Why I took Thai coffee to
the National Thailand Barista Championship

Tae Rodeo competed in National Thailand Barista Championship 2018 (NTBC) and chose to use this opportunity to showcase Thai coffee.

Tae talks to Mr. Roots about his experience at the championship and why he chose to present Thai coffee at this competition.

Our barista Tae Rodeo recently competed in the National Thailand Barista Championship 2018 (NTBC) and chose to use this opportunity to showcase Thai coffee. Sad albeit true, Thai coffee doesn’t quite get the limelight it deserves; even at this annual competition hosted in Thailand, few baristas actually choose to showcase local beans. Here, Tae talks to Mr. Roots about his experience at the championship and why he chose to present Thai coffee at this competition.

Mr. Roots: Tell us about yourself.

Tae Rodeo:  Hi, I’m Tae. I’m a barista at Roots and have been for about 2 years now. Before I got involved with coffee, I was a musician for about 10 years.

Mr. Roots: You competed in the National Thailand Barista Championship 2018 (NTBC), what inspired you to enter the competition and what did you learn from it?

Tae Rodeo: Funny story, entering this competition wasn’t always what I wanted to do. A couple of years ago, I had seen the competition briefly and thought that making 12 drinks in 15 minutes looked way too easy. I was used to making over 1,000 different orders in 1 day! So I thought it shouldn’t be that hard to do. I even tried it for fun and managed to make 12 coffees in 8 minutes.  I lost my interest and didn’t revisit the idea of this competition until last year.

A conversation with Tae (Varatt Vichit-Vadakan) – founder of Roots – was what really drove me to try out this year. He told me to go back and watch the NTBC carefully and to ask myself to think about what I liked and disliked about each barista. I quickly realized that the competition is definitely not a walk in the park. You have to put in so much work into researching and practicing, but more than that, I realized that if I wanted to be a part of the movement to put Thai coffee on the world map, this would be the perfect place to start.

Mr. Roots:  Why did you choose to present Thai coffee in the competition?

Tae Rodeo: I did a little research and found that at these renown championships, hardly anybody ever uses Thai coffee. It’s safe to say that this is probably because of the stigma that Thai coffee is not of competition grade and isn’t good enough for the world-stage. But in 2016 at World Barista Championship, I saw that one barista had chosen to use a type of coffee that has a similar strand to our local beans, and it had managed to get ranked 8th in the world. I thought to myself, this is where Thai coffee could be.

The competition was as great opportunity to showcase how far Thai coffee has come, especially when we could use the beans that Roots has actually helped develop ourselves. I thought it was a little bit ironic that at these world competitions, where baristas were presenting rare beans that is virtually inaccessible to anyone else apart from themselves and the judges at this event, that these will be the beans that are going to be labelled as ‘best in the world’. And because these beans are so rare and expensive, they will be incredibly hard for an ordinary person to ever experience it.  As coffee people, we’ve really got to ask ourselves about how sustainable this is, and is this really the road we want specialty coffee to go down? Shouldn’t everyone have access to the ‘best beans in the world’?

Mr. Roots: Which beans did you use in the competition?

Tae Rodeo: I chose to enter the competition with coffee beans from Tha Song Yang, Tak province. I selected these beans because I felt they were grown in one of the best conditions in Thailand; one where the trees were plenty but not overcrowded, nutrients in the soil was just right, and where there’s enough (but not too much) sunlight and where I knew that the farmers and processors really care for the coffee plants and its environment.

Mr. Roots: Tell us about the competition, what was the challenge and what did you do with your Tha Song Yang coffee?

Tae Rodeo: We had to make 3 types of coffee: espresso, milk-based and signature. The signature part of the competition, we had to design our own special menu to really showcase the coffee beans that we wanted to present.

I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible to show people that you don’t have to use expensive equipment or the rarest coffee beans in the world to be creative with coffee. I also wanted to encourage people in the coffee industry to look at Thai coffee in a new light, that if we put our energy and effort into developing the quality of the beans, then we can take Thai coffee to the world stage. The judges gave the coffee 3 points, which I think is a great step up – there’s definitely room for improvement but it’s such a great feeling to know that our goal is not far off.

Mr. Roots: Will you be entering next year?

Tae Rodeo: Yes, I’d like to. I think I’ll change the selection of beans and work on a few more ideas. I’m excited and can’t wait for the next one!


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