Davide Orazi of WatchHouse in London is the winner of the 2022 New York Coffee Masters. Originally from Italy before calling the UK home, Orazi found himself facing off against a bit of a who’s-who in American barista competitions, including the likes of Jenna Gothelf, Reef Bassette, and Meg Skop (to say nothing of multi-time Puerto Rican Latte Art Champion Abner Roldan also in the mix).
And while coffee competition experience helps, as Orazi showed, the multi-disciplinary Coffee Masters is a whole different ballgame. To win at Coffee Masters, competitors must be as adept at signature beverage creation and presentation as they are as making blends for espresso and coffee cupping and pumping out lunch rush’s worth of high-quality drinks in a short amount of time. And Orazi proved himself game in all disciplines.
Even still, the signature beverage round remains the crown jewel of competition, and Orazi brought a showstopper. Playing on this year’s Coffee Masters theme of “Waste not, want not,” Orazi concocted his take on the classic Americano cocktail, using coffee cherry wine, cascara-infused mezcal, and a cacao husk soda.
It was a thrilling run, one that ultimately crowned a worthy champion. To get an insider’s perspective of this year’s New York Coffee Masters and to learn more about his preparation leading up to the event—and of course that signature beverage—we spoke digitally with Davide Orazi.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Davide! First off, congratulation! As a means of introduction, can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your coffee career?
I’m from a small seaside city called Jesolo, near Venice, in Italy. I moved to London in 2015 and have lived here ever since.
I started working in coffee back in Italy, where I started learning basic barista skills and worked at a few bars in restaurants and hotels, but I really got into specialty coffee when I moved to the UK. Here I quickly realized how much the industry had to offer and decided it was the path I wanted to take. Specialty coffee keeps evolving daily and that is what really attracted me to it, being able to always learn something new or different.
I am currently the Coffee Operations Manager at WatchHouse. I mainly deal with anything operational, on the coffee side of things, in all of our sites, such as quality control, barista trainings, and brand standards. I also focus on the opening of our new sites, organizing machinery installs, coffee trainings, and anything that comes with opening a coffee shop.
We were fascinated by your signature beverage—can you share us more information about how you created the drink, and the inspiration behind it?
The inspiration behind the drink comes from one of my favorite aperitif cocktails, the Americano.
I wanted to share something I personally love with the judges, and given the “Waste not want not” theme for this year, I thought it would be a great challenge to create a waste-free Americano alternative and something that would elevate the drinking experience even more.
I have used a coffee cherry wine from Brazil as a substitute to the Campari that goes in the classic Americano, and I also infused a Pensador Espadin Mezcal with cascara cherries. That helped reduce the smokiness in the mezcal and added extra botanical notes to the final drink. I then went on to make a lime oleo-saccharum from leftover lime peels, which increased sweetness and a lime aftertaste in the final drink.
As for the coffee, we roast and taste many different coffees at our WatchHouse roastery in London. We came across the anaerobic washed Java from Colombia, Finca Granja Paraiso 92 on a cupping table while tasting with the team. I was instantly amazed by it and knew it would have been the perfect coffee for my drink. The intense lime, lavender, and passion fruit notes excellently combined with all of the other ingredients.
The final ingredient used in the Americano is soda. The idea of the cacao husk soda I used came from a cacao husk honey produced in Brazil. We were all amazed by how uniquely this honey tasted and none of us had ever come across anything like it. It is an extremely fruity and creamy honey, with notes of pear, pineapple, and lemongrass, which ended up being incredible as a soda.
What was even more special about it was the logistical challenge of having to transport the honey from Brazil to London and then New York. As it is a completely natural product, that meant it had to be kept frozen until you were ready to use it. Thankfully we work with amazing people and Ana from Mio in Brazil managed the transport from Brazil to London. Then, Lukas and I came up with the idea of freezing some travel tumblers to carry it over to the US, and after that we could only really hope for the best. Everything worked out perfectly and the honey was still frozen by the time we got to our apartment in the city and it still tasted amazing.
You’re someone who has competed in many different sorts of coffee competitions—how does the Coffee Masters differ from other comps you’ve been a part of?
I love the format of Coffee Masters as it allows you to be completely yourself on stage and with the judges. It tests the competitors in every skillset, which does not happen in any other competition. It is also unpredictable, which makes the competition a lot more interesting and fun. It definitely pushes you to be a better all-rounder and professional rather than focusing on a specific skillset. Last but not least, what amazed me was how close and supportive each competitor and team is with each other, something I found to be true both in London and New York. And that is what I love about the coffee community, no matter the city or country.
How did you prepare for Coffee Masters? Any special training techniques you could share?
I definitely approached the training for New York quite differently from the one for London, knowing the competition in a lot more detail and understanding exactly what I needed to focus on. As there are seven disciplines, I wanted to dedicate each training session to a specific one. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing professionals with a variety of unique skill sets and an incredible coach, so I asked them to train with me on different days of the week to really make the most of every session. Something I spent a bit more time on was latte art since it was something I had never really spent that much training time on and I felt it was definitely needed for such a competition.
What was the most challenging round for you? What was the most fun?
The most challenging round was probably the Coffee Order, which consists of having to make 10 drinks commonly made in specialty cafes in nine minutes. It is something that baristas are used to by working in a fast-paced environment but at the same time it is not always that easy to adapt quickly to a new bar set up, equipment, and workflow.
I really enjoyed the Espresso Blend round. You get 25 minutes on stage to prepare an espresso blend—with coffees chosen by the competitors in the previous Cupping round—that has to work well for both an espresso drink and a cappuccino. What I like the most about this round is how creative and surprising it usually gets. Not knowing what kind of coffees you will have on stage makes it a lot more interesting and challenging.
Now that you’ve had a little time to reflect on it, how does it feel to be the champ? What are you planning to do with your prize money? And will you return for the Coffee Masters in the future?
It feels like a great personal and professional achievement. Sharing the stage with so many talented and inspiring people from the coffee community was an absolute privilege. I love the format and it would be great to experience it again, maybe in London next year.
Part of the prize money will help me cover some of the expenses for the trip and the competition. I will probably just save the rest for future plans.
Nobody wins an event like this alone, please shout out your team. Who would you want to thank?
I would not have been able to achieve this without the support of a lot of people. Starting from Lukas, my amazing coach and friend, who spent endless nights training and prepping everything with me. He tirelessly pushed me to do better and better until he knew I was ready to compete at the best of my abilities.
The whole competition team who traveled to New York with me: Massimo for the engaging social media content, Nikol and Anja for the precious help during the training sessions and logistics, and my partner Martina for the emotional support in the months leading up to the competition and in New York. I would also like to thank Ryan, Vag, and Ana for helping me source incredible ingredients for my signature drink. I felt incredibly lucky to be able to share them with the judges on stage and create something really unique. Last but not least, the whole WatchHouse team for always supporting me, following our NY journey remotely, and cheering for us.