A yarn with NZ Barista Champ: Luise Metelka

Some thoughts from the 2021 Champ

All the way back in March, a new champion took their rightful place at the top of the podium, as the 2021 New Zealand Barista Champ, in only her second attempt. Bow down to coffee royalty: Luise Metelka.

Even though Luise is currently a killer coffee roaster for Wellington’s Flight Coffee, she has spent her fair share of time behind the bar pulling shots. Obviously though right? She just won all the beans. And she has featured on Stuff, talking about how she makes her perfect shot of coffee (the perfect shot, from the Champ - what more do you need to know?!)

Much has been written about Luise following the her win (Stuff; Lamarzocco; Bean Scene Mag amongst others), but we still decided to jump on the band wagon, albeit a few months down the road.

In the weeks following her win, we fired Luise some questions. The fact that Luise took the time to respond, even in the craziness of all the excitement of the win, and provided incredibly thoughtful and insightful answers is a testament to her and just makes her Champ status even more fitting.

Such a legend.

A chat with the Champ

The Magic Roast: How long have you been in the coffee industry and what roles have you filled?

Luise Metelka: I had my first job as a junior barista in Melbourne in 2015. I started in a fast-paced takeaway shop on the Queen Victoria Market that serves Specialty Coffee. From then onwards I worked in different coffee shops around the city.

Whenever I felt I learned enough, I moved on to be able to continue to grow. It wasn’t until I moved to Wellington and started a job at Flight Coffee, that I found a spot that can provide me a steep learning curve. I quickly became the head barista at the flagship café and then moved to the roastery after a couple of years to join the roasting team in 2019.  

TMR: What does it mean for you to have been a competitor? And now, what does it mean to you to be this year's Champ? 

LM: I am not a naturally competitive person, but I have incredibly high standards for myself. 

I started competing, because it was the next step for me to learn more and to grow. I love the preparation time, where I get to work with all the brilliant coffee professionals in our company. Everyone has a strength, that they share with me through constructive feedback and suggestions, which I always take on board. In my opinion, this is the only way of improving and growing. You can only win this competition as a team. It takes a village! 

Having won the barista champs is incredibly humbling. It will take a while until I can process it properly. I set it as my goal years ago but didn’t think I would get there so quickly. I am incredibly excited to prepare for the world stage. I know this is going to be a very stressful process and my routine will need a lot more polishing, but it is the next step in my learning process.

I am honoured to represent New Zealand and our Farm El Fénix at the worlds! 

TMR: How did you construct your performance this year? What were the key things you wanted the judges to take away?

LM: Writing a routine should be personal, relatable, and most importantly: It should bring a meaningful message across and it should still be easy to follow and built logically. You need to know when to give the right information at the right point, when not to talk (so the judges can score you) and what to say (so everything has purpose).  

This year my presentation was about having impact in origin, which is what drives me the most and which is the reason I work in coffee!  

My routine represented the journey I have taken from when I was a child and wanted to be a superhero, so I could save the world with my supernatural power, becoming a coffee professional and realising, that anyone can be a hero by making impactful decisions.

We built the routine based on Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey, which is the common template for every hero story.  

TMR: What was the coffee you used? Tell us a bit about it's processing.

LM: I had the honour to use the coffee from our farm in Colombia called El Fénix. This is an awesome project, which works as a community wet mill where local producers can process their cherries in a controlled environment (many of them do not have such facilities) or they can sell on their cherries at a fixed price for El Fénix to process. 

I used a blend of a Natural Tabi and Natural Gesha.

Miguel, the producer, designed an affordable, accessible, and simple method of anaerobic fermentation, so anyone can replicate it. Instead of massive, expensive tanks, he ferments the cherries in giant wheelie bins. He places a grain pro on top of the cherries, which is a plastic bag, that allows gas out, but not in (grain pros are very common practice for producers of specialty coffee, because it helps to store green coffee for a long time). Then Miguel puts water on top, so it creates a seal and provides temperature control. Each bin has a tap on the bottom, so the juice can drain while the cherries ferment, preventing overfermentation.  

Simple, impactful ideas like these make people like Miguel a hero. This is why my concept and EL Fénix worked so well together! 

TMR: How important to you, and to your eventual win, was going to source to see where your competition coffee was grown, and learn directly about the coffee and process from the farmer? 

LM: Honestly, I would have thought that baristas don’t necessarily have to go to origin to win the competition. 

That being said, I don’t think I would have written my presentation as well as I did without going to Columbia.  

What happened to me after living at the farm, is something that I can only describe as a big bang in my head. I thought I knew a lot, but seeing it with my own eyes, really changed the way I look at the supply chain and Specialty Coffee. It was a classic scenario of “the more you know, the less you know.” 

I don’t know if everyone would experience origin the way I did, but for the concept I was writing, this trip was crucial.  

TMR: Farmers are always looking for an edge, and using innovative ways to create a better, and more desirable product. We saw that this year in the Champs with people using an extended fermented coffee which created some funky results. How important is that innovation for being successful in competitions, and are more of the public looking at trying something new and exciting too? 

LM: Many baristas use extended fermentations and Naturals in the competitions because the flavour notes are easier to pick (compared to a fully washed coffee). They are commonly tropical fruit and berry forward. The most points a barista can get in the competition is by getting the flavour descriptors right when serving the espresso, so it can make a competitor's life easier, when working with a heavily processed coffee. 

Naturals/extended fermented coffees are also great for the industry because it really displays what is possible in coffee! Especially for people who are new to specialty coffee, they get blown away by the fact that their brew is more comparable to juice than the more common roasty, nutty and chocolatey flavours.  

Personally, I prefer clean washed coffees. I find it exciting to taste the actual variety over the heavy processing. I would like to see more washed coffees on the competition stage.  

TMR: From the sourcing side of things, how tricky it is to get the best quality coffee with the rise in specialty coffee globally? Does NZ have good market access to the world's best coffee?

LM: I think the two issues that New Zealand is facing is: the cost of transport and a lack of demand from the consumers.  

There is no shortage of great green coffee – the only limits are what you are willing to pay, and what the end consumer is willing to pay.  

Most people refuse to spend more than $4.50 for a flat white. To many, there is no differentiation of quality when it comes to coffee. A flat white seems to always be the same product and therefore should always cost the same.

It is interesting because we do understand the difference between a cheap and a high-quality wine and are therefore prepared to pay more. Coffee is just too far from home, I reckon. 

TMR: Where to from here for you? I guess the WBC is off the table this year - do things change for next year? 

LM: Yes, the WBC was cancelled in Athens this year, and they haven’t announced a new location yet.  

I will represent NZ at the 2022 WBC, which is what I am going to work towards. There is a lot more polishing to do, so I am ready and looking forward to raising the bar.  

TMR: What is your favourite experience?

LM: It will always be the summer afternoons at home. My extended family would come around every Sunday and we would eat cake and drink dark roasted filter coffee with a dash of milk in our rose garden. The smell of the flowers, the warm golden light, the sweet cake with the combination of the bitterness of the brew, was my first introduction to coffee. Even now I still drink it every time I go home. It throws me back to those peaceful family hours.  

What a legend

So, there you have it. A great insider thanks to your 2021 New Zealand Barista Champion, Luise Metelka.

A massive thanks to Luise for her time for this. And sorry it took so long!

Thanks for reading!

I am hoping to do more of these insiders on people in the industry doing amazing things, so make sure you subscribe, share and keep an eye out for more!

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