Interview with barista Takayuki Ishitani on the significance of competing in the "World Barista Championship" [WBC Interview]

Barista Takayuki Ishitani was crowned Japan Champion for the third time at the Japan Barista Championship (JBC) in 2023. He represented Japan at the World Barista Championship (WBC) held in Korea in May 2024, where he achieved his personal best of third place among the world's most talented baristas.

For Ishitani, this was his third time competing in the world championships since 2018 and 2022. Ishitani said that he gained more from this tournament than ever before. On this day, about two weeks after the match, he looked back on the experience.

The atmosphere of the "WBC" created by the efforts of the participants

--First of all, congratulations on your third place at the WBC (World Barista Championship). How do you feel about it?

Ishiya: Thank you. I came in third, so to be honest, I'm disappointed. However, I'm satisfied with the content of the competition and what I've been working on up until now. I was able to do everything I could without any problems, and I'm not at all frustrated by my ranking, so it was a very satisfying tournament.

--Was there any difference from the previous two times you participated?

Ishiya: Maybe it was because it was my third time and I could see my surroundings well, but the atmosphere was really good and the other players all said, "This was a really good tournament!" There's no doubt that everyone was running the tournament with the desire to make it a good one.

--When watching videos of the tournament, the excitement of the audience and the friendly atmosphere were really apparent.

Ishiya: This was a tournament with a real sense of unity. Not only the athletes, but also the spectators, judges and organisers all had a great time over the four days, so I think it was a great tournament.

--The finalists included baristas from a variety of countries across Asia, Oceania, and Europe.

Ishiya: Not just the finalists, but everyone from the preliminary rounds onwards had an atmosphere of communicating with each other. That's the most fun part of the world championships, and I think getting to know a lot of different people is one of the reasons to participate in the championships.

An era where baristas can freely create what they want to express

--It's been about six months since our interview after winning the JBC in September 2023. What kind of preparations have you been making for this tournament during this time?

Ishitani: The event was held in May, so it was a delicate timing as to whether the new crop would arrive in time, and we couldn't tell what coffee would be available until the last minute.

I communicated with producers and also got in touch with MAME of Switzerland (a member of the team) to help me. The most important thing was to figure out what kind of coffee I could use at the time of the competition. After that, I spent half a year thinking about how to shape the presentation.

--As a result, the beans used at the competition were from the same farm and were the same variety as at the JBC.

Ishitani: Yes, we decided whether to use that farm for the new crop or another farm by cupping around March. The reason we chose the same farm as JBC is because we want to use the flavor we want to produce and the coffee we like now.

The coffee from other farms was good too, but I've been drinking these since the Japan competition, and I chose them because I thought they would be best for effectively conveying my presentation.

──The theme of the presentation itself was the same as that of JBC.

Ishiya: The theme itself remains the same: "The happiest moment is when your ideal becomes reality." It's not just about the job of a barista, but about what kind of drink you want to make. The fact that you can now intentionally make that ideal is called "intentional craft," and I wanted to convey that this is a very fun time for baristas.

--So you were working on a consistent theme. Now, let's take a look at each part one by one, starting with espresso.

Ishitani: The espresso is made by blending 16g of Geisha from Finca Débora in Panama and 2g of Caturra from Finca Milan in Colombia. You can feel the flavors of stone fruits and tropical fruits. Our goal was to create a perfect balance of flavor and tactile.

--Next is milk beverages. Rice milk and lactose-free milk were actively used.

Ishitani: Starting in 2022, plant-based milk will be allowed in competitions, so I decided to give rice milk a try. In fact, both rice milk and lactose-free went well with this drink, so I thought I'd use it in the competition. That said, I didn't decide to use it from the beginning, and I wanted to express the idea of ​​intentionally creating a flavor while testing it.

--When I heard that it was made from rice and lactose-free, I wondered if you were conscious of social issues such as the environment and health concerns.

Ishiya: No, if I told you about that, it would ruin the presentation. It was a selection that came from my pursuit of flavor and my attempt to make the best drink with my own hands.

──And lastly, the signature drink.

Ishiya: The ideal situation for this drink was to create a synergistic effect between Geisha and Caturra . I was inspired by the Negroni cocktail.

--What was the judges' reaction when you actually served it?

Ishiya: The judges have to be fair in their judgment of the fighters, but as I said at the beginning, the judges created a very good atmosphere from the first round onwards. So, my impression was that it was very easy to work with them.

"WBC" drinks and ingredients set trends

-- Having participated in three world championships, what did you think about the perception and value of the barista profession, especially at this championship?

Ishiya: Since the last competition, everyone has been focusing on the presentation, and the rules have changed, which is a big factor. The way the points are scored has also changed.

Before that, it was becoming a competition where people explained what good coffee was. I feel like it's now more focused on the barista's presentation and what kind of experience they want the judges to have. It's very rewarding, and the rules change every year, so I feel like it's getting better every year by updating it.

When the rules change, it's important to understand the intention behind it. I think the story of plant-based milk is the easiest to understand. You don't have to use it, but there's meaning in trying it. If it tastes good, you should use it, and if it doesn't taste good, you don't have to use it.

Even in markets outside of competitions, customers are increasingly demanding more and more things. If it's good for the store, we'll use it, and if it's not good, we won't use it. I think that's not just in milk, but in many other places, and I think there's an atmosphere of wanting to improve the entire industry.

We live in an age where when a new extraction method, variety, or process emerges, the one used at the competition is adopted in the field about a year later and reaches the general consumer.

Get to know Japanese baristas and baristas from around the world through "WBC"

-- I think the Japanese team, with Ishitani at the center, was a truly amazing team in this tournament.

Ishiya: Everyone listened to my whims and even took the time off from their jobs to join me in practice, which was a great help.

Also, it was a very reliable team that I could say anything to, like, "I haven't done this yet, can you do it?" Each member had their own character and they were able to use their strengths to their advantage, so I was able to go into the tournament without stress.

Although only the athletes were on stage, I felt that the tournament was ultimately a team sport.

--It was interesting to see the atmosphere while talking with the team after the match. What was the best thing about participating in this tournament?

Ishiya: As I spent time working on coffee in preparation for the competition, I realized there were still areas I could improve on. One of the things that was refreshing was that as I practiced, I was able to do things, but I realized there were things I couldn't do.

Another thing is the importance of working as a team. It's hard to have this kind of experience with a large number of people when you become an adult, but I think the biggest thing was that I was able to experience the rewarding and fun of working together toward a common goal. I think the experience of being in a united atmosphere will come in handy somewhere.

--By the way, what kind of reputation do Japanese baristas receive overseas?

Ishiya: Maybe it's because they are careful with their work and shy (laughs). Also, I feel that there are still not many Japanese baristas known overseas. We don't have many opportunities to learn about baristas overseas unless we go through events like WBC.

But if I go to a country where I've met someone at a competition or heard someone's name, I'll want to go to that person's store. In that sense, I think there's meaning in participating in the world competition.

──What are your thoughts about taking on future competitions?

Ishiya: At the moment, I haven't thought about it this year, but I still have time, so if there is a purpose to participate, I will participate. Also, I have decided that I want to continue to be involved in the world championships in some form, and I think I will naturally be there.

--What about the next generation of Japanese baristas?

Ishiya: I feel that I need to nurture them, but I haven't looked at other baristas with that feeling yet. For example, if I didn't participate in this year's JBC, how would I feel when I saw the tournament from the outside? Would I want to participate after all, or would I feel like leaving it all to the younger generation? It's only been a month, so I still feel like I haven't gotten over the feeling of the competition.

──Finally, please tell us about your future plans.

Ishiya: We've been getting more job inquiries from overseas. I think I'll be able to learn something new by working as a barista at a festival overseas that I've never been to before. There's only six months left this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of activities I'll be able to do.

Thank you, Ishitani-san. And once again, congratulations.
It looks like Barista Ishitani's success will continue in the future.
We at CROWD ROASTER will continue to follow their activities.