Five Minutes With: Carolina Ibarra Garay, 2018 USA AeroPress Champion

Photo courtesy of Carolina Ibarra Garay (pictured above).

Preparations are underway for 2018 USA AeroPress Champion, Carolina Ibarra Garay), who, in just over a week will be flying to Sydney, Australia, to compete at the 11th annual World AeroPress Championships on Saturday, November 17. Garay will compete alongside 60 of the world’s best AeroPress coffee makers from nations including Croatia, Russia, Kenya, and Macau.

This year’s Los Angeles AeroPress Championship marked the first time Garay competed in a coffee event.

“I wanted to challenge myself,” she says. “And it’s one of my favorite brewing methods.”

Although she didn’t make it past the second round, Garay says she felt “pretty accomplished.” The event triggered an interest in coffee competitions, and when an opportunity came up to compete in the U.S. AeroPress Championship, Garay took it.

“I kept the same recipe that I used for the L.A. competition, but I had a feeling that something different would happen and here we are,” she says. Garay walked away with the U.S. AeroPress Champion title.

Photo by Carlos Zavala

When asked about how she handled the pressure of the competition, especially as a newcomer, she says it is all about being present and thinking about the moment.

“For every second of anxiety I breathe, I have to remind myself that after I brew my cup of coffee for the judges, I have no control over their decisions,” she says. “So letting go of control is a huge practice for me and to also allow myself to feel the fear and understand it’s okay to feel this way.”

Garay says competing is also a time for self-compassion practice.

“We all want to win but through the anxiety of the competition, I am reminded that I am already brave enough for putting myself and my skills out there,” she says. “I understand that winning is not the whole experience. The excitement of traveling to Sydney and having the title hit me after the L.A. competition and everyone’s support was overwhelmingly beautiful. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Competitions can also reflect recognition, Garay says, along with elevating the status of the barista. One of her main goals is to help others understand barista as a profession “because that’s what it is for me, I am a coffee professional.”

Garay grew up in a coffee-growing region of Colombia with childhood memories of decomposing cherry cascara and seeing the overcrowded Willys Jeeps with coffee pickers out at 5:00 a.m., while waiting for the school bus.

“That was my childhood,” she says, “but I never grew up thinking that I would work in the coffee industry.” Instead, she pursued law, then vet school, and then graphic design.

“I dropped out of school several times, which used to make me think of myself as a quitter,” she says. “The fear of never finding something that would supposedly be my passion was big. After a year of working in advertising I decided to quit and move to the U.S. I landed in Los Angeles in 2012 and since then something happened. The coolness of the coffee shops was something I had never experienced.”

Carolina Ibarra Garay

After a year of exploring L.A., Garay flew back to Colombia to learn more about coffee. This was where she learned how to cup, developed her palate, and got certified as a barista.

“It took time and many failures to realize what I am passionate about was always right there, like a silent and patient old friend,” she says. “There’s no day that passes without me offering thanks to coffee and everything that the word coffee means. The beverage itself, the process behind it, the people I’ve met, the hospitality experience and the community created around coffee.”

Garay is familiar with both sides of the coin, the good and the bad, and says success comes when love and dedication are put into what you do.

“My path in life has not always been fun and easy, but I always find a way to bring the joy from every situation,” she says. “So I think, that if you find something you feel you are good at, explore it, risk it, challenge yourself, dedicate time to it and the success will come later. There’s no better satisfaction than to end a day knowing what you did was done with your heart on it.”

With the competition just one weekend away, Garay says she is most excited about meeting “people from sixty different countries who are just like me and love this profession as much as I do.”

Although Garay is not much of a believer in lucky charms, she says her chopsticks, which were used at the nationals to stir the coffee, are definitely coming along.

2018 AeroPress Championship

The event is being hosted by Sydney-based specialty coffee roasting company Single O on November 17 at the event space Commune. For the first time, there is an all-day social gathering on November 16 to give competitors a chance to meet and socialize.

“There’s a new twist this year,” says Kershia Wong, operations coordinator at World AeroPress Championship. “No practice coffee has been sent out. The top-secret competition coffee will only be revealed on the day at a group cupping. Competitors will then have four hours of practice time to tweak their recipes.”

Another new aspect is that attendees will also get to try coffees brewed by the champions at the all-new Competitor Brew Bar. Anyone attending can also buy the competition coffee this year.

Wong says that countries participating for the first time include Bahrain, Croatia, Paraguay, Portugal, and Qatar. Dynamic duo Marcus Boni (Trade Coffee) and Michelle Johnson (The Chocolate Barista) will return to emcee another World AeroPress Championship final.

Marcus Boni and Michelle Johnson will return to emcee another World AeroPress Championship final. Photo by Abi Varney

“They both had so much fun emceeing last year in Seoul they couldn’t resist doing it again,” says Wong. “Expect a lot more matching outfits, costume changes, and entertainment from the two of them.”

The event will also provide plenty of food, free beer, and free espresso roasted by Single O.

“At its heart, the World AeroPress Championship exists to bring coffee-loving people together in an open, inclusive, and fun environment,” says Wong. “It’s a serious competition—just not that serious.”

Follow Fresh Cup for more updates on the 2018 World AeroPress Championship, including behind-the-scenes reporting on our Instagram page.