
What is your favourite coffee? (Origin, blend, preparation method?)
My favourite origin is Kenya, I love the idea of many small farmers who bring their picked coffee cherries to centralized mill, where beans are processed. As a blend, I really like our “Coffee Hill” espresso blend, which is a mix of Brazilian, Columbian and El Salvador coffee, really nutty, a bit heavy and sweet. I love preparing my mini Chemex, it’s for small volume brews, but somehow I find it very interesting.
How many cups of coffee you drink per day?
Depends on my mood and what I am doing that day. On weekends I usually relax more, so I drink 1 or 2 cups, but on working days it can be even 10 cups. I just keep drinking and drinking. I will never say no to coffee if I want it even at 10pm.