Sprudge.com recently attended the Soyuz Coffee Roasting pop-up cafe in Red Square, staffed by 7 National Champion baristas from around the world. We’ve profiled each of the champions, and we’re wrapping things up today by featuring Alejandro Mendez, Barista Champion of El Salvador and current reigning World Barista Champion.
Though technically Mike Phillips was the first-ever WBC champ from a coffee producing nation, Alejandro Mendez’s win for El Salvador is popularly considered the first such victory for an origin country. His win was the result of equal parts extraordinary coffee, precise performance and organic charm – Alejandro is undeniably charming, with a 50 kilowatt smile and a joyous approach to, well, just about everything, but especially coffee. It doesn’t hurt that he’s the first WBC winner with an internationally recognized club thumpin’ theme song… [youtube]niqrrmev4mA[/youtube]
Alejandro’s victory was a huge one for El Salvador, a country that is also home to current world champions in boxing and archery. But what happens next for a world champion is never easy; talking to Alejandro, it becomes clear that, while he truly loves his home nation of El Salvador (which people from El Salvador refer to simply as “Salvador”), he and his crew at Viva Espresso are faced with a difficult decision when it comes to planning their next move. “We want to open a new cool thing for people to drink good coffee”, Alejandro told Sprudge on the last night in Moscow, “but in Salvador, it is not going to work. I love Salvador, but it is not ready for this.”
Being the first Barista Champion from El Salvador presents an interesting predicament for Alejandro and his crew at Viva Espresso. In his words, there’s a “money crunch” facing small businesses in Salvador, and yet at the same time, they have extraordinary coffee at their fingertips, available without the shipping and export costs faced by the rest of the world. It’s a pretty unique situation, one without analogue or comparison in the history of the WBC.
In Alejandro’s mind, the obvious next step is to expand outside of Salvador. He’s currently in Japan for SCAJ, and he’s spent much of the last year quietly scouting for a next place to make his move. He mentioned Vancouver, B.C. as a possible landing place for a Viva Espresso project outside of Salvador, but this is all very much still in the planning phase. “Right now this is really fresh”, Alejandro allows, “and we have to think about it…there is so much, really a lot I want to do!”
Alejandro is in many ways a unique figure in the history of the WBC. He’s the youngest winner, the only native Spanish speaker, and the only one to come from a traditional coffee growing nation. There’s a kind of poetic beauty to the fact that Alejandro’s win came in Bogota, at the first ever WBC event hosted by a producing country. But Alejandro Mendez, the person, shares one immensely important commonality with so many of the WBC winners Sprudge has had the pleasure to hang out with over the years. It’s a similarity best captured by something he told us beneath the closing night fireworks on Red Square. “I don’t feel like a champion…I’m still just a barista.”
Alejandro, you’re both. And that’s the best part.