‘In pursuit of greatness’, Beanscene Magazine

Article by Beanscene Magazine

In recent years, specialty coffee competitions have created new trends in the coffee world and publicised some innovative methods and approaches to coffee.

I have been lucky enough to be coached by an amazing man, supported by a great team and in recent years, be the support and coach for several competitors.

In June 2017, Beanscene Magazine published an article, titled ‘In pursuit of greatness’, which talked about coaching in the specialty coffee scene.

The following is an extract from the original version of this article, which appeared in its June 2017 edition. To view the entire article, visit its website.

….some baristas need a coach for technical assistance or self belief, but in Sasa’s case, he wanted Hidenori [Izaki] to manage his weaknesses; not allowing his emotions to overshadow his mind, a lack of organisation and productivity, and help in getting his procedures right – how to train, and plan training sessions three months in advance.

Most importantly, Sasa says, Hidenori knew exactly when he had a good day or a bad day, or if he had a high or a low. “He would always give his best to read me and determine what state I was at, and then give me more mentorship or small chats that would help me get to another level,” Sasa says.

He confidently says Hidenori was a key ingredient to his WBC recipe, but a competition campaign is always about teamwork.

“In such an intense time [Hide] was able to shift my mind to think positive and to think in the right direction without detours or distractions. Without Hide I definitely would not have held that big trophy,” Sasa says. “But at the same time, without Sam Corra roasting coffee for me, or without [Hugh] Kelly, my wife Beti, John Gordon, or Camilo Merizalde, I would not have achieved my goal. The WBC is now a team event. It’s not an individual event. Without a coach there is no team, and without a team, it’s very hard to achieve success.”

After reaching the pinnacle of his barista dream, Sasa took to coaching fellow Ona Coffee team member Hugh. With the shoe on the other foot, Sasa says he know understands the responsibilities of being a coach, which includes showing support from the sidelines.

“Coaching is nerve-wracking. On the stage, as a coach, you know when there is a small mistake, but then you don’t know if that small mistake is going to get fixed during the performance. You cannot control their actions at the time that they are competing. All you can do is stress and worry if they will do everything they need to do to finish on time or to fix some mistakes,” Sasa says. “But aside from the nerves and stress that comes with the role, the most enjoyable part of being Hugh’s coach is seeing him grow as a person and coffee ambassador.”

Sasa has expanded his mentoring over the past year, working closely with not only Hugh, but also Irish Barista Champion and now Polish Brewer’s Cup competitor Natalia Piotrowska, as well as Ona Coffee’s Angus Mackie, Yanina Ferreyra, Danny Wilson, and Isaac Kim.

“To me, it’s priceless working with these young, talented people that have gone through, in many occasions, what I’ve gone through, and be able to share my experience, knowledge, and mentorship with them,” Sasa says. “[My role is] to help them become better at their craft, but at the same time give them more reasons to love what they do and help them to become better coffee ambassadors. This is now more rewarding. Seeing other people succeed is now my success.”

For the first six years Hugh competed in barista competitions, he didn’t have a coach, just reliable friends to talk to. He joined Sasa’s WBC campaign in 2015 and took the burden of logistical jobs away so that Sasa could focus on his presentation and coffee. Those jobs included writings lists, organising packing, and sponsorships.

As such, Hugh knows first hand what’s required to win the national and world titles, but says having Sasa by his side for the past two national competitions was the missing ingredient.

“Sasa has strengths that I don’t have. I knew I needed this to take my competition strengths to the level needed for WBC. Sasa, having gone through the process of developing a winning routine and being mentored by Hidenori, gave him an insight into the values needed to represent the coffee industry, and I needed to learn this too in order to be confident – not only in the reason I was competing, but also the message I was presenting.”


Thank you Beanscene Magazine for the kind words! To read the complete article, visit the Beanscene website or purchase the June 2017 issue.