For Du Jianing, becoming a champion barista boils down to dedication and teamwork
Du Jianing brews four cups of Ninety Plus Gesha Estate coffee at the final round of the Boston World Coffee Championships on April 14. (DIANNE WANG / CHINA DAILY)
‘Welcome, my dear customers. This is a picture of my coffee shop. In this beautiful place, we present the most exotic coffee in the world to coffee lovers in China.
“As a barista, I brew coffee and share the flavors and stories behind them. This is why I love coffee, because it is all about sharing,” said Du Jianing, in her prologue to the final round of the Boston World Coffee Championships on April 14.
Over the next 10 minutes, she made four cups of Ninety Plus Gesha Estate coffee for herself and the three judges sitting in front of her. They watched her present her coffee-making skills with her narration, and enjoyed the coffee with her as if they were sitting in her own coffee shop — Uni-Uni Roasters and Bakery in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.
Representing China, this final presentation helped Du win the title of 2019 World Brewers Cup Champion — her first win in three World Brewers Cup appearances, after finishing 15th in Ireland in 2016 and eighth in Brazil in 2018 — making her the first Chinese winner of the event.
The World Brewers Cup competition highlights the craft of filter coffee brewing by hand, promoting manual coffee brewing and service excellence. Around 40 competitors, all national champions in their home countries, joined the two-round competition, with just six making it through to the finals.
Before the presentation, Du ground her coffee beans twice — first crushing them loosely into large lumps before grinding them into fine particles. The first grind makes the coffee evenly distributed and removes the silver skin covered pieces, while the second grind brings out clearer flavors.
She chose a different style of dripper from most of the other baristas, so she could use thinner filter paper to gain a more even extraction, while the large opening at the bottom helped achieve clearer layers of flavor.
The brewing was the most exciting part to watch, since Du was the only competitor using both hands to pour the water while altering the speed that she decanted the liquid.
“There will be four stages of brewing. During the first stage, I will pour 60 grams of water at the speed of 6 grams per second for 10 seconds... and for the second stage, I choose to pour 80g of water and adjust the pouring speed to 4g per second for 20 seconds,” said Du.
As she poured, Du showed the weight of the dripper on an iPad screen next to her, which was a risky move if she made any mistakes, as the judges could monitor the exact time, temperature, and flow rate readings in real time for each brew.
Her steady hands ensured that the pouring perfectly matched her description.
Du is the first Chinese winner of the title of World Brewers Cup Champion. (DIANNE WANG / CHINA DAILY)
According to her mentor Zhang Yinzhe, Du spent a year practicing pouring the water accurately using two hands so that she could manage to make four cups of coffee and drink them together with the three judges within the space of 10 minutes.
“Most competitors would use the 10 minutes just to make the coffee and describe the flavors, and the judges would have to drink them after that. But Du decided to curtail her preparation time so that the judges could drink along with her as she explained the flavors,” said Zhang.
Du’s recipe for the finals of the competition was 16g of coffee, 240g of water, to brew 190g of beverage at a temperature of 94 C with a total extraction time of 1 minute 40 seconds.
“Now it’s the most important part: Let’s enjoy the coffee together,” said Du, who recalled this as the key moment of her presentation — savoring the coffee.
She asked the judges to enjoy the aroma before pouring the coffee into the cup.
“Please swirl the vessel gently a few times. You will find yourself immersed in delicate, velvety floral aromas before being overwhelmed by apricot and cocoa notes, followed by the nice sweet taste of cream,” Du said to the judges.
Unlike other competitors, Du simply introduced the coffee flavors using just a few words, the same way she briefly explained her brewing process.
Zhang explained that this simplified description allowed the judges more time to concentrate on the coffee.
“In the previous competition, Du would explain as much as she could, but we realized that it was actually a burden on the listeners, so we decided that less is more,” said Zhang.
The judges drank the coffee with Du three times as the temperature cooled, to sample the different flavors released by the coffee.
“What I love most about this coffee is the acidity! It is sweet like grapes, from a purple grape changing to a green grape, with medium intensity — it’s vibrant and lively,” said Du, explaining that the balance of the coffee, its complex flavors, delightful acidity and structured body in the mouth “was like a cello concert”.
The final results were announced from the sixth runner-up to the winner, so when the second place was revealed and Du’s name still had not been called, her whole team started to cheer.
“I felt blank at that time. I couldn’t breathe or even hear my team celebrating,” Du recalled.
The 27-year-old Beijing barista started her coffee career nine years ago, and her competition route took off in 2015 after she was invited to work for Zhang’s newly opened cafe in Nanjing.
“She is timid but eager to learn new things, and even though she is nervous before each competition, once she is on the stage, she really shines,” said Zhang.
Du took third place at the China Barista Championship in 2015 and the following year became the national champion at the China’s Brewers Cup, gaining the only spot that allowed her to compete on the world stage.
But she realized there was a gap between her and other top baristas in the World Brewers Cup in 2016 and decided to take a year off and be the assistant to her fellow teammates and allow them to compete.
In 2018, Du was back in the game. She made national champion again and was ranked eighth in the world. She was two places away from the final. One month later, she started to compete in the national competition again to earn her spot in Boston.
She stopped eating carbohydrates weeks before the competition to stay clear headed for her practice sessions, and also spat the coffee after tasting during evening practices so she could be well rested for the next day’s training.
“I’ve practiced the whole presentation for the final 300 times, and I know exactly what move I’m going to make when I speak a certain sentence,” said Du.
Rather than focusing on winning the competition, Du said she focused on presenting her best skills as a barista.
“I knew I was in better condition than my previous competitions, because before I couldn’t bear any changes to my brewing routine or my presentation, but this time I was still discussing things with my team and changing certain phrases the night before the final,” said Du.
After winning the world champion title, Du was invited to join many coffee events around China. But after nearly five years’ competition she feels she has completed a stage in her life. “The next step will definitely be related to coffee, but I need some time to figure out what it will be.”
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