USA takes WAC Gold

2018 World AeroPress Champion Carolina Ibarra Garay (right). Photo by Abi Varney

SYDNEY—Co-hosted by Sydney-based specialty coffee roasting company Single O and World AeroPress Championship (W.A.C), the sold-out World AeroPress Championships saw over 700 coffee enthusiasts come together for a day of coffee, food, entertainment, and laughter. The competition, which took place on Saturday, November 17, at Sydney event space Commune, saw 56 competitors from countries including Croatia, Japan, Spain, Qatar, and Turkey compete in a series of coffee brewing rounds using the AeroPress.

The event was mediated by emcee duo Marcus Boni (Trade Coffee) and Michelle Johnson (The Chocolate Barista), who, after careful consideration, tasting, and swirling from the judges, announced Carolina Ibarra Garay, a U.S.-based barista originally from Colombia, as this year’s AeroPress Champion.

Emcee duo Marcus Boni and Michelle Johnson. Photo by Anastasia Prikhodko

“I had so many feelings,” says Garay. “The noises in my head were telling me I couldn’t make it and others told me that I could. I know it sounds crazy but I think we all struggle with insecurities, especially in moments like that. I was very nervous, anxious, excited, happy and went through lots of moments of self-doubt.

Carolina Ibarra Garay. Photo by Abi Varney

“I had to meditate in a corner so I could remember to be kind to myself and understand that believing I could do it was going to take me to the final winning moment,” she adds. “And here we are.”

The participating judges throughout the day included Megan Wyper (Acme & Co), Emma Markland-Webster (Monster Truck Coffee), Julie Kerr (Cafe Imports Australia), Lauren Stokes (Cafe Imports Australia), Jets Anita Langlands (La Marzocco Australia), Brydon Price (La Marzocco Australia), Hugh Kelly (ONA Coffee, judged on behalf of sponsor OXO), Wendy De Jong (Single O), Mark Dundon (Seven Seeds Coffee Roasters & Paramount Coffee Project), and Shuichi Sasaki (Passage Coffee, 2014 World AeroPress Champion).

Judges: Wendy de Jong (Single O), Megan Wyper (Acme Co), Julie Kerr (Cafe Imports). Photo by Abi Varney

In the final round, Garay competed against Xiaobo Zhang, a coffee-passionate airlines employee from China, who nabbed silver, and Evgeni Pinchukov from Belarus, who received bronze through a surprise wildcard return after getting eliminated in his first round. Garay says that throughout the last part of the competition, she kept repeating to herself, “I got this.”

“I was also asking the gods to stay with me,” she says. “I’m not necessarily a religious person but I am very spiritual and remembering that the divine surrounds me, keeps me calm and focused. Also while I was waiting for the judges to point [to the winning cup], I would find faces of women in the crowd and repeat to myself, ‘This is for us! For the girls in coffee.’”

Top Three: Evgeni Pinchukov, Carolina Ibarra Garay, and Xiabo Zhang. Photo by Abi Varney

Acting as head judge, as well as tie-breaker judge, was Single O’s Wendy De Jong. She says it was fun having the Mugaya AA from Kenya as the competition coffee because it is “complex enough to taste great when brewed lots of different ways.”

“Garay’s coffee really stood out for capturing all the complex acidity like berry and citrus while also capturing an incredible sweetness and syrupy texture,” says De Jong.

And this was exactly Garay’s focus: to produce a cup that was balanced between the acidity and creaminess.

“At the cupping table, all I could taste was the acidity so my goal was to bring that down to some sort of strawberry/lime milkshake flavor,” she says.

In terms of recommending the championships to other aspiring baristas, Garay says that “everybody should experience an AeroPress competition at least once, as it’s the most fun and uplifting coffee competition,” adding, “you get to be yourself, to be a geek but also have fun.”

Along with the opportunity to meet coffee professionals Garay has always admired, the win has also enabled her to grow in the industry.

“A rule to myself is to be the best version of me and that means to stay humble, remember where I come from, and to serve as an inspiration to others,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to make my mom and aunt proud and I now know that they are incredibly happy for my achievements and that means the world to me.”

Practice makes perfect. Photo by Abi Varney

Once returning to the United States, Garay plans to encourage others to compete and coach and support future competitors.

“I am also going to start training for the Brewers Cup next year,” she says.

Another highlight from the last few days, she says, has been the people.

All the champions get together the day before the competition. Photo by Abi Varney

“The most beautiful thing of this industry are the human connections, the shared memories,” she says. “That will never fade away from my heart.”


Read our interview with Carolina Ibarra Garay