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  • Writer's pictureJessie T

Journey to NZBC 2019: An Interview with Ken Te.

The man that once worked in an espresso bar has now moved on to a grander stage. His name is Ken Te. Perhaps that name may rings a bell or even seen him competing at several Latte Art Throwdowns. After having worked for more than 4 years in the cafe, he has finally taken the first step earlier this year by participating in the Meadow Fresh New Zealand Barista Championship (MFNZBC).

As one of the many aspiring newcomers, Ken Te has established more than what he expected as a first time competitor. Placing 3rd and also titled the “Best Newcomers” award. Below we learn more about Ken Te along with some insights on his performance and his understanding on specialty coffee.

Hi, Ken and congrats once again! First, tell us how long have you been in the specialty coffee industry? And where are you trying to grow into?

Hi, I’ve been in the industry for about 4 and a half years now. I believe “specialty” is a way to understand and improve the quality of coffee, especially in New Zealand as a whole. You could also say it is a way of spreading the idea of “farmer to consumer”. That is one of the main reason why I want to challenge myself and take one coffee to another level. I do think competition like the NZBC will help anyone within the industry better. For instance, roaster will need to roast the selected bean to its potential and see what barista can expand from it.

So as an individual what makes you wanna compete in the NZBC?

Personally, I want to push myself to be a better barista in the future. “Better” as in I can be one of barista who can represent New Zealand coffee. It may sound small but this is the first step for me to move forward to connect with the world of specialty coffee. To show NZ industry that we understand coffee and coffee is just a flavour for us.

What did you expect you would get before the competition and did you?

My set goal was to be one of the top 6, I believe it would be the first step for me to prove to myself that I understand the responsibility of being a barista. When I got into the final, my whole thoughts to myself was how grateful I am but at the same time thinking to myself… I think I could have done better for the team. Till today I am still very glad that I got a whole team to get me to where we are today but if I have the same chance again next year, I will definitely try my very best to prove to customers and our team that I am who they think I am. A barista that understands the concept of “Farmer to Customer” or you can say “Seed to Cup”.

So how did you end up choosing this beans over others to be your competition bean?

Our first consideration that came to the mind of team was we need the beans to be affordable to our customers and something that they will appreciate as much as I do. Hugo as our supplier has shown me some of the greatest coffee on the cupping table at that time. After a few cupping sessions, this Java was a clear stood out on the table. This has enlighten me to use this coffee and to be in love with it in order to share this coffee on stage.

Shout out to Hugo, from Three Brothers Coffee/Cofinet! He’s a coffee hunter who out on behalf of the producer and trade specialty coffee to different countries. He takes a crucial part to this performance that I present, he’s the bridge between my team and the farmer. For me, I think it does not matter which bean we chose, but it is the relationship of the barista and the bean as well as the understanding of coffee. I believe if you like the coffee enough you will learn and show your understanding on the bean on your own. Thus my team and I end up getting Natural processed Java, El Robe to be shared on stage.

What’s your original concept of “seed to cup” before the comp? Did it change throughout/after the comp?

My original vision on “Seed to Cup” is related to where the coffee come from, what’s the processing of the coffee then to the recipe of the coffee. After the competition, it has changed my understanding on it completely. Particularly with the idea of the “farm”. It is not just about where the coffee is from but how it is grown, why they are grown and the way they are processed and why the farmer chosen what they have chosen to be processed.

For instance, Jarios the owner of the farm decided to plant coffee because he believe this coffee is the most fruity, floral and sweetest coffee in the country. He also thinks the farm has the right condition to grow Java in the micro-climate (where the soil, water and the temperature). It was perfect condition to be able to plant this and I was fortunate enough to come across this bean. If you want me to keep going, I can…

What’s your relationship with the bean chosen?

My relationship with the bean is mainly through understanding. As mentioned, we do not have a direct relationship with the farm that the bean was grown but as a competitor, we believe it is our job as a team to understand every single steps where the coffee is from - it goes back to the idea of seed to cup. From growing, roasting, brewing to our customers.

Thus sharing the idea of affordability to our customers was the perfect fit with the bean chosen and pushing it to the fullest potential.

How do you push yourself further in the industry after this year’s experience?

After the competition, I would like to share my competition coffee to the public and my customers. Not only for them to experience but at the same time trying my best to allow them to acknowledge that coffee is much more than what they think they are. Coffee is an art and craft… There is multiple layers within the process of an espresso or just a cup of flatty.

My job as a barista is the start something that may achieve something smaller. Consistently deliver highest quality of coffee to everyone. This may sound small but baby steps is good. I really appreciate all my friends and team who helped/ guide me through the comp and help me achieved what the team set out to do.

Thank you so much for your time today, Ken! Can’t wait to taste your coffee when it comes out on shelf.

New Zealand Barista Championship is a competition that focuses on promoting excellence in coffee, advancing the barista profession, and engaging a local audience with an annual championship event that provides a chance to represent New Zealand on a world stage in Boston this year.

For more info check out World Coffee Event to see what's up in the coffee world.

For more local events within New Zealand, check out @nzspeccoffee on IG.

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