Champin’ At The Bit: Olga Melik-Karakozova, Barista Champion Of Russia

Last week Sprudge.com attended the Soyuz Coffee Roasters pop-up cafe in Red Square, staffed by 7 National Champion baristas from around the world. This week we’ll be profiling each of them, and today we’re featuring Olga Melik-Karakozova, Barista Champion of Russia.

Olga Melik-Karakozova is Russia’s only three-time national champion, and one of her homeland’s most accomplished and internationally recognized baristas. But spend a week hanging out with her, and you’d probably never guess – humble and hardworking, Olga epitomizes the pro barista everyone wants by their side for a busy shift, a person whose professional and personal demeanor is all substance, no flash.

All that to say, she’s responsible for some seriously flashy fireworks in her home city of Moscow. Olga is equal parts brain and brawn behind Koffein, one of two world-class local chains of 3rd wave roaster/retailers currently operating inside the Garden Ring. (The other, Coffee Mania, will be profiled in our upcoming SprudgeGuides: Moscow.) Koffein’s chain of command calls for both store managers and “Chief Baristas”, a position that equates roughly to a barista trainer and creative director for individual stores. Olga is the “Chief of all Chief Baristas”, meaning that she has a presence at all of Kaffein’s locations, as well as putting in hours in Koffein’s roastworks, where she roasts, does quality control and brainstorms blends. With such an enormous professional workload, it’s a good thing Olga loves her job.

(She also loves “Ron”, her handsome pet Beagle)

“I think that this is the best job I ever have”, Olga told Sprudge, while deftly piloting her Mini through the wide, wild boulevards of urban Moscow. “There is no routine. Every day is different. The company says to me, ‘This is your store. Do what you want.’ And so I do!” This translates into both staff and public cuppings, still a rarity in Moscow, as well as public workshops intended to educate curious Muscovites on the why’s and how’s of various brewmethods.

Sprudge asked each of the champions the same question: “How has your life changed since winning your National Championship?” For Olga, her third win was a consolidation of sorts, and as her reputation in Russia’s coffee world grows, so too does her ambition to expand Koffein’s mandate in Moscow and beyond. Future plans include an expansion to St. Petersburg, though logistics and quality control are hurdles she’s currently parsing her way through. What Olga REALLY wants to do is open Moscow’s first brew bar. She asked, “Did you go to Penny University when you were in London? Wasn’t it amaaaazing?”

We did, and it was. But wouldn’t a brew bar on par with Penny U or the Stumptown Annex but even MORE amazing smack-dab in the middle of Moscow? If there is anyone in that crazy city who can pull it off and make it work, it’s Olga.

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