World Barista Champion Agnieszka Rojewska makes history

The world has a new Barista Champion. Agnieszka Rojewska of Poland talks to BeanScene about mental strength, building trust, and why less can sometimes be more.

When sports champions win a title, they usually pop a giant champagne bottle, enjoy a fancy meal, or hit the after party to bask in their winning glory. For this year’s World Barista Champion Agnieszka Rojewska, the celebrations were a little more subdued. 

“I ate Ben & Jerry’s icecream – we don’t have many flavours in Poland – and went to sleep. I was super tired,” she says. 

It had been a huge week of competition for 55 national barista champions from across the globe. Each put their heart and soul into their routine, which represented far more than the 15-minute performance at Rai Centre at World of Coffee in Amsterdam in June. 

After two attempts at the world title in previous years, Agnieszka became the first woman ever to win the World Barista Championship (WBC) title. Lex Wenneker of the Netherlands was runner up, Mathieu Theis of Switzerland placed third, Michalis Katsiavos of Greece fourth, Cole Torode of Canada fifth, John Gordon of New Zealand sixth, and Craig Simon of Australia finished in seventh place.

“I never expected [to win the WBC]. Of course I had it somewhere in my mind, but I had put it on the ‘impossible things’ shelf. At this point I’m just super happy and a bit scared what will happen. I think that winning the WBC means a lot of responsibility,” Agnieszka tells BeanScene. 

What impressed her about this year’s standard of routines was how creative the other national baristas champions were, and the importance of the messages they shared. 

“I believe that it was just [fine] details and luck that makes some of us finish in the final six,” Agnieszka says. “The level [of talent] was really high and it was a pure pleasure to compete with those amazing people.”

Agnieszka has already experienced the impact of winning competitions. She is a three-time Polish Barista Champion, four-time Polish Latte Art Champion, and 2018 London Coffee Master, but the one eluding her résumé was the WBC. 

Agnieszka finished in 34th place in both the Seattle WBC in 2015 and Dublin WBC in 2016. It taught her to enjoy the experience and to expect the unexpected. 

“What happens on stage is a different story [altogether],” Agnieszka says. “I learned a lot about myself in stressful situations. I know how my body and mind react.”

This year, Agnieszka came to the stage better prepared. She spent two months training for the WBC, which is pretty short by WBC standards, and felt in full control throughout the performance. Most importantly, she enjoyed every second from the moment she called ‘time’ to the minute she closed the performance with one second left on the clock. 

Agnieszka’s presentation was warm and inviting. She treated the judges as regular customers and provided them only with additional coffee information as they became more confortable. 

“I believe that baristas keep getting more and more knowledgeable and we forget that this knowledge is not common. In order to make our community bigger and stronger we need to provide that knowledge to our customers in an approachable way,” she says. “By keeping a friendly atmosphere we are able to gain more trust so the customer doesn’t feel that they are getting a coffee lesson, but just some interesting facts from people they like.”

To keep the customers or judges wanting more, Agnieszka used a coffee sourced from Project Origin Coffee’s CM Selections lot in Mesina, Ethiopia, a new coffee growing area. Because of the fresh soil and young 10-year-old trees planted at 2300 metres above sea level, Agnieszka said the result in the cup was “more intense yellow fruit characteristics” and  “extraordinary sweetness”.

The Heirloom cultivar underwent washed carbonic maceration processing, a concept Ona Coffee Founder Sasa Sestic first presented to the WBC in 2015, the same year he won the event. With this process, the coffee is depulped, put into tanks, and pressurised with carbon dioxide to remove all oxygen and encourage lactic bacteria. 

“[When I first tasted this coffee] my first impression was about how incredibly tactile it was,” Agnieszka says.  

Agnieszka was first introduced to Yanina Ferrerya of Project Origin who suggested she work with Sasa, and he agreed. “He is a super professional coffee man and an amazing person. I learned discipline during our trainings,” says Agnieszka, an independent barista at Rojes in Poland. 

For her WBC routine, Agnieszka started with her milk beverages, which she said had notes of milk chocolate and warm strawberry jam. For her signature beverage, she made a passionfruit infusion with natural tropical fruit notes, and served her espresso last, using the same Ethiopian coffee to achieve sweetness, bitterness, and flavours of orange, plum, and low intensity of peach. 

Agnieszka’s dedication to specialty coffee education is a far cry from her early memories of coffee, which was simply “bad instant coffee” she used to stay awake. Agnieszka is now content in an industry that continues to surprise her at just how unpredictable it can be. 

“I can never have enough [of it],” she says. “After 10 years [in the coffee industry] I’m still enjoying it and every day I’m learning something new.” 

Agnieszka is unsure what her next steps as a WBC winner will be. For now, she knows she will compete in the World Latte Art Championship in Brazil from 7 to 9 November, hoping to grab two World titles in the one year. She also has her eye on the Coffee in Good Spirits Championship, and winning the World Latte Art Battle in Seoul one day. For now however, she has the gold tamper WBC trophy in her possession, and hopes her win will inspire the next generation of female baristas.

“I hope it will show them it is possible, so they will keep chasing their dreams.” 

Image credit: Jeff Hann, World Coffee Events

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