Brewers Cup 2020 Champion Matteo
Matteo D'Ottavio | Senior Barista Spitalfields
Hello everyone, my name is Matteo. I work as a barista for Watch House and I’m the UK Brewers Cup Champion 2020. Here, I would like to tell you my story about this incredible experience.
Above: Matteo performing at Brewers Cup 2020
Brewers Cup is a competition which showcases the craft and skill of filter coffee brewing by hand, promoting manual coffee brewing and quality of service.
Brewers Cup was a challenge I have wanted to undertake for over a year, a goal to achieve for me and for my career in coffee. Training for a competition is always hard, especially if you do it by yourself. This is why I joined Watch House, a positive and progressive team with clear ideas for the future and full of amazing professionals eager to push the boundaries in coffee. I’ll be always thankful to Watch House and its competition team.
Once I got my ticket to the UK Brewers Cup 2020, I understood that it was time to start working hard, getting motivated and putting all my energy into it as I would be competing against the best brewers in the UK, including 2019 champion Lewis Maillardet.
For a first-time competitor, the beginning is daunting and very hard. The first question you ask yourself is “where do I even begin?”. I decided first to read the competition rules, because you need to remember that you are playing a game and the best way to play well is to know the rules. The rules are detailed and complex, with many factors you can’t foresee, so I asked questions to the people around me who had experience with the format so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. This greatly helped put my mind in a positive space.
Training for a competition is very draining, both physically and mentally. It is the continuous reading and researching, studying different techniques of brewing, the chemistry and the physics of coffee, and discovering new things every day, often in subjects outside your knowledge. The key is putting all these ideas together to create a winning formula. It is mentally draining because all this studying and research has to be done outside of work.
By day, coffee... By night, coffee. Often ideas came into my mind just minutes before falling asleep, already in bed. At that point I was standing up, grabbing my notebook, and writing notes before pushing them out of my mind. During the day, my mind was so focused on the competition that I often couldn’t remember how I arrived to work or to training. I was on autopilot. My social life didn’t exist.
Above: Matteo doing his prep work at the Watch House Roastery
UK Brewers Cup consists of 24 Brewers divided by 2 heats. The first was in Bristol and the second in Lancaster. I competed in the Lancaster one. In the days before, we organised the logistics. We rented a car and we booked the Airbnb for the night before. I want to highlight here how important it is to get a place to stay near the venue, it makes everything easier and reduces the stress.
The day arrived, my first national competition, and there was a mixture of emotions inside me. I felt excited and anxious at the same time, but also a bit worried of failing after all the time I had spent training. We got the car, loaded it, and were ready for the road trip. I was lucky to have the best company on the road, Stelios (Barista Somerset House also competing) and coaches Ryan (Head of Coffee) and Lukas (Barista Tower Bridge), all from team Watch House. We had fun during the journey and that helped to decrease the level of stress. Once we arrived in Lancaster, we set up the table for the final training and went through our brewing routine. At the end of the evening, I felt confident and excited. I enjoyed something to drink on the sofa watching TV and then went straight to bed, ready for the Compulsory Round.
Above: Watch House competition team
The first discipline to face is the compulsory round. You have 30 minutes to create the best recipe from an unknown coffee and 7 minutes to prepare and serve 3 cups, each brewed individually, to three judges. In this round all the competitors are using the same whole beans, the same grinder and water while the judges are hidden in another room to avoid any bias.
Which brewing method you decide to use is very important. It must be able to produce very tasty coffee consistently and be quick enough to complete all brews in the allotted time. I chose the “Aeropress Bypass” method. The Aeropress because it is fast and as an immersion method removes a lot of the human error factor you see in pour-over brewing. The Bypass because it allowed me to balance out my brew with a high level of precision and provide excellent consistency across the 3 cups.
When the time came to make the announcement of who had made it through the heat, I was, of course, nervous and anxious. I wanted to reach the finals and was curious to see if my method and my ideas were good enough to succeed. The individual scores were combined with the scores from the Bristol heat. Only 12 were going through the final. The first thing we were told was that only 3 competitors from our heat were into the finals. The anxiety increased and we all looked at each other, wondering who had made it.
In the end, I placed 2nd that day and 7th overall.
I felt such relief and joy. I went outside and I started to jump in the middle of the street. In that moment, I realised that I was willing to put my heart into the competition. All the evenings spent plunging hundreds of Aeropresses, trying different methods and recipes paid off.
I went to the Lancaster Heat with a plan, I executed it and succeeded in reaching the finals.
Read more about Matteo's experience at Lancaster and the finals here.