VNBC 2018: A New Face

I love competitions for many reason, one of which is that it’s full of surprise. Vietnam National Barista Championship (VNBC) 2018 witnessed a number of newbies coming on stage and showing what they’ve got for the first time ever. While other barista peers gained their first hard lessons of competing professionally, Bill made his way to Top 6 and obtained his first trophy of 4th place finally. This result changes the way we look at newbies, also how they look at themselves.

The idea of an interview with Bill came up on my mind right after VNBC Top 6 was announced. Even though it’s not the final result, I believed there would be many interesting things to know about this young man. Here are a few things that impressed me the most about Bill:

  • He is also an actor in the “High School Movie” sitcom, which has more than 2.5 million subscribers on Youtube.
  • A basketball player who owns powerful tattoos on his hands and a collection of pink kettle, pink milk pitcher, pink dripper, pink cups, even pink sweaters!
  • Achievements in 2017: Top 6 of Monin Cup and Top 8 of Vietnam Beverage Battle.

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And last but not least, he’s a well-behaved kid! In spite of short working experience, his easy-going personality made it easier for him to keep up with professional barista and advanced knowledge. During the interview, Bill emphasized how the Workshop Café team helped and supported him during his preparation and practicing for the competition. His story led me from one feeling to another: from amusing with his hilarious way of telling story, to being nervous about difficulties he had to face during the competition and end up with the joy for his winning. The more I talk to Bill, the more hopeful I feel about this growing industry.

Nestincity (Trang): Hello Bill! Happy Birthday and Congratulations on your success at Vietnam Barista Championship! Can I have a short interview with you about your performance at VNBC for my blog – Nestincity?

Bill: Yes, sure.

  1. Is it your first time competing at VNBC?

Yes, it is.

  1. Why did you want to join this competition?

2 years ago, I came to the first VNBC as a visitor just to have a look, as I didn’t know anything about coffee. I saw baristas competing something but didn’t understand why they made the same espresso and cappuccino in their performances, only the last drinks were different. I was not good at English, either. I couldn’t get all technical terms that baristas were speaking about then, so I just walked away. A few weeks later, I stopped by The Workshop for a coffee and noticed the 4th place and 6th place trophies there. I was such curious that started to look for more information about coffee and VNBC. It’s when I fell in love with coffee and got to know Linh and Bao, who were 4th and 6th place then. Then I visited the Workshop Café more regularly. Everybody there was so nice to me and shared with me much of their knowledge. I decided to take part in VNBC in 2020 or so, because I was not confident about my ability then. But Truong (the roaster of Workshop team) encouraged me to take a chance this year, saying that, although I was not their member, they would try their best to support me, so I did. It’s 2 years earlier than I expected.

  1. After VNBC, how do you feel? What do you think about the result?

It’s over expected. I’ve just had 2-year working experience, the least compared with other competitors and Top 6 of VNBC. I didn’t even expect to be in Top 6. My only goal then was Top 12. I wanted to present my skills in front of many people. But the preliminary round this year already allowed competitors to perform before the crowd. It made me kind of satisfied right from the beginning without any idea of Top 12, or even Top 6. I thought my place would be the 6th, but it turned out to be the 4th. So it’s completely over my expectation.

  1. What do you want to do next, after VNBC?

I’m a freelancer now, or so-called “unemployed” to many people. I’m still looking for a good place to develop my career.

  1. Will you compete next year?

Absolutely. But there will be lots of pressure next year. This year, I didn’t fear to lose anything when joining VNBC for the first time. Next year, I’ll have to maintain this level of reach top Top 3, Top 2. Not championship.

  1. Can you tell me a bit about the coffee beans you used in VNBC?

I used 2 different kinds of bean throughout the whole competition. The first one is for preliminary round only. Ron (Pham Thanh Nhan) and I had to experience with different kinds of beans. However, our financial condition is not strong enough to buy in large quantity. Furthermore, we just had a small roaster which handled only 500g for each batch, which was not enough for practicing and performing. During 2 weeks before VNBC, I just practiced techniques with old coffee because I didn’t know which beans to use in my performance. I only knew (which kind of beans to use) a few days before the preliminary round. So I prepared a script in advance with general ideas and outline. I pretended it was Ethiopia natural process from some region to make it smoother. Then I fulfilled more details about beans (different process, different altitude, etc) and flavors on the last day before VNBC.  1 day before the preliminary round, I received a great support from Bi (Tran Le Minh Truc). He gave me some Ethiopian beans from the region that was accidentally the same as what I had been practicing, so I didn’t have to change anything in the draft script. This coffee was actually roasted for sales in his cafe, not specialized for competition. But I still made it to semi-final round, so I really appreciate Bi’s help. 2 weeks before semi-final, Ron and I kept looking for better beans and finally decided to buy Kenyan coffee from Ms. Thiep. We were still not able to buy large quantity of beans and could only roast the same small batches as before. Ron failed in roasting this kind of coffee several times it’s so hard to roast. The varietal is not SL-28 or SL-34 that we usually used. It’s French Mission Bourbon, way different from the others. I was not sure if it tasted good. I gave it a try because it’s special, no one heard about it before. Until a few days before VNBC, the beans still carried a lot of straw-like flavors as it was the past crop. The Workshop team allowed me to practice in the cafe with their members every night, While Ron helped me with roasting and other financial stuff. During practicing, the Workshop team and I were so disappointed thinking that this batch of beans was too bad to compete. I was kind of depressed and almost gave up. Although we are all competitors, the Workshop team still helped me to build up a better profile for this kind coffee. Thanks to their help, I quite satisfied with my performance but didn’t expect the Judges would like my coffee. I was happy because there were not many technical mistakes in my performance. The result surprised me a lot. When 4 of 6 people were announced in Top 6, Tran-Han (last year Champion) was still not in the list.  I thought “she’ll definitely be in Top 6”, meaning that there was just 1 place left while the rest of competitors were more skillful and experienced than me. Some of them used to be in Top 6 the previous years. So there was no chance for me to get in Top 6. But I did, unexpectedly. I was extremely happy with that result.

Thanks for your sharing, Bill. I wish that all your dreams come true and see you next year on stage of VNBC 2019.

Please kindly watch our full interview here if you have time.

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