Add another trophy to the shelf for Mexico’s Carlos de la Torre! The Mexico City coffee polymath has already taken home some serious hardware, having won national titles at Cup Tasters (2012), the Brewers Cup (2015, 2016), and the Barista Championship (2018, 2019). And he has just added Coffee Masters Champion to his CV in his first-ever appearance in the competition. If this isn’t a coffee EGOT, I’m not sure such a thing exists.
Yet, even with his impressive résumé, keeping the US Coffee Masters title in a producing country (matching the efforts of 2018 New York Coffee Masters Champion Remy Molina of Costa Rica) would be no easy task. Standing in de la Torre’s way were no less than three national champions, multiple finalists, and two Coffee Masters Runners-Up. But even as a rookie, de la Torre was able to call upon his vast competition experience to rise to the occasion, even mowing down two of those national champions along the way.
To learn more, Sprudge caught up with Carlos de la Torre after his big win to find out what the fast-paced weekend was like and what’s next in store for him.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Carlos! Congratulations on your Coffee Masters victory! By way of introduction, can you tell us a little bit about what you professionally in the coffee world?
I’m the green buyer and head roaster at Cafe con Jiribilla and I’m in charge of Quality Control and Training at Café Avellaneda, both in Mexico City. I have an oncoming Cold Brew project and I run the coffee program for the new bar Cafe Ocampo. I’m also the current Mexican Barista Champion and I’ve been involved constantly in barista competitions as a competitor and coach for other baristas, and randomly I give some workshops and lectures on coffee.
As an experienced coffee competition veteran, what was it like competing in your first Coffee Masters?
It was an amazing experience. Even before I knew I won the competition I was saying to my wife, “I guess I’m not winning, but it was a lot of fun, I’m going to try again next year.” But now I guess there’s no Coffee Masters for me in the future at least as a competitor.
How did it compare to other coffee competitions?
It has long performance times with the big stress of competing one-on-one, so it demands a lot of energy and focus. I was so tired after it all that I didn’t even go out to celebrate, just a quick takeaway dinner before going straight to bed. But the most notable difference is not just the variety of abilities that the competitors need to display, but the fact of having the competitors perform against each other under the same circumstances, which removes a lot of advantages some competitors may have; it’s all up to the skills and knowledge inherent to the competitors.
Do you feel like your extensive competition experience (and success) gave you a leg up in Coffee Masters?
Yes, for sure. I was already a national champion in Cup Tasters, Brewers Cup, and Barista, which relates directly with the cupping, order, sig drink, espresso blend, and brewing disciplines at Coffee Masters, so it was sort of familiar to me and I guess that helped me a lot. On the other, I have almost no experience at cupping various origins or presenting latte art.
There were a handful of other national champions at Coffee Masters this year. Was it intimidating going up against such accomplished competitors?
For sure it was intimidating. Since Round One I was asking myself, “what the hell am I doing here?” I heard a lot of great things from Cole Torode about the competition when we hung out in China at the Fushan Cup last summer, and that inspired me to compete but I never expected to face him in the Semi-Finals. I was just scared as hell since he is not just the third-best barista in the world but one of the professionals I admire the most. Then Shin [Fukuyama] at the Finals, man!! He is a latte art god (fourth in the world) from a prestigious company and he trained so hard. Obviously I was so intimidated by every competitor and I respect them A LOT, but they were very friendly and supportive with me because it was my first time and they had more experience in Coffee Masters, so it made for a good friendship.
What was your favorite discipline in Coffee Masters?
I guess it was the cupping, I’ve always loved the rush of combining speed and precision in a competition.
What was the most challenging discipline?
I guess the origin because I have so few experiences cupping non-Mexican coffees.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your signature beverage?
It was a cocktail with “overnight espresso,” made with tamarind, lemon, Sotol (a Mexican distilled spirit), and gin. So refreshing, complex, spicy, and harmonious that I couldn’t resist to drink one with the judges so I crafted one for me too.
It’s actually a cocktail I created a while ago, thinking about giving “second chances” to the espresso that some times you don’t use when serving single shot drinks using a double spout portafilter, or just the coffee you forgot to drink at home and is “overnighted.” We used to have a lot of those espressos at the coffee shop and we would throw them into the sink, so this cocktail is crafted with stuff you can find at any party or in some fridges very easily; it’s almost a cocktail built from scratch turning a wasted espresso into an amazing drink.
Originally about recycling “overnight coffee,” for Coffee Masters we turned it into a concept drink using some Mexican ingredients representing the L.A. Mexican and Latin culture and also the second chances we look for when migrating to the US. Actually, that was part of bringing the ingredients across the border by car haha; we really wanted to build the experience of the drink and believe the story ourselves. For me, it was a very meaningful drink because it connected my passion, my origin, and my family (my wife is from Chihuahua, and that’s where Sotol comes from).
And more importantly, where did you get that wonderful pink silk robe in the video and will it a regular part of future competitions for you?
Hahaha! It’s my wife’s robe, I got it as a gift for her when I went away from home for two weeks to help out at Coffee in Good Spirits at the International Coffee Week last year. I don’t know if it’s taking part in competitions hahaha but surely in more funny coffee videos I’ll be borrowing it from her.
How does this win compare to your national competition victories?
It’s unbelievable, the warmth of an international audience giving you recognition as a well-structured professional in a field in which you have invested a third of your life in some way gives you a big satisfaction, but not quite as satisfying as having the opportunity to give a bit of exposure to Mexico and Latin America, not just as producing countries but also as consuming ones.
Any big plans on what you will do with the $5,000 cash prize?
Yeah!! I’m going to use it for the birth expenses of my son and the remaining cash I’ll use it for my road to WBC in Melbourne, maybe equipment, tools, or some training expenses.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
The other half of my success in coffee, Yaris Barrientos who supported me all the way, giving me advice, tasting, helping with stuff I may not be able to handle alone, even when she is currently having some difficult time expecting our first son. No one can read me better than her, she’s a wonderful woman and an amazing coach struggling with the fact that she cannot actually drink a lot of coffee or any alcohol. But she has that super-sensitive nose that her pregnancy gave to her as a very helpful side effect hahaha.
I also want to thank Cris Mancilla (Mexican Latte Art Champion) and Ale Lugo (two-time Latte Art finalist and Brewers Cup Runner-Up) who helped me improve my pouring. And last but not least, Sam Ronzon, my friend and coffee producer who supported us a lot during the competition days, showing that the relation between baristas and producers is not just about coffee; it’s not meant to be just a business relation but a great friendship supporting each other, not just as professionals but as human beings in regular everyday circumstances… and also, Sam smuggled my ingredients across the border.
Photos courtesy of Los Angeles Coffee Festival/Coffee Masters
Katryn Kruger is an international model, motivational speaker, entrepreneur and founder of Koffie Met Katryn, an events initiative where she shares her own stories, aiming to inspire and motivate women of all ages, races and religion, to follow their dreams and aspirations, all in a safe space.
Katryn Kruger, founder of Koffie Met Katryn
Through this passion project, she also wants to offer the space and opportunity for women to inspire and support one another. Koffie Met Katryn is a series of intimate events hosted by Katryn herself at a small venue for up to 20 guests.
It’s Global Entrepreneurship Week (#GEW2019) and so we chat with Katryn Kruger as part of our #EntrepreneurMonth…
Koffie Met Katryn (KMK) is aimed at getting women from all different walks of life together, and to offer a platform for them to share their stories, dreams, fears and challenges. These women’s events are hosted by me, where I share my own story (I was scouted by a modelling agency at the age of 15 and then left school at 16 to work full-time, travelling the world and working with the biggest names in fashion), as well as share the life lessons I’ve learnt over the years.
These events have become wildly popular and usually sell out within a few hours.
KMK offers a safe space for women to connect, inspire and empower!
I started KMK this year and we had our first event in Feb 2019. Since then, the demand has grown so much that I even travelled to Pretoria to host a KMK there.
I started KMK as a way of doing motivational speaking, but on a much more intimate and personal level so that women can feel heard if they choose to tell their stories or participate in the topic discussions (these topics always centre around womanhood). I then quickly realised women want and need to connect with each other and that fueled my passion to grow KMK into what it is today.
To inspire, empower and connect women!
The biggest obstacle was believing I had something to offer and putting a monetary value on that. This is especially difficult if one, as in my case, is not selling a tangible product or service. However, with support from my loved ones, my team and my audience I soon realised people wanted to hear what I have to say – I do indeed have something of value to offer, and it is okay to ask for money in exchange for it.
Connect with your fellow entrepreneurs! It is inspiring to hear other people’s stories, experiences and opinions. And then use that connection to lift each other up, whether it is through collaborating or maybe just by having coffee with that person. In return, you will soon find yourself surrounded by dynamic and passionate business people who will be there to support you.
Receiving beautiful emails from women who have attended KMK events and who tell me how much it meant to them. These emails may seem small in time where followers and likes have become a currency. But to inspire and connect is my goal and receiving confirmation that that is indeed what I am doing, is greatly rewarding.
Statistics show that more and more people become entrepreneurs or “self-employed”, which shows that our economy and our nation is growing despite bigger issues. Therefore, I think entrepreneurship will become, or already is a beacon of hope and a goal chased by the young and the old.
I also think the future of entrepreneurship will develop in line with the boom of technology and especially social media.
I think there needs to be a bigger sense of community and support. There’s a place for each of us, so we shouldn’t compete but instead connect.
Grit, passion and devotion. No-one cares more about your business than you. Therefore, you need to work diligently to turn your passion into a business.
As mentioned before, my biggest struggle was actually putting a price on what I had to offer. The first two KMK events were free, which made it feel like a passion project or a hobby. Then I made the decision to sell tickets to these events and it was quite a challenge to change that mind-shift and believe that I have something to offer.
One of the highlights so far is seeing that people actually buy my tickets! It shows that they support and agree with my idea of placing that monetary value on myself. It’s been a real journey of self-love and it is a great confidence booster and idea-generator.
It is so extremely rewarding doing what you love, and doing it on your own terms. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it
I would like KMK to grow in numbers, have more events per year as well as host workshops. I would also like to tour to a select few places in SA to offer KMK all over the country.
She stirred up a ‘latte’ laughs during Tuesday’s impeachment hearings.
A woman seated behind Lt. Col Alexander Vindman as he testified at the House Intelligence Committee caused a viral moment when she was caught on camera tilting her head back and downing a large cup of coffee.
The brunette woman in glasses, seated to the back left of Vindman, appeared to glance over at the camera before turning and continuing to chug.
“Watching this mysterious woman chug her coffee, notice she’s on camera, and then finish chugging it is a lot more interesting than the actual testimony,” tweeted Patrick Ward.
Some folks identified the background coffee drinker as McClatchy Congress reporter Emma Dumain, and she told The Post that: “Yes, I can confirm.”
Viewers found Dumain’s hunger for getting to the bottom of a cup of Joe both entertaining and relatable.
“The lady downing the coffee behind Lt Col Vindman is my hero,” one person wrote.
Vice staffer Colin Jones tweeted: “When the coffee is just that good.”
Another said “That woman drinking coffee is all of us.”
Luckin Coffee‘s (NASDAQ:LK) stock recently hit a new high after the Chinese coffee chain posted its third-quarter report. Its revenue soared 558% annually to 1.49 billion yuan ($209 million), matching analysts’ expectations.
On the bottom line, its GAAP net loss widened from 485 million yuan to 532 million yuan ($74 million). On a non-GAAP basis (which excludes its stock-based compensation expenses), its net loss widened from 484 million yuan to 491 million yuan ($69 million), or $0.32 per share, which beat expectations by six cents.
Luckin’s stock is now nearly 60% above its IPO price of $17, but it’s been a battleground stock in the six months since its public debut. The bears claim that its growth is unsustainable since it’s expanding too aggressively and its losses are widening.
The bulls believe that it will eclipse Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) as China’s top coffee chain and that its losses will narrow with economies of scale. Let’s examine Luckin’s quarter to see if the numbers favor the bulls or the bears.
Understanding Luckin’s strategy
Luckin generates most of its revenue growth from new store openings. Its store count rose 210% annually to 3,680 during the quarter. Starbucks, by comparison, grew its Chinese store count 17% annually to 4,125 last quarter.
Luckin will likely top Starbucks’ store count within the next two quarters. But since so many of Luckin’s stores are brand new, we still can’t tell if they can generate sustainable growth for over a year like Starbucks, which posted 5% comparable-store sales growth in China last quarter. Luckin previously enjoyed a first mover’s advantage in digital deliveries against Starbucks, but Starbucks subsequently struck back via a partnership with Alibaba‘s (NYSE:BABA) meal delivery platform Ele.me.
Luckin relies heavily on big promotions, discounts, and marketing blitzes to attract customers. Yet it conveniently excludes all those costs from its “store level” operating margin, which only deducts its cost of materials, store rental, and other operating and depreciation costs from its total product revenue.
Luckin’s “store level” operating margin of 12.5% marked a significant improvement from an operating loss a year earlier, but its total operating loss still widened from 486 million yuan to 591 million yuan ($83 million) as its total operating expenses jumped 194%. Those numbers all suggest that Luckin’s entire business runs on new store openings and margin-crushing promotions, and there’s still very little evidence that its existing stores can generate sustainable comps growth.
Luckin also continues to expand beyond coffee with lower-margin products like juices, teas, and light meals, and it’s opening larger and more capital-intensive “relax” stores (which more than tripled annually to 138 locations in the quarter) to compete with traditional cafes and restaurants. These strategies will all apply additional pressure on its margins.
Can Luckin ever generate a profit?
Luckin needs to phase out its promotions and discounts if it wants to narrow its losses. If it accomplishes that, the gap between its “store level” operating margins and actual operating margins could gradually narrow. Luckin’s total number of monthly transacting customers also surged 398% to 9.3 million during the third quarter, indicating that its growing base of loyal customers might generate sustainable comps growth for its older stores.
However, Luckin could be overestimating its own brand and pricing power, and its customers could still gravitate toward Starbucks, other coffee chains, or convenience stores if it eliminates discounts and raises its prices.
Luckin ended last quarter with 5.54 billion yuan ($776 million) in cash, cash equivalents, and short-term investments, which was an 8% drop from the second quarter. That cash burn rate isn’t too alarming, but Luckin’s lack of clear plans for the future — beyond eclipsing Starbucks — indicates that it could burn through much more cash before it finally narrows its losses.
It’s still too speculative for my tastes
It’s easy to spot Luckin’s strengths: Its revenue is still growing at a faster rate than its operating expenses, its customer base is expanding, and its store-level operating margins are improving. But the stock still remains too speculative for my tastes, and I need to see some proof of sustainable growth — like rising comps and narrowing losses — before I consider Luckin to be a high-growth alternative to Starbucks.