Sonja Bjork Grant sits on the board of the World Coffee Events and travels the world certifying judges at national championships. Ms. Grant has been involved in coffee since 1995, where she got her start at Kaffitar in Reykjavik. Since then, she’s been integral in the international coffee competition circuit. She recently sold her share of Kaffismidja Íslands (now Reykjavik Roasters), and has ramped up her international travel schedule. Sprudge.com co-founder Zachary Carlsen spent some time with her at DC Campus in Milan to catch up.
We’re sitting on a crowded bus full of barista champions in Milan. We’re headed to a winery. Would you say this a normal Friday for you?
My life is very interesting.
What were you doing last Friday?
I was in London, calibrating the UK competition judges for the London Coffee Festival. I was the World Coffee Events representative making sure the competitions were legal.
Was it legal?
Yes. 100% legal.
What were you doing the Friday before that?
I was in China, having a good time certifying judges.
Where in China were you?
I was in Shanghai!
Okay, so, I’m going to ask you a tough question–how many countries have you been to in 2014?
Oh my God, I don’t know!
It’s only been four months!
Well, yeah, but I don’t know… I would say three to four countries a month?
Well, okay, let’s figure this out–you’ve been to Italy, the UK, China…
France, Portugal, Finland, UAE, Netherlands… I don’t remember (laughs) I’m sorry.
It’s okay. When did you get started traveling so much?
The year 2000 at the first World Barista Championship in Monte Carlo. Everything started then. I didn’t have a holiday until last year.
Oh, cool! What’d you do on your holiday?
I went to my parents’ house up north and didn’t do anything! (laughs)
You travel so much, what’s one thing you never leave without?
I have a diary. That’s something I never leave without. And my brewing equipment!
What’s your brew equipment?
I have a Hario V60 and a Skerton hand grinder.
What coffee are you drinking now?
I’m drinking Francesco Sanapo‘s coffee–Jump!
It’s safe to say you’ve seen a lot of coffee competitions in your time… could you ballpark how many you’ve seen?
No! We have 57 countries for the World Barista Championship and around 25 for the Coffee In Good Spirits and Latte Art… I’d have to think about it!
Out of all the competitions you’ve ever seen, what’s been the most memorable?[2003 USBC champion] Heather Perry’s boot. It was so memorable–it was so weird. It was a single origin espresso, a lot of syrups in the heel, the milk, and topped with topped marshmallows.
What’s been the most spectacular signature drink?
Back in 2003 at the Danish Barista Championship there was a signature drink from Coffee Collective founder Peter Dupont. He didn’t win, but his signature drink was an espresso with a lime. He froze a coffee igloo?
Is it igloo?
Like the house?
Ice cube! Sorry, I’m Icelandic. It was a coffee ice cube, flavored with lime. He had shaken espresso go over it. For me, it was fantastic. Because at the time everyone was making huge drinks with a lot of whip cream on top and this one was so simple, so new. I think still today that’s one of my favorite ones.
So think simple is better?
I’m in favor of simple drinks–and these days baristas have access to so many better coffees than before. Celebrate the coffee!
Speaking of celebrating the coffee, we’re in the midst of DC Campus, where baristas from around the world are joining forces to do just that. What’s your thoughts on DC Campus?
To me, DC Campus reminds me of the early days of Nordic Barista Cup. This feels like the NBC in Iceland in 2004. There was team competition, of course, but it was a chance for baristas to learn together, eat together, laugh together, dance, hug, kiss (laughs.)
The participants here have an opportunity to learn faster, with the help of world champions who are sharing their experiences. It’s a perfect event. The baristas all walk away feeling more positive, professional, and confident.
For me, I got to witness the DC Campus last year, and those who attended all went to the world championship in Nice and it was almst like a reunion. The event kind of created a bond between everyone.
Yes! Exactly. To me, the most important thing is self-confidence. I think that DC Campus has nurtured that. Everyone is supportive of one another and cheer for each other. It’ll be interesting to see how these national champions do at the world competitions in Melbourne!
Thank you, Sonja.