Post celebrations from his win at this years IBrC, Stephen Houston shares his journey to the world stage and what it takes to raise the bar both mentally and physically!
How have you prepared for WBrC?
I had prepared quite a bit for the Irish Brewers Cup, starting from the previous year where I competed and came in around 17th place. I used this as my focus and spent the year working on my roasting ability as well brewing.
Having done run-throughs, lots of brewing, preparing a presentation and then competing twice to win the IBrC. I was able to gain some really useful feedback from world class judges, this information was extremely helpful when it came to getting ready for WBrC.
Since then I have been working with my coach and our quality control specialist, Jan, who has been a big help in regards to my training; being a previous competitor as well as having judged on Brewers Cup. This extra set of eyes to spot errors and someone that has a good understanding of the rules has been invaluable.
We have also had the opportunity to go out to Germany to work alongside Probat, who kindly offered us the use of their facilities, allowing us to make the most of the valuable coffee that we have sourced!
All these trips have kept me busy but also given me focus, experience and the drive to fully understand my coffee and how to get the best out of it.
Less than one week to go how are the nerves?
I am very nervous! But in a good way, I love my job, I am incredibly passionate about coffee and I want to continually improve and push myself to my limits. I have always enjoyed competing - It takes a lot of sacrifice, time and commitment but if it’s something I’m passionate about then it’s worth it.
I am my own worst critic and very harsh on myself although I’m lucky to have a great team and family around me to reassure and give me the confidence to go out and compete with the world’s best!
What coffee have you decided to compete with?
We have sourced a truly amazing coffee from Guatemala:
- Variety: Geisha
- Process: Natural (Anaerobic fermentation)
- Farm: Santa Felisa
- Region: Acatenango
This is world class, in fact this year this farm won the Cup of Excellence in Guatemala, we have been very lucky to have the opportunity to use this incredible coffee.
How have you raised your game for the world stage?
The intensity of the training has definitely gone up, with only 7 weeks to get ready for the worlds, there wasn't a lot of time to celebrate. We were straight into what coffee we could source, getting familiar with some of the equipment I will be using and started practising!
Brew Method? Has it altered since IBrC?
Not entirely, I am still using my little pink Kalita Waves 155! I have upped my scale game and using the Acaia pearls, apart from that the recipe might change slightly but overall I’m happy with this brewing method.
I like the aesthetic of them and I use them every day, so wanted to keep this part the same and be more comfortable when I am setting up and competing on stage with them.
What are you most excited about attending WOC and WBrC?
The most exciting part is the competition!! But I'm also looking forward to catching up with fellow coffee friends and making new ones, I love the coffee community and it’s great to be part of it! The other exciting thing is getting to see new products, trying other coffees and just having a great time.
I’m also looking forward to brewing coffee for people on our Bailies stand at some point, maybe if they’re lucky they will get some of my competition coffee!
What challenges have you faced along the way?
The biggest challenge to me has been the time frame. It didn't seem such a short time, but it sure felt it!
Working my normal 40 hours a week and trying to fit in 3+ practice runs a day shifted my work/life balance quite a bit. It has been hard to make time for a lot of things outside of work, again lucky to have a wonderful, supportive fiancée and family to help me chill out and support me.
I am a very committed and focused person and know what it takes to compete, but sometimes I don't know when to stop and take a break. Also travelling quite bit over the last few weeks, going from Belfast to Dublin to Germany and back again! All worthwhile and amazing experiences! It has been challenging but with the time frame and support network I have really come through it and all that’s left is to refine my routine and recipe.
What’s your chill out brew in between prepping?
Tasting such extraordinary coffee with intense flavours I would usually recalibrate with our washed Colombian, Inga Aponte. It’s clean, sweet and a really solid cup of coffee.
Although after work and a long week of practising (as well as way too much caffeine) my brew of choice is a nice IPA or a glass of good red wine!!
Now it’s the fun stuff left, practising and roasting my competition winning coffee! See you soon Budapest!