It had to be Remy! Remy Molina, a barista from Costa Rica, has won the 2018 Coffee Masters tournament at New York Coffee Festival, completing a stunning run to glory. It was a huge moment for the young coffee professional, who took home a prize and cash package valued at $15,000. It’s also one of the most prominent international coffee wins ever for the nation of Costa Rica, whose coffee producing culture has long been among the best in the world, but whose international barista and cafe culture is fast becoming a major player. “I was able to represent my country and to represent the great job all my fellow baristas in Costa Rica are doing,” Molina tells Sprudge. Truly it was a historic and inspiring moment for the competition.

To learn more, Sprudge co-founder and Coffee Masters co-host Jordan Michelman sat down with Remy Molina to discuss his big win and learn more about what’s next for this enterprising young champion. Read on!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Hey Remy! Congratulations on your big win! By way of introduction, what do you do professionally in the coffee industry in Costa Rica?

Hi Jordan! Thank you very much for this opportunity and for your words. I appreciate it a lot!

Right now, I work for the Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica (SCACR). I am a consultant and a trainer. Mainly my work is to develop most of the coffee festivals AND competitions here in Costa Rica.

I also have my own personal projects, a coffee to-go bar and a brand of roasted coffee. I’m still trying to develop the concept but my goal is to have my own coffee shop and micro-roastery.

You’ve just won $5,000 cash from the Coffee Masters, plus your very own Slayer single group and Mahlkönig grinder. What will you do with these prizes?

First of all this is my dream come true. Since I started in the coffee, I wanted to have my own Slayer and of course with the best grinder to complement it.

I want to start a little project were I want to work with TWO of the things I like the most and unite them. The idea is to have a place where coffee and mixology can merge. Also, part of the money I earned I am going to donate so I can help people that may need it more than I do.

Talk us through your signature drink creation for the Coffee Masters, and tell us more about the inspiration behind this drink.

My signature drink was inspired and resembles the traditional and famous cocktail, the Old Fashioned. This is one of my favorite drinks and the idea was to give it a twist with some coffee. The concept was called “First Impressions”—this is because I’ve never before been to New York City and I always heard that it is the city of huge buildings and lights—”The city that never sleeps.” So I can imagine at night, people always like to go for a drink.

I like to travel and I like to go to different countries. So I wanted to bring to NY that first impression of my beloved homeland. The first thing that people think about in Costa Rica is beaches and coffee, right? I wanted to mix both of them and make a really good impression. First impressions, in a drink and in serving people, are very important. Making a good first impression can be so decisive in making your client have an experience that will never forget and want to come back.

All of this came to my mind after trying for the first time the coffee that I was using. It is a natural processed anaerobic fermentation coffee, and the varieties are Caturra and Villa Sarchi. This coffee is very complex and unique and its flavor profile reminds me of an apple pie, with a juicy acidity and flavor notes of cinnamon, green apples, and sweet notes like sugar cane. Also, this coffee has a winey aftertaste, clean, pleasant, and lingering.

So I wanted to highlight its complexity and combine them with other ingredients that I prepared myself. The result of my signature drink was tropical flavors such as mandarine, peach, and vanilla combined with sugar cane. It had a silky texture and a juicy acidity like the apples used for pie.

Does winning Coffee Masters feel like a major moment in your coffee career?

I always think that every day you learn something new. This competition is something that I always wanted to participate since I started in coffee. I learned about this competition when they launched its first edition in London because a friend of mine told me. At that moment I didn’t feel prepared so I didn’t apply. Last year I applied at London but I did not pass the first round. So this year just making the finals was extraordinary for me, and it was a huge surprise I was crowned as the Champion.

This for me is a moment that I will never forget but I think I still have a lot to learn, so I will keep the good work and the passion I have for this career. As a person that comes from a producing country, my dream is to travel to more consuming countries and learn more about their way of preparing coffees.

Costa Rica has long been famous for growing coffee, but the country’s cafe scene is also exploding. What are some of your favorite cafes there right now? Where should people visit?

The cafe scene is growing fast and the past few years I’ve seen a lot of good coffee shops open. I think this is a good thing for Costa Rica because we are creating coffee culture. My favorite places to go and have a good cup of coffee are, Cafeoteca (where I used to work), Underground Brew Cafe, and Franco. But these are not the only places people should visit when they come to Costa Rica. Right now, I’m working with a friend on a Video blog, where we interviewed the owners of the 10 cafes and they told us everything about their coffee shops. You can follow our work here. 

What’s something about competing in Coffee Masters that new competitors might not know? What have you found surprising about the tournament?

Coffee Masters is a fast-paced competition and I think new competitors have to try to accomplish most of the disciplines (doing their best in each one of them) so they can score the most points. For me, Coffee Masters tests you on how well you can manage a bar scene and how well you can serve the coffee for your clients. Sincerely, I know I wasn’t the fastest or most skilled barista on stage but I always tried to do my best and served the best cup of coffee to my judges. I think that’s the most important part because even though it’s just a competition, we as baristas have to do our best. Our job is to serve the cup of coffee people deserve.

I can give you an example about that. In the “Order” discipline (in which competitors are asked to make 10 drinks in nine minutes), I only served seven drinks total to the judges. But actually, I got really high scores on those seven drinks, while some of my opponents got more drinks down in total, but scored less than me. What was most important was the quality of the drinks.

For me at Coffee Masters everything was absolutely great, the organization, the judges and the baristas. This year was very special because I could feel the fellowship from all of the competitors and it felt like we were supporting each one of us. The level of difficulty this year was really high because I know all of the baristas competing were really skilled and talented.

Describe the moment of victory in your own words—what did it feel like?

Until this day, I still can’t believe it. I am really happy with the result and with the experience too.

At the beginning I felt a lot of joy inside of me, because all the hard work and all the time I’ve spent learning and improving myself has paid off. And I felt grateful because I know this is a blessing for my life and I know I made my family proud too.

It was something I always dreamed about it. I think this is not only me winning, but a lot of people behind me winning too. So I’m glad I made them proud of all the work we have done. That day I felt a bit nostalgic because I wanted to celebrate it with my friends and family in Costa Rica, but I made a lot of friends in this trip, so I celebrated it with them and that helped me feel a little bit better.

I felt like Costa Rica made a good presentation and that everyone was happy about that. I’m glad that I was able to represent my country and to represent the great job all my fellow baristas in Costa Rica are doing. I hope this will motivate other baristas to try to accomplish whatever they set as a goal and that they can make it, if they believe in themselves.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank?

As I told you before, this couldn’t be possible without the help and support of a lot of people. I want to thank everyone that always believed in me like my colleagues and friends. To Victor and Pablo for roasting my coffee. To my family and girlfriend for all the support and love they gave me. And I want to thank Issac and Wally, my two trainers. Without the help of these guys I couldn’t accomplish this. I learned a lot from them. Wally hosted me in New York for almost nine days, and these days he taught me not only about coffee. He taught me how to live a good life with the people you love and by doing what you love the most. I will treasure all his advice for the rest of my life.

Thank you Remy, and congratulations from all of us at Sprudge! 

Jordan Michelman (@suitcasewine) is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network, a contributor to Portland Monthly and Willamette Week, and co-author of The New Rules of Coffee. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge

Sprudge is an official media partner of the Coffee Masters Tournament and the New York Coffee Festival. 

Read all Coffee Masters coverage on Sprudge.