alan bruce

Alan Bruce’s winning taste

The NZSCA catches up with Alan Bruce of Flight Coffee Roasters after his fifth placing at the 2019 World Cup Tasters Championship in Berlin.

When Alan Bruce of Flight Coffee Roasters went to represent New Zealand in the 2019 World Cup Tasters Championship in Berlin this past June, not even he realised how well he’d do.

“My only aim was to get past the first round, so to finish fifth was an incredible feeling,” Alan says.

“I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of difficulty, so we tried to make my training as challenging as possible in the weeks leading up to it. Once I started tasting the first few sets, I knew we’d prepared enough.”

Before trying his hand at the New Zealand Cup Tasters Championship, Alan was a regular New Zealand Barista Championship and Brewers Cup competitor. But after a few years away from the competition scene, Alan wanted to try something new.

“I haven’t competed in the Barista Championship for a few years, and I’m not sure if I’ll do it again. I don’t have the time to commit to it these days,” he says.

“It turns out I still have a bit of a competitive side though, so I felt like this would be a good time to try Cup Tasters. I had no idea that I would win. That came as a huge surprise.”

Though Cup Tasters can feel like a race against the clock, Alan says going in fully prepared and with as much practice as possible is key to winning the mind game.

“I was very nervous in the opening round, [as I was] one of the first people to compete. I could barely get the spoon to my mouth with my shaky hands. As the rounds went on, I got a bit more confident and started to relax a little,” he says.

“[You need to] taste a range of coffees in the run-up to the competition. Set up proper triangulations and practice as though it’s the real thing. It’s a different discipline from the tasting that you might do cupping or dialling in, so you need to treat it differently. Don’t let the time pressure get to you.”

Alan’s experience at the world championship allowed him to connect with and learn from baristas and cuppers from around the world, including 2019 World Cup Tasters Champion Daniel Horbat of Ireland.

“Daniel was on an insane diet for months leading up to the competition to try and keep his palate as clean as possible. I don’t know if I could put myself through that – I enjoy my food and drink too much,” Alan says.

“I think my skills as a cupper have improved greatly over the course of preparing for the competition. Even though Cup Tasters is a different discipline to full cupping, there’s a huge benefit to the speed with which you’re able to process the information.”

Alan now looks forward to defending his title in the 2020 NZ Cup Tasters Championship and will also contribute to the NZ Coffee Championships as a coach in the 2020 Meadow Fresh New Zealand Barista Championship.

“Competition is the best way to keep pushing yourself to progress. I’m not sure about [reclaiming] the title yet, it’s a lot of pressure to live up to, but I’ll definitely compete again,” Alan says. 

For more information on the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association, or to join, visit www.nzsca.org

Image: Kristaps Selga, World Coffee Events

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