It is the 26th of May, 2013. My heart is racing, the roar of the crowd feels deafening. I’m in a space where time stands still. This was the moment that I find so difficult to describe. Standing next to Matt Perger as the top two finishers of the World Barista Championship (WBC), I wait for that final announcement, one which would ultimately change my life.
That moment will be forever etched in my memory, but it was just the exclamation point on top of a bigger experience.
I had never been to Australia before the WBC trip in 2013, and coming from the United States, it felt like an incredibly exotic place to visit. That year we had “barista buddies” to help out, essentially a local coffee person who could help show you around and find any ingredients or gear you might need. My barista buddy was Jade Jennings, who introduced me to the company she works for, Veneziano Coffee Roasters. Veneziano were kind enough to let me do some practice for the competition in their space, and we quickly developed a friendly comradery.
Once we arrived at MICE, I knew it was going to be quite the event. That year, the expo was held at the Melbourne Showgrounds, and there were additional tents set up outside of the main hall, with the competition and grandstands in an adjoining building. It was like a coffee wonderland.
Backstage, the competitor room was bustling and packed with people. The competition itself was intense, which didn’t leave me a ton of time to really experience the show at large. What I did love more than anything about MICE that year, was the buzz. The energy of the people in that big top tent in a land that was altogether new to me. The excitement from the crowds, the competitors, and even exhibitors. It was all so new and exciting that the week seemingly lasted a month.
After that fateful moment of the winners’ announcement, when emcee Stephen Leighton called my name in his iconic red suit, and what felt like an eternity of smiling for photos, things started to sink in. I made it to my hotel to rest before heading to a fantastic carnival-themed after party. The night ended too early from my estimation, but the fatigue came in even earlier. Hyper focusing on competition for months tends to take a lot out of a person and after the big event was actually over, I was ready to crash.
My real celebration came the next day (I would say morning, but let’s be honest here), with a tub of honeycomb ice cream and a TimTam slam using my competition coffee. Don’t judge me.
After arriving back home in Kansas (The Wizard of Oz joke seems appropriate here), the win really did sink in. I had finally won the World Barista Championship, and I had a trophy that proved it! While I didn’t get people calling nonstop, local press and opportunities started to come in.
The following year was a whirlwind. I started consulting and coaching competitors, gave lectures on competitions and professional development, and travelled extensively. I came back to Australia often to coach Veneziano competitors and stayed connected to the company too. Seeing countries around the world had always been a goal of mine. I love experiencing other cultures, foods, and traditions that are not what I grew up with. There is beauty in diversity that I sometimes find hard to describe, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
I often came back to MICE shows in subsequent years, and began to feel at home in Melbourne. Australia stopped being an exotic mystery and became a fun, friendly place. Over time, I started having discussions with Veneziano about potentially moving to Melbourne.
It was a monumental decision to make, especially considering that I now had a family to provide for. My wife was supportive though, and we decided to go for adventure. So in May 2019, we made the move to Melbourne and I took a full time position with Nomad Coffee Group (Veneziano’s parent company) as Research and Development Coffee Consultant.
Not too long after moving I learned that WBC would once again be at MICE in 2020, and started planning how to make the best of it. Of course, the world had other plans, and it ended up being postponed. Luckily, we get a second chance, and I’m looking forward to welcoming people from around the world to the city I now call home. I hope to see you here, and hope you enjoy your time here as much as I did.
And to our soon-to-be announced winners of the WBC and World Brewers Cup, you will find yourself on a stage with your heart racing, time standing still. You may feel like it is all a blur, or perhaps find it hard to describe, but it will change your life. So, relish your moment, and make the most of it. You have earned it.
Pete Licata of Veneziano Coffee Roasters was the 2013 World Barista Champion, crowned at the 2013 Melbourne International Coffee Expo. He is Nomad Coffee Group’s Research and Development Coffee Consultant.
This article appears in the MICE2022 Showguide. Subscribe HERE.