Rhys Woods is a barista and co-proprietor at Lo.Ki in Adelaide, and the 2019 Runner-Up in the Western Region Barista Championship. We spoke to Rhys ahead of his appearance at the Australian Barista Championships, to be held at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo next week.
How did you first get involved in the specialty coffee scene?
I was originally working at Coffee Club where I learnt the basics and I then got offered a job at a small bakery café that was serving specialty coffee where I was a regular customer so I took the job and went down the rabbit hole from there.
What are your other interests, exterior to coffee and the specialty scene?
I have played football since I was 5 years old and still play locally.
Do you have any idols/role models in the global speciality scene? If so, who and why?
Sasa Sestic. I remember when I first started out in specialty coffee and went to the premiere screening of ‘The Coffee Man’ film, which inspired me to continue my path in specialty coffee. The work that he is doing for the specialty coffee industry around the world inspires me to want to push boundaries myself and the support that he has given myself in my own journey has been humbling.
Matt Lewin is another. Having the opportunity to compete alongside him in China at [the] Fushan Cup and the support he gave me during my first ever barista comp is something I’ll never forget. The continual support and guidance he gives me on a daily basis is something I’m very grateful for.
Mark Ruta from Pullman Espresso has been another massive role model for me. Allowing me to use his personal shop as a training space and making me feel so welcome to come and train for regionals and nationals has really fast tracked my development.
What made you want to start competing in barista competitions?
My boss at the time was a previous state barista champion and had always encouraged me to compete and I saw it as a great way to improve my skills as a barista and network with people in my industry. Its by far exceeded all of my expectations and now I can’t think of being a barista and not participating in competitions.
What was it like preparing for your first competition? How did you go about preparing for something you’d never done before?
Ignorance is sometimes bliss. I first started with brewers cup. You don’t know what you don’t know, so you just do the best you can and learn from your mistakes along the way to try and be more efficient and organised with your time management during training and on competition days. I watched some videos on youtube of some other competitors (mainly Sam Corra, who was the current Australian Brewers Cup Champion) and just copied the framework of their routines and added my own information about the coffee I was using and just tried to brew the best possible coffee I could for the judges on the day.
What are your greatest inspirations in your work (eg. customers/customer service, sharing stories of origin, creating innovations in the industry etc)?
Collaborating and sharing the knowledge that I have been given with customers and other people in the industry. I feel very privileged with the people I have been surrounded with early in my specialty coffee journey and I feel obligated to pass on this knowledge to others to help them become better baristas or learn more about the world of specialty coffee. Seeing people’s faces when you give them a piece of information that really inspires them or changes the way they think about coffee is really cool.
Do you have a favourite coffee? If so, what makes it your favourite (origin, brew type, flavour profile etc)?
Ethiopia ‘Jasper’ has become my favourite coffee. I’ve had plenty of mind-blowing filters’ and espressos’ but for me the Jasper  as a milk coffee is so different to every other milk coffee I’ve ever had that it takes the cake for me. Confectionary purple grape in a milk coffee, it just shouldn’t happen.
Why do you think coffee competitions are important/what benefit do they have?
They bring people together. The friendships I’ve built directly through competition with people all over the world is something that is really special to me. This allows us to collaborate and share ideas to continue to move our industry forward for the benefit for everyone along the supply chain.
What would you say to anyone that is interested in competing, but doesn’t know where to start?
Connect and surround yourself with people who have competed before and ask as many questions as possible. Everyone who I have reached out to has always given me a lot of time and are always more than happy to answer any of my questions. If anyone wants to know more about comps don’t hesitate to contact me, I’m more than happy to answer any questions or point you in the right direction!
Can you tell us anything about your performance for the 2019 nationals at MICE?
I’m keeping it pretty simple, my theme is pretty personal to what I try to do every day in my café and based around the way I’ve curated our coffee menu and sharing coffees that I serve in the café every day. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to control the tasting experience for the judges and making sure everything is as consistent as possible so I can express the best possible version of the amazing coffees I’ve been working with.
See Rhys compete on stage at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo, Feb 7-9.