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Hidenori Izaki – First Japanese World Barista Champion

Introduction

No matter where you are from, what your profession is and how old you may be, if you love coffee this is the Championship you absolutely MUST watch at least once.

Of course, I am referring to the World Barista Championship!!!

It just happens to be the biggest, most engaging coffee event in the world, that takes place annually, and crowns one man or woman as the No.1 Barista of the year!

Hidenori Izaki – First Japanese World Barista Champion

I would like to shed a bit more light today, to one of these Champions (the title may have given him away…)  but before that let’s take a look at the championship itself for those unfamiliar.

What is the World Barista Championship, also known as the WBC? What is it that makes it so important?

What is the WBC?

The World Barista Championship is a competition between Baristas from all over the world, held annually at a different place.

The only Baristas allowed to participate are last year’s champions, from their country’s respective Barista Championship.

Specialty Coffee Association

The WBC is held by the Specialty Coffee Association, a world-class, non-profit organization in pursuit of building a heathy, progressing community over our favorite beverage.

In short, it spans from farmers to professional Baristas and serves as a unifying medium, encompassing all coffee related matters under its umbrella.

Now back to the WBC!

Although the regulations and rules are subsequent to minor alteration each year, the core structure of the tournament remains the same.

Professionals compete in a 15-minute window, making 12 drinks total for 4 sensory judges, all while presenting what they are making.

They have to prepare 3 kinds of drinks, one Espresso, one Milk Beverage and a Signature drink, all of which are evaluated based on different criteria.

Flavour is the only one common between the drinks’ evaluation, and each of them carries a different weight towards the end result.

The Espresso for example, is judged over its tactile (mouthfeel) and crema (surface) and serves as an indication of how good at evaluating coffee, the Barista himself is.

World Barista Championship

They should at least be able to select and present a cup worthy of a world class championship, right?

The Signature drink, on the other hand, is a completely different animal. It is judged for its originality and creativity, the complexity of the flavours and the mindset behind it… Basically, every single aspect that turns a cup from good to jaw-droppingly spectacular is put to the test in this drink.

The Baristas are not only judged for their coffee of course, but the impression they leave overall. The tournament seeks to crown the best professional. One who can work in a real-life situation and bring invoke the best of emotions in his customers.

The Barista should be able to make a complete presentation, communicate flawlessly with the judges, and be consistent with what he makes.

And of course, technical judges, on top of the sensory ones, are also present to make sure even the most minor of details are in place!

This is a competition amongst the Elite of the Elite after all!!!

Japan Barista Championship

One of the National championships mentioned above is the Japanese Barista Championship.

It is one of the hardest to win, but it follows the same rules and regulations as the World Cup. It started taking place in 2002 and is held annually by the SCAJ (Specialty Coffee Association of Japan).

I will link right here for anyone who wants to know more about the SCAJ.

In short, it is the regional equivalent of the Specialty Coffee Association, but only for Japan.

Because of the difficulty to rise to the top of this championship, Japanese contestants have of the WBC have been exceptionally formidable over the years, reaching the finals every other year.   

Who is Hidenori Izaki?

Hidenori Izaki is the first Japanese winner of the World Barista Champion, earning that title in 2014, in Rimini, Italy.

Despite it being his second time in the Championship, with several years of Barista experience under his belt, he put forth an outstanding performance, of which we will talk about shortly.   

But who is Hidenori Izaki, that won the World Championship?

Why don’t we take a closer look at his story?

Early History

Hidenori Izaki was born in 1990, in Fukuoka Prefecture of Kyushu. He entered high school with a badminton scholarship that he had since junior high but dropped out at the age of 16.

Since he was now a high school dropout, his father invited him to start working in his coffee shop, Honey Coffee in Fukuoka City. If he wanted to make something beautiful of his life of course.

He later introduced him to Enrique Navarro, a young coffee producer and later friend, from Costa Rica just a few years older than him, but really passionate about what he was doing.

brewing japanese black coffee

His passion was one of the first things to have inspired him to delve deeper into coffee-related matters, and he won the 2014 Championship using his coffee!

His interest in Barista charms peaked after a year of working in the industry, and he took part in the JBC for the first time at the age of 17, in 2007.

In 2008 he was one of the finalists, ranking in the 7th place and in 2009 he joined Maruyama Coffee; a company known for its high-quality orientation.

At the same period, he enrolled in the Department of International Cultural Studies, in Hosei University and worked as a Barista in parallel with his studies.

He continued participating in the JBC until 2012, when he won and was selected to represent Japan in next year’s World Barista Championship.

World Barista Championship 2013

After his first victory in the JBC, Hidenori progressed to represent Japan in 2013’s World Barista Championship.

In this tournament, his performance revolved around highlighting the “Umami” flavour in his chosen kind of coffee (A Costa Rican, honey-processed variety that as he confessed, is his “first love” when it comes to coffees, also supplied by his friend Enrique).

For those that don’t know, Umami is a Japanese word that indicates the “deliciousness” of a certain food or drink and stands as a taste kind on its own. For more information on Umami, I will link a relevant article over here.

In this performance, our Barista started with his Milk Beverage as soon as he finished explaining the individual traits of the coffee he had chosen.

He accompanied his presentation with beautiful, printed materials that focused exactly on the points he wanted to make, and simplified terms (like umami for example) that could obstruct the flow of his performance.

competing barista competition

Once he was finished with the Milk Beverage, roughly five minutes after the clock had started ticking, he moved on to prepare his Signature drink.

He initiated that with two double shots of espresso, and putting them aside, he introduced something special to the table.

A small glass of something that resembled ground, green coffee beans but wasn’t… In this small glass he held something unique. Coffee that had been roasted for 10 hours straight at a very low temperature.

Due to that, the ground coffee hadn’t developed any flavour resembling a normal cup, or the darkened color of normally roasted beans, but had gained something else in return. A special Umami flavour that could be extracted using the espresso machine. And that’s what he did!

After extraction, he poured the “Umami-flavoured drink” in a cup of Black-Honey-processed beans (the sweetest of the honey-processed coffees) and heated up the entire mix in a syphon for a few moments before serving it to the judges.

He then poured his espresso into the syphon, over the Black-Honey-processed beans, and then served that separately.

He finished the presentation with his Espresso course, inviting the judges to stir 5 times alongside him, to show how his “crema” stayed unscathed.

Unfortunately, in this competition, his performance proved insufficient to place him any higher than the 13th place.

This however was not the end of our Barista’s relationship with the WBC.

Between the Championships

After this first experience with the world stage, Hidenori wasn’t really satisfied with the result.

He was after the first place, not so much for the title, but for the chance to make the best coffee he could for the people who would drink it. He believed he could go much higher than the 13th place.

He moved on to win the JBC one more time and then set off to make something special that could fulfill his desire of an excellent cup.

He travelled to Costa Rica, to the farm of his friend and producer, Enrique Navarro, at the Monte Copey micromill, where both of his winning cups were created.

brewing coffee using hario nel drip

As he said in a public speech, he believed the gap between the producer and the Barista, both experts in different fields, had to be bridged to make something truly befitting of his aspirations.

The producer knew how to make certain elements of the coffee come forth, while the Barista understood what their customers truly enjoyed.

And he wanted to do one more thing. He wanted to win with the coffee of his producer and friend, who had introduced him to the wonderful world of coffee that had changed his life.

He spent a few months there, trying to learn more about how to make the best cup possible, experimenting and trying out new things, until the World Championship date had arrived.

World Barista Championship 2014

After a long year of experiments and attempts, the day was there, when our Barista could claim the chance to make the best coffee he could imagine.

He moved on to the stage with two different kinds of coffee, each co-produced and selected for their own drink, by Hidenori and Enrique.

For his Espresso, he used a Honey-processed Typica fermented for 24 days. For those that don’t know, in Monte Copey the maximum is 18 days, so there was a substantial element of risk in that experiment. Overfermentation means a terrible result…

However, both producer and Barista loved the sweetness in their cup and decided to keep it.

The Milk Beverage coffee, a red Caturra species, was also fermented for 28 days and was selected for the same reasons. It turned out to blend exceptionally well with milk!

For his Signature Beverage, our Barista decided to combine the two coffees, pairing them with apple syrup and peach nectar, serving them over Ice spheres in cocktail glasses.

In this Championship, he came first. His cup was loved by the judges, and he was the first Asian to have won the World Barista Cup ever!!!

Current Activities

After his victory in 2014’s WBC, Hidenori Izaki moved on to start his own company, Samurai Coffee Experience, a consulting agency that operates all around the World.

He was also asked to coach Sasa Cestic on next year’s Championship, which was also a huge victory as Sasa managed to win the No.1 position as well!

Hidenori’s perspective as a coach, is that he should guide his pupils based on their individual traits and characteristics and have them find the real goal behind their cups.

Currently, he is still pursuing that excellent cup which he wants to present people with, but this time he is preparing more and more people to be able to do the same.

Travelling 200 days a year, spending most of his time in research and coaching, our Barista is a prime example of a man who loves what he is doing.

Even if you don’t get the chance to try his cup for yourself someday, may you get the chance to try it from one of his students!

Conclusion

One can leave after reading this with a variety of thoughts and emotions. It is after all, about a man who failed and tried again, then failed and tried again and again until he succeeded.

For sure there is no such thing as the golden pill or the magic wand that will make you a World-Class Champion. There is however you, and no matter where you are right now, there are so many things you can be in the not-so-distant future.

Hidenori Izaki wanted to give the world the Best Coffee he could and putting the hours and persevering he did just that.

He is now helping other people chase after their dreams and make them a reality, with what he has learned from his endeavors.

In the end, I think Izaki’s story is a prime example of what someone who loves what they are doing can accomplish.


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Japanese Coffee Blog is a collection of articles related to the Japanese Coffee and Charcoal Roasted Sumiyaki coffee which is unique roasting only found in Japan. Coffee culture in Japan has evolved isolated from around the world and has much uniqueness not found in the rest of the world.

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Author: Kei Nishida

Kei Nishida

Kei Nishida is a writer, a Japanese Green Tea and Coffee enthusiast, and the founder and CEO of Japanese Green Tea Company and Japanese Coffee Company.

His popular Japanese Green Tea and Health Blog has been the go-to place for anything related to Japanese tea.

He is an author of multiple books, and you can find his work in multiple publications and magazines.

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