Charlotte Malaval isn’t ashamed to admit that four years ago her knowledge of coffee was non-existent. “I’m from France, so naturally I grew up drinking bad, bitter, dark-roasted coffee,” Charlotte says. “I didn’t know what specialty coffee was or what origin is.”
You’d never have guessed watching Charlotte standing over rows of coffees to be cupped in Toby’s Estate’s Lab. What’s not surprising, however, is Charlotte’s appreciation for origin countries when you discover she was studying her Masters in Anthropology at University in Aix en Provence before her coffee journey began.
“I have always been fascinated by learning about different world cultures and practices, and coincidently it’s very relevant to coffee. Each country has its own approach to preparing coffee and celebrating it, from producing and consuming countries. It’s fascinating to learn how every cup impacts civilisation,” she says.
Charlotte would drink “bad coffee” to get through her demanding university schedule until one day she visited a café in the south of France that served her a fully washed single origin espresso from Ethiopia.
“It was so different to anything I had ever tasted. At first I thought it was weird, very acidic and strong. I asked the barista what a single origin was, and he explained the different coffee regions, processes and varietals. He then told me to taste the coffee again, and focus on certain flavour descriptors. When I did, I was surprised I could identify those things.”
That initial encounter ignited Charlotte’s interest in coffee. Before long, she undertook a week’s worth of Specialty Coffee Association barista training, “just for fun” and “fell in love with coffee.”
“How can you not? Coffee is such an emotional product. It connects you to all your senses. Every time you take a sip, you get a different taste experience, and every time it evokes a different emotion. Then, when you realise that all this complexity is related to so many variables, it’s even more fascinating,” Charlotte says.
While studying her masters, Charlotte started working as an independent barista. She came to the realisation that an anthropology career in France would be challenging. Despite French baristas having the reputation of being “barmen” at the time, Charlotte decided to take a year off and immerse herself in coffee education. It was during this gap year of sorts that she was introduced to the concept of barista competitions.
“I’d only been working in coffee for four or five months when someone suggested I compete. I didn’t know what it involved. I just said ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ I watched competition videos on YouTube and tried to understand the rules. Because I didn’t know much about coffee, I based my routine around my knowledge of anthropology, which was a pretty bad approach looking back, but I placed third in the 2014 French Barista Championship,” Charlotte says.
The following year, Charlotte had little interest in competing again. She attended a trade show in Belgium where she met three-time Italian Barista Champion Francesco Sanapo of Ditta Artigianale.
“He asked me if I was competing. I told him I was working independently so I’d wait until next year to allow myself more time to prepare. Franceso said to me: ‘Don’t wait another whole year. You need to get back up on stage. Don’t miss this opportunity.’ He offered to coach me and we selected a coffee together. He was the first person to believe in me,” Charlotte says.
She went back to France and trained with just three weeks until the French Barista Championship. Her coffee was “solid”, and so was her performance. So solid, in fact, that she won the 2015 national event.
“And that’s how my competition addiction started,” Charlotte says. “Competing is just 15 minutes where you show up, perform, and deliver your hard work with a key message. It’s the preparation that’s more valuable to me: pushing the boundaries, learning about coffee and yourself, and how you can connect with people. It really is the most amazing experience.”
n Because she was a freelance barista, Charlotte attended the 2015 World Barista Championship (WBC) in Seattle independently, with Francesco as her mentor. In many ways, she says, it gave her more freedom and opportunities to learn from a big team of people. In this solo pursuit, she became the first French barista to compete in the Finals round and placed sixth overall.
The following year, Charlotte took a very different approach to the national title, and surrounded herself with a coaching squad of four people (Francesco Sanapo, Roukiat Delrue, Hidenori Izaki and Amanda Juris). She not only won the French Barista Championship title again, but had the opportunity to compete in Dublin at the 2016 WBC.
“We travelled to origin, did intensive brainstorming and Skype sessions, and non-stop thinking over seven months in preparation for the worlds. That training experience was one of the most intense and wonderful learning experiences of my career,” Charlotte says.
“Today, everything I experience and the way I taste relates back to this training.”
Charlotte presented the judges with an interesting routine about the potential of coffees to be great without the price tag or prestige of Geisha attached. “I wanted to show that coffee is quite subjective and that there’s not always a right or wrong answer to coffee. Sometimes you need to dig deeper to find a jewel in the crown,” she says. “Coffee and excellence are not always what they seem.”
That year, she placed fifth in the final ranking.
Rather than a third attempt at the WBC title this year, Charlotte was offered to work with Toby’s Estate in Sydey as the company’s Green Bean Buyer – an incredible but different career opportunity she didn’t expect.
The full article features in the June 2017 edition of BeanScene Magazine.
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