Dan Fellows has just returned from Brazil as the World Coffee in Good Spirits Champion. The World Coffee Championships were held at Expominas in Belo Horizonte, Brazil from 7-9 November. Dan is a three-time UK Coffee in Good Spirits Champion (2012, 2018, 2019) as well as 2016 UK Barista Champion and our head of wholesale. We caught up with him soon after he landed back in the UK.
Welcome back Dan. World Coffee in Good Spirits Champion, how does it feel?
Although it has not yet entirely sunk in, it is a huge sense of achievement and pride. I have always dreamed of becoming the World Coffee in Good Spirits Champion, and to have finally achieved this is an incredible feeling which will stay with me.
You have been a prominent figure in the UK and world coffee scene over the last 6 years, what motivates you to compete at these events?
The competitions give me the opportunity to continually develop and learn. As well as this, I genuinely enjoy every aspect of competing which makes the planning, training and development steps enjoyable and very rewarding and keeps me 100% motivated.
I competed in the 2012 World CiGS Championship which was my first year competing. I finished fourth after having issues with an AeroPress in the finals round. As I did not feel I delivered my best possible performance that year, this has always left me with a feeling of having unfinished business with CiGS and this achievement of finally becoming World Champion very much feels like redemption!
Dan Fellows, 2018 Champion.
For those who don’t know, could you explain the format of this event?
The World CiGS Championship is spread over three days;
Day one consists of the Spirit Bar where competitors are tasked with creating a coffee cocktail based on a randomly selected sponsored spirit. The amazing sponsors this year were Gouveia 44 Brasil Cachaca which I selected, Beefeater gin and Chivas Regal 12 year old blended Scotch. This takes place in a bar environment and this year was held at Café 104 in Belo Horizonte.
Day two is the preliminary round where competitors must serve two hot / warm coffee and alcohol-based designer beverages, and two cold coffee and alcohol-based designer beverages.
The top scoring six competitors advance to the finals round on day 3, where competitors must serve two hot / warm or cold designer beverages, as well as two identical Irish Coffees. The drinks and presentation are evaluated by two taste judges, one technical / visual judge and one head judge.
Can you explain your approach to the world championship? Was it different to the routine you won the UK title with?
The overarching inspiration behind all of my drinks was to focus on the outstanding producers, ingredients and flavours from around the world. I began developing these drinks in the autumn of 2017 and have continually developed them ever since. I have had huge support from so many people, but my friend and coach Paul Ross has been an excellent source of inspiration and improvement with his constant and honest feedback on all aspects of the performance.
The winning drinks. Dan's Caribbean Irish Coffee and 'A Message from El Salvador'.
Your drinks looked incredible. Could you tell us about them? The ingredients you used and how you created them?
For the Spirit Bar, I built my cocktail around my journey from London to the World Championships in Brazil and added complementary and contrasting ingredients to the Gouveia Cachaca such as cherry, Cascade hops and cascara which added balance and complexity. I also added a naturally-processed Yellow Pacamara from the Mierisch family farm, La Huella, in Nicaragua which introduced tropical notes to the drink.
For my warm designer beverage, ‘A Message from El Salvador’, I celebrated the amazing producers in El Salvador who I am fortunate enough to work with. The coffee came from Carlos and Patricia Pola and the team at Finca San Antonio. I selected the semi-washed Red Pacamara and paired this with an El Salvadorian rum called Ron Cihuatan. The sugarcane for this rum is grown by the Pacas family and Alfredo Pacas also kindly supplied me with molasses from the same sugarcane as a perfect source of rich sweetness. I added complementary ingredients such as an El Salvadorian cascara-infused Gouveia cachaca, Pedro Ximenez and a spiced butter mix to create a warming winter cocktail with comforting flavours of Christmas pudding, brandy butter and dark chocolate orange. The drink was served with personal hand-written postcards with messages from the Pola family and Alfredo Pacas for the judges.
The cold designer beverage was called ‘Kyushiki’, which translates from Japanese as ‘Old Fashioned’. The drink was built around some amazing Japanese ingredients such as the now-discontinued Hibiki 12 year old Japanese whisky, Umeshu plum liqueur, Canton jasmine green tea, the sweet green tea notes of the Gouveia cachaca, yuzu juice and Kuro Sato – a Japanese black sugar imported direct from Okinawa by Arline at Taste Translation. I then rapidly chilled the same San Antonio Red Pacamara to highlight the black plum and lemongrass notes. The drink was served with a Japanese-inspired ‘garden’ garnish and a jasmine aroma diffusion, and had fresh flavours of red and black plum, pink grapefruit, green tea and jasmine.
Finally, I created a Caribbean Irish Coffee which celebrated the amazing tropical flavours of the Caribbean, using some world-class ingredients. I brewed the amazing naturally-processed Yellow Pacamara from La Huella through a Clever Dripper to build a tropical flavour base of passion-fruit and pineapple, and then created a blend of three Speyside whiskies which contributed to the tropical flavour profile. I blended Glenfiddich 21yo Reserva Rum Finish, The Balvenie 14yo Caribbean Cask and Chivas Regal 12yo blended Scotch and complemented these with both Caribbean light muscovado sugar syrup and coconut palm sugar syrup. The drink was finished with double cream from The Estate Dairy which I transported across the world due to it’s amazing quality and texture. The drink had flavours of vanilla cream and butterscotch in the first sip, followed by tropical notes of caramelised mango and pineapple, dried banana and spiced dark rum.
You have access to some of the best speciality coffee producers in the world, what coffee did you use and why?
I worked with two of the most progressive coffee producers I know for my two coffees. I am a huge fan of the Pacamara variety due to its massive potential for sweetness and complexity, as well as the diversity it can express through different terroir and processing methods.
For ‘A Message from El Salvador’ and ‘Kyushiki’, I selected the semi-washed Red Pacamara from the Pola family at Finca San Antonio in El Salvador. Carlos, Patty and the team produce a wide range of world-class coffees and are incredibly open-minded when it comes to progressive coffee production. The team were so helpful and supportive in the creation and execution of ‘A Message from El Salvador’. The drink ended up becoming much more than just a drink, and I hope celebrated the amazing history of San Antonio.
For the Spirit Bar round and my ‘Caribbean Irish Coffee’, I worked with the naturally-processed Yellow Pacamara from Finca La Huella due to its tropical flavour profile and heavy body. The Mierisch family are very well-known for producing world-class coffees in Nicaragua and Honduras, and I am also currently working with them on developing a brand new coffee style for WCiGS next year.
Carlos Pola's farm (above). Mierisch family dry room (below).
What was your reaction when you realised you were World Champion?
It was a huge shock and relief when they announced my name as World Champion. The level of competition on the world stage is so high, so to be crowned as best in the world is a huge privilege. It was an amazing moment to share with Team UK who had all done amazing jobs competing, coaching and volunteering in a range of competitions, and all of the finalists who became immediate friends after a fantastically positive and friendly backstage atmosphere throughout the whole week.
Why are competitions like these important? How do they benefit the coffee scene?
As well as encouraging the coffee community to push the boundaries of what is possible, they are a fantastic way to build networks and introduce everyone involved to those who they may never meet otherwise. In Brazil, there were competitors from across the world sharing experiences and drinks together, uniting competitors and coaches from a wide range of cultural and professional backgrounds, which can only make the industry stronger and better connected.
2018 has been an incredible year for you, any plans for competing in 2019?
I have already won the UK Coffee in Good Spirits Championship for 2019, which means I will have the opportunity to try to defend my crown next year in Berlin!
Is there anyone you would like to thank?
The list is huge, and I will be thanking everyone in person for the support, but this would not have been possible without my amazing fiancée Emma, my coach Paul, the amazing team at Origin Coffee, everyone who has watched my routine and tasted the drinks, SCA UK and Team UK for the support, the team at World Coffee Events including the judges and volunteers, the producers I have been lucky enough to work with, and everyone who has shown support along the way!
Here’s to a busy year. CHEERS!
Team UK in Brazil.
Dan will travel to Berlin to try retain his World Coffee in Good Spirits title on 8-10 June 2019. Keep up with his preparations on Instagram - @DanFellows1