After a fierce weekend of competition at the second annual New York Coffee Festival, a new champion has been crowned at the Coffee Masters Tournament: Yuko Inoue, of Timberyard UK in London, England.
Third time was the charm for Yuko Inoue, who has competed at two past Coffee Masters tournaments before taking home the grand prize in New York. This includes a nail-biting second place finish at the 2016 Coffee Masters Tournament at London Coffee Festival, to which she lost a squeaker on points to two-time champion Ben Morrow.
Yuko Inoue will spend this prize menu visiting more origin countries, including their first-ever visit to Africa. To learn more about the big win, and what it means, Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman caught up with Yuko Inoue digitally from London.
A huge congratulations on winning the Coffee Masters, Yuko Inoue! Please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us a bit about your background in coffee.
I have been in coffee industry for about 6 years. Im originally from Japan but I moved to London 4 years ago and I learnt the majority of my coffee knowledge in London. I had many coffees that blew me away. I met many people who inspired me. I had so many great experiences that taught me a lot in the last 4 years. These experiences have kept me excited about being a barista. I love to share my coffee experiences with people and my passion for coffee has grown year by year.
You've won $5000 USD for winning the Coffee Masters. How will you be spending your prize?
This is the question that I have been asked by many people and I have been asking myself after winning the Coffee Masters. Well, I have been to Honduras and visited coffee farms in 2015. The experience has changed my life and I'm eager to visit more origins. I would love to visit Honduras again but I want to expand my coffee knowledge so I'm planning to visit the origins in Africa for my next trip. So this is how I'll look to spend my prize money.
Talk us through your signature drink creation for the Coffee Masters. What did you do?
I chose the coffee first for my signature drink. I wanted to choose my favourite coffee and use some ingredients from Japan because I am originally from Japan and it shows my personality, but also very familiar with the tastes so I could think how I could create a drink with it. My chosen coffee was Nano Challa from The Barn. It was very clean, sweet and floral coffee and thought it would be good to use for a refreshing summer drink. Then I chose a Japanese single malt whisky called Yamazaki. It had a similar flavour note of Nano Challa and they worked well together.
First I brewed iced coffee in a Chemex, and paired that with ingredients from Japan, including Japanese mint (shiso), konbu-cha, maple syrup and Lime to make my drink more complex and balanced. I really liked when all of the ingredients harmonised. This was definitely the best drink I've created from all three signature drinks that I've made for coffee masters.
For someone who has never seen a Coffee Masters tournament, how would you describe it?
Most of the disciplines are focused on the barista. Coffee Masters taught me where my skills and knowledge levels are as a barista, in terms of my technical skills, coffee knowledge, customer services skills, and more. It showed my strong and weak points, and taught me what I should improve on to achieve a better performances. I learned so much from my performances, my mistakes, and from other contenders. I recommend to register if you have never competed before. Once you compete and have fun, you will never stop competing until you win!
What’s the one thing about Coffee Masters you’ve enjoyed the most?
I've enjoyed every second of being on the stage and brewing coffee. I felt like the stage was my very own coffee shop, and the judges were my customers. I enjoyed tasting, brewing coffee and explaining what I was doing; I had no advance information about the coffees we used for the event, and that was challenging for me, but I did have the freedom to brew coffee any way that I wanted. I truly enjoyed competing against some of the greatest baristas in the world.
Describe the moment of victory in your own words.
It was an incredible feeling and something that has never happened to me before.
I had no words when the winner was announced. My tears showed how much it meant to me to win the Coffee Masters, especially since I was the runner up earlier this year in London. I really didn't want to place second again. I have never been so proud of myself. This is something that I will tell my grandchildren when I'm in my 80s (If I have grandchildren)
Do you think placing second in London made your win in New York extra sweet?
Yes. I tried my best and ended up coming runners up in the London Coffee Masters. Everyone congratulated me and I was happy but my goal was to become the first-ever female Coffee Masters champion. This was something I didn't want to give up on so I put the extra effort to ensure that I improved my performance. I tried various training techniques to make sure I achieved my dream.
Can you tell us a bit more about your work with Timberyard? What is Timberyard all about?
I started working at Timberyard from the very beginning when they opened their first Timberyard in London about 4 years ago. I am based in the Soho shop and work as the head barista now. I work with the coffee team and choose coffee roasters to work with, train baristas, and ensure we maintain the high standards that Timberyard has set. My experiences I face on a daily basis at Timberyard made me the barista I am today. I had many opportunities to build up my skills and knowledge.
Timberyard offers dynamic, independent creative workspaces fused with speciality tea and coffee. A challenge to the traditional coffee shops, we have built a new and exciting environment that aims to provide products and services that meet the evolving needs of life in London.
As a final question, is there anyone special you would like to thank?
It's impossible to thank one person as there was so many people that helped me on my journey to being the New York Coffee Masters champion. I definitely have the best supporters in the coffee industry on “Team Yuko”—without them I wouldn't have been able to compete in New York, let alone win it. So for that I'll always be thankful.
Photos courtesy of John Letoto.