Unlike the previous years, Vietnam National Barista Championship (VNBC) 2019 welcomed mostly first-time competitors, giving the competition a breath of fresh air with young energy. These “rookies” are the restless inspiration to NestinCity of their can-do spirit and well-thought strategy. Uyen Pham is one of them.
I still remember watching her performance in preliminary round. She owned a catchy appearance, calm movement with confident speaking style. While other competitors rushed to finish all drinks and completing the speech on time, Uyen intentionally waited the Judges to finish their tasting and scoring, which took around 30 seconds, to start preparing her next beverage. She was no-doubt a one of very rare risk-takers that I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t matter how doubtful I was then, Uyen was finally announced to be Top 5 of VNBC 2019. Speaking with Uyen after the competition about her journey to VNBC, I can be sure that Uyen is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind burning the candle at both ends and she actually earned this prize.
Please click here to watch our full interview video with Uyen or have a look at the excerpt below to know what happened to her coffee and how she overcame her weakness in just 2 weeks before the competition.
Can you tell me about the coffee that you presented this year?
It’s from Guji, Ethiopia, naturally processed. When you drink it, you can easily find it berry-like, but the darker color kinds of berry, such as blackberry or plum or blueberry or brown sugar. Bold and dark. It’s kinda strange because Ethiopian coffee always left me orange flavor tone such as peach, apricot or plum, but this coffee is all about dark berries. Especially, it has heavy body, high sweetness and long aftertaste. It’s really delicious.
So how about your supporters? Can you tell me more about your team?
A lot of people supported me. Firstly, I have to thank Okkio team. My main supporter is Vu from Okkio Café. He did almost everything, even things that I can’t remember to prepare. Another supporter is My, also from Okkio. My handled everything for a “good look”: printing brochure, preparing napkins, cups and spoons. It sounds easy but competitors usually don’t have enough time to take good care of it. The next one is Tam, Okkio. Tam helped me to prepare my painting of geographical influence on the coffee plants – which is a signature of my performance at VNBC 2019.
Secondly, it’s Bosgaurus team, especially Han. Although she is not my main supporter, she went with me during this long journey since the first day I told her my wish to compete at VNBC. Han has her full-time job so she only played as my mentor mainly. Actually, I didn’t meet my main supporter until 3 to 4 weeks before the competition. Before that time, Han encouraged me and helped me in logistics preparation until I met my main supporter. The next one is Mr. Hung (owner of Bosgaurus) – my roaster. Every time he came to see me, he gave a lot of advice and tips on what I should do and what my presentation lacks of.
Was there any difficulty that you had to overcome during the preparation and competition?
There was many. The first thing I worried about is my coffee. It had numerous quakers and defects, about 50%. That proportion is huge. That’s why we decided to pick out all of defects from the batch both before and after roasting. We had to finish it on time so that it didn’t delay roasting schedule. I was also nervous about my ability. I think the competition made me understand more about pressure. I still had to work, prepare for the competition and handle occurred problems. There were so many things to do in the last month before the competition and I had to remind myself to be happy before the guests and maintain my working performance during that exhausted time, not to be affected by negative things. 2 weeks before the competition, I received the same feedback from many people, saying that I didn’t create a good connection with customers. They all said that my performance is not inspiring. I felt like I had nothing to show on stage but making coffee literally. So I put a goal for myself, which was to make the Judges like me after the first 30 seconds of my performance. Many people worry about technical skills but it can be improved by practicing. However, you cannot practice making people like you.
In case you don’t know what “quaker” is: “Quakers are unripened beans that are hard to identify during hand sorting and green bean inspection. They’re often, but not always, caused by poor soil conditions which limit sugar and starch development. Technically this isn’t a roast defect, but often you’ll only discover it after roasting.”
How did it go?
I think I did my best on stage. After my performance, I asked the Judges how they felt about me, as it was my biggest problem I had to solve. I was so happy to hear that they felt inspired actually, but the espresso was very bad. They also told me that my presentation sounded persuasive. Some of them scored me in every round and they said that I had a unique color and wanted to see me compete again. They watched me from the pre-round to the final round so I was glad to hear that from them.
Do you have any advice for our barista fellows if they want to compete at VNBC next year?
For the upcoming competitors, firstly, focus on what you want. Please have a clear goal to yourself. Don’t compete just to know the rules or to have first-hand competing experience. When you compete, you don’t just present yourself. There are many people standing behind and supporting you so you have to be clear. Secondly, have self-disciplinary. Once you set a goal, no matter what people say, you must protect your idea. As long as you stay strong, you’ll still get help from people, sometimes unexpectedly. You must focus on what you want. Set yourself a clear and specific goal as much as possible.
Thank you, Uyen. I believe that you’ll go further and wish you many successes in your career.