Diego Campos is the 2021 World Barista Champion, making him the first Colombian competitor to win it all (and only the second to make Semi-Finals if you can believe it). Third time was the charm for Campos, who took 14th and 25th in prior WBC showings in 2015 and 2017, respectively, representing Amor Perfecto/Vive Café each year.
Combining experience—Campos had the second most WBC appearances in the 2021 field, behind only Martin Shabaya of Kenya—and expert coaching via Federico Bolaños—who has two WBC titles to his name, coaching Alejandro Mendez in 2011 and South Korea’s Jooyeon Joon in 2019—Campos put together and incredibly smart routine designed to deliver large amounts of information reliably and repeatably.
Script-heavy, highly technical routines like Campos’s can be a high-risk high-reward proposition. Though they have the potential for big scores, they also require the competitor to deliver exacting information while focusing on beverage construction, all under the pressure and bright lights of the World stage. And while he delivered much of the technical information himself—including details about steam temperature for his freeze concentrated milk as well as information on processing, roasting, even roaster used for the natural processed, anaerobic fermented Eugenioides from Finca Las Nubes he competed with—Campos utilized pre-written cards with flavor descriptors and iPads to give the judges multi-step drinking instructions during the multi-sensory espresso course. This included dry ice clouds, music, videos, and a sphere the judges were to hold to simulate the Eugenioides espresso’s “round body and slippery texture.”
The flavor descriptor card and iPad approach freed up more time for Campos to concentrate on preparing the next courses, which he took full advantage of, having espressos for all courses pulled before the eight-minute mark. With much of the work of the routine front loaded, Campos had ample time to create his final course, a show-stopping signature beverage that utilized the Eugenioides in three different preparations. Frozen reductions of cherry, pineapple and starfruit, and Eugenioides mucilage were all homogenized with Eugenioides espressos Campos made at the beginning of his routine, and then poured over Eugenioides cold brew and tonic water ice spheres. Even with a lengthy, technical script and multi-phase drink courses, Campos never took a performance past the 14:20 mark.
It was a routine built to be delivered three times over the course of the weekend, and indeed there was just an 11-point difference between his highest and lowest scores in Round One, Semis, and Finals; when others were feeling the pressure of Finals and saw their scores dip, Campos saved his best-scoring 511-point routine for last.
It’s a fitting end for a competition career that began over a decade ago. If Campos is calling it quits, that is. To learn more, we spoke with Campos about his routine, his future in coffee, and what it means to be the first Colombian World Barista Champion.
This interview had been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Now that you’ve had a month to sit with it, how does it feel to be the World Barista Champion?
Being the World Barista Champion has brought enormous happiness to Colombia as a country that produces high quality coffees and through this great triumph we can generate more culture and show the world the great potential of Colombia as a country that produces and consumes high quality coffees.
The theme of your routine seemed to be “making specialty coffee more special.” Can you tell us a little more about the message you were trying to get across?
As a barista our main goal is to work to bring the consumer closer to the cup of coffee. The idea of the world competition routine was to show the judges the importance of the senses when enjoying a food or drink and to see how through the senses we can change our perspective.
We wanted to make the judges feel as comfortable as possible so that they would feel more at ease and realise that everything was designed for them to live a multi-sensory experience, connecting all their senses.
This was your third year competing at the WBC. Were there any lessons you took away from your two previous years that helped you with your winning routine?
In my two previous competitions I managed to gain a lot of knowledge and experience around the world of coffee, but we also understood the importance of building a great team.
You worked with Federico Bolaños this year. What influence did he have on your routine?
It was important to work with Federico Bolaños because he shared the great experience he has in the world of competition and we were able to complement very well the concept we wanted to show in the competition.
The judges were spread out this year due to COVID safety precautions. Did that change the flow of your service?
We were able to take advantage of the changes in the competition rule due to the pandemic, which helped us to offer a multi-sensory and personal experience to each judge based on the espresso drink.
Eugenioides is becoming a popular choice in high-end competitions. Can you tell us how you came to select this particular coffee?
Eugenioides is a very particular coffee and the main reason we chose to use it for the WBC was the quality in its flavors and its well-structured tactile. We built the entire theme of our routine around the coffee.
The showstopper was the signature beverage course, which showcased the Eugenioides in three different ways. Can you tell us about how you created that drink?
The creation of the designed drink is always based firstly on coffee and espresso, which is very much in line with the concept we want to show. The idea of this drink was to be able to show the versatility of this coffee when mixed with multiple ingredients, highlighting the most outstanding flavors of this coffee.
As a competitor from a producing country, do you feel there are any additional challenges or benefits you have over other competitors?
For us as producing countries, we have a great opportunity to process our coffees and to be able to use fresh coffees from the harvest.
You’ve reached the top of the mountain. Where does your coffee career go from here? Are you done competing?
It’s been a great career competing around the world of coffee; I can’t say if I’m ready to stop competing, but we are 100% sure that we will keep working to make high quality coffee that much more special.
Photos courtesy of the Specialty Coffee Association