Bean there, done that

Gihan Weerasinghe from the UAE who became the global champion of the Costa Coffee world spills the beans on coffee

By Mohamad Kadry

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Published: Sat 23 Aug 2008, 1:52 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

IN THE world of competitive java, there are no rules- just good coffee. So it’s no surprise that the Costa Coffee franchise began an organised competition-a ‘coffee Olympics’ if you will -in search of the world’s greatest barista.

What has evolved into a beloved sport for these proud servers, the Barista of Year Championship combines original coffee creations with a touch of nutmeg and personality to reveal who really knows their beans.

While it may not be the most glamorous competition, the barista championships can change lives for the few who have exhibited exemplary skill and passion for their work.

Based in the United Kingdom, Costa Coffee opened its doors in 1971 and it remains one of Starbucks’ biggest rivals. They even managed to build their biggest branch in Dubai, able to seat nearly 320 coffee aficionados.

As for the competition, baristas are selected based on merit from each of their respective countries. After competing nationally, they go on to a regional meeting in which one connoisseur is selected to represent the Middle East in the global arena.

In 2007, Gihan Weerasinghe, a Sri Lankan national, represented the UAE during the regional competition. His coffee creations were so revered that he went on to become the global champion of the Costa Coffee world.

“For me, coffee is like wine,” he says, now the proud supervisor of a local Costa branch.

But even with Weerasinghe’s talent, he was reluctant to advance to administration, afraid to hang up his apron for a tie.

“I once met a barista who was 45 years old, so I asked him why he was still making coffee. He told me that skill is always with you, and once you reach that point of perfection, no one can stop you.”

While his passion is admirable, it is also widespread.

There is an interesting subculture that evolved in the past decade with the rise of coffee shops, a phenomenon that took much of the world by storm. While quaint cafes were nothing new in Europe, they were all but non-existent in the United States, where people traditionally congregated in bars or pub. But as the coffee shop gained popularity, suddenly it became a chic hangout.

And with this new booming industry, came the barista.

Even the role of Gunther on the hit sitcom, Friends, was created at the height of the coffee boom, and suddenly the bartender became the barista.

But becoming the global king of espresso was no easy task forWeerasinghe, who had to utilise all his knowledge and expertise in creating a drink that would win over an international panel of judges.

Espresso Honey would become his signature creation and change his life forever.

“I made it from honey, almond and hot water, double shot of espresso, and foam with milk on top. The drink shows five clear distinct layers, “ he says.

“Every cup of coffee you make-if you make it from your heart-you learn something new.”

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