The Commitment to Competition - an Interview with Agnieszka Rojewska, 2018 World Barista Champion
Article by Stacy Wright
Edited by Rachel Lanigon
Last month held one of the most prestigious coffee competitions in the world, the World Barista Championship. The World Barista Championship (or WBC) allows coffee professionals to perform a routine to highlight their professional skills. The performer prepares and serves twelve coffee beverages to a panel of judges in just fifteen minutes. They must produce four espressos, four steamed milk-based beverages, and four signature drinks - all while explaining each element of the drinks to the judges. The barista must give an extremely efficient, precise, and innovative production in order to score high for their performance. The judges ultimately rank the competitors based on taste, presentation, and technical skill.
Agnieszka Rojewska is the most recent winner of the World Barista Championship. Claiming the title has created two new records for the WBC, as Agnieszka is both the very first female winner as well as the first Polish competitor to win this title since it began in 2000. Agnieszka is a four-time national latte art champion, has won several national barista championships, was a finalist of New York Coffee Masters, and is the current champion of the 2018 London Coffee Masters. The WBC is a substantial title, but winning is not at all unfamiliar to this champion. In this interview, Agnieszka gives us an inside look to her personal experience in what it is like to be a competing barista.
Angieszka, you have participated in (and won!) a very lengthy list of coffee competitions. What is it like being a competitor overall?
Yes, I did a lot of competitions. It is a huge learning experience for me - not only about coffee but also about myself. For me it is a pretty normal feeling since I have done this for a long time.
Practice time can be difficult to fit into a full-time work schedule. How much time did it actually take to practice for the WBC?
I don’t have a full-time job - so this makes training both harder and easier at the same time. It is easy since you can train whenever you want. It also gets harder because when you don’t work, you don’t make an income. It is pretty tricky - you have to think it through very well. One of the hardest parts of training is the amount of planning it involves. My whole preparation took me about 2 months.
Some argue that the set-up for a competition is an indicator of professionalism for the industry. Do you prefer a stricter competition that is taken very seriously?
I think that every competition has its pros and cons. I like to try every style because then I can learn even more. They all have different styles and check off different skills; therefore every competition is great for skill development.
Many baristas have short-lived careers, both because of the lack of growth in their work and also the lack of money, which force them into other jobs. What are some things that you did to push through in order to rise higher in your field? Do you have some advice for people who are at that point and struggling with making that decision?
I was struggling with the same thing, but I just pushed myself to survive during that difficult time, and to have patience. It was hard, but at the same time I already knew what I wanted to do. And this is it -
Especially in this past year, people within the coffee industry have been actively bringing attention to bias and demanding race, sexuality, and gender equality. Do you think this had any play into you being the first female to win this title?
I was never a part of that discussion. I always wanted to stay in this state of mind - that my gender doesn’t matter, that if I’m good enough I will be great on stage. In Poland, women were winning barista competitions for the past 10 years since 2008. I hope that this need for a female barista champion did not influence any of my scores, I hope it was purely based on the quality of my performance and coffee.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos are from 2018 Coffee Masters Tournament at London Coffee Festival with credit to Zac Cadwalader for Sprudge Media Network.