Interview w/ Jeremy Ho – 2012 Canadian Barista Champion

Jeremy Ho, a longtime baristas at Phil & Sebastian in Calgary took 1st place in the Canadian Jeremy nationalsNational Barista Championship which makes him the first Calgarian to represent Canada on the world stage in Melbourne, Australia for the World Barista Championships where he took 9th place.

I recently had the pleasure to chat with Jeremy about competition and leadership.

First off, congratulations again on winning the national championship and the 9th place finish at worlds!
It has been a few years since Canada has cracked top 10 hasn’t it?
It was 2010 since Canada cracked the top 10 with a 7th place finish by Kyle Straw.

It was great to see you perform live both at regionals and nationals. Can you explain how your approach to the “ring” differs from the first two competitions to the world stage?
My approach when I am prepping backstage, rolling out the cart, and getting into the competition area actually was no different between each stage. I try to prepare as much of my wares, cart, signature drink ingredients etc. as much time in advance in order to not be rushed and to be calm when I roll out. I usually avail of my team, delegate tasks to be done to people whom you trust to ensure that you are able to get all aspects of your cart prepared properly and in advance. A helpful tip is to grab a cart as soon as you can. From there, I usually listen to a bit of music to pump myself up, perhaps go through some of my opening lines, and get extremely focused and very pumped up. I also stay very positive throughout this process (which all changes after I compete, haha), to keep the great energy up and to lower EVERYONE’s stress. It’s important to go into the actual competition time feeling as confident as possible, but to be relaxed and focused enough to be able to respond to changes. Say a prayer, roll out and execute!

In terms of preparing the actual routine, we learned firsthand at how all encompassing a world stage routine must be. It was miles ahead what any of us had presented at any stage – in/house, regionals or nationals. We also saw how important preparation and organization was, as well as preparing for technical differences depending on where you go.

But my approach to competitions has always stayed the same. Using a competitor’s fire, I always pick a coffee that I am truly passionate about, and try to present it in a way that moves the industry forward, is approachable to all, and is a little outside of the box.

Ben Put has been a huge support system as a coach, friend and co-worker, how has Ben added value to you as a barista and a competitor?
Ben has been absolutely integral to my success in the coffee industry in general, never mind competitions. He is the epitome of coffee professional and innovator. I have learned a lot working alongside Ben and am constantly amazed at his “barista intuition”, his humility, knowledge and technique. He pushes me to be better everyday, and thus we work extremely well together. As he has said before, iron sharpens iron.

He also has always been a role model for competitions for me. The amount of investment of time and energy was something I learned was necessary to be successful. He works harder than anybody and is always rewarded with success, which is no surprise given his talent level. We trained very hard together, experimented together and to have his energy focused on my routine was such a great gift.jeremy perform

On the subject of support, I have never seen a company so invested in their people as Phil & Sebastian. Phil was actually weeping at the National competition when you took 1st place and Ben 2nd! How has intentional and proactive leaders (such as Phil and Seb) influenced your career?
It is so important to have owners that invest in and believe in competition, as well as your own individual skills. They have always provided an incredible atmosphere of pursuit, innovation and passion that has fit so well for me and have contributed greatly to what I have learned.

Being intentional and proactive are great traits to learn from, as P&S projects, experiments, and directions are always purposeful and deliberate. Being proactive was another trait that I learned is integral to self-directed learning which I think is key for baristas to continuously learn and be successful in the industry. They also work extremely hard, are very smart, practical, insightful, and humble. These are intentional traits that are key to being successful and I am glad to have seen that in them.

We are constantly evolving our employee relationships and we are in the works of even documenting and clearly outlining paths where baristas can succeed in our company, which is another great example in which P&S are investing in their staff.

What was the range of emotions from after winning nationals to realizing you’ve got the world competition ahead of you?
Nationals were an incredible feeling as I was so happy for our company to be able to give them such a great result for all the hard work they put towards my routine. Finishing 1-2 was a goal that Ben and I set together, and we were ecstatic with the outcome. There was a little bittersweet as we were all rooting for Ben to win as well (given his history). Just shows you how much of a team we are. However, I believe we have a stronger team this year, and insight from worlds was invaluable for him and I cannot wait to see what he does this year.

I was never really that nervous to compete on behalf of Canada on the world stage. I saw it as a huge honor, and was very excited and thrilled to be able to represent the amazing Canadian coffee community at the world stage. When I arrived in Melbourne, and first step foot in the competition arena and grandstands, they had all the national flags displayed in the rafters. I felt very proud and pumped when I saw the Canadian flag, and it dawned that I had a great opportunity. I wanted to bring the spotlight back to Canada.

So you obviously love Ethiopian coffees, you have used them at all your competitions this year and if I remember correctly it was also what got you really into coffee in the first place. Can you tell us what it was about the Duromina cooperative you used in worlds that made you shelf the Koke region you were using at nationals?
I look for a couple things when choosing a coffee to use for competitions: taste (first and foremost) and story. A coffee purchased with a lack of transparency or traceability usually means there is little to no story involved. Coffees that have development projects, are purchased via relationship with the producers or are from partners of ours over many years usually have incredible stories that help explain why the coffee tastes so good. The Koke we had was an excellent tasting coffee, but because it was purchased through the ECX, had very little information on it. Because part of our competition philosophy is to share unique information about coffee so people can be engaged and learn, we knew we had to get a more traceable coffee from Ethiopia. During our green buying trip in February we visited a number of cooperatives that had been working with Technoserve, a developmental organization that provides business and agronomy advice to farmers, and has been instrumental in developing wet mills in West Ethiopia. When we visited and heard about Duromina’s incredible story, we knew it would be amazing to use it at Worlds. Tasting the coffee only confirmed that it was a World Barista Championship caliber coffee.

What’s next for you in the coffee world?
Lots of very cool things happening for us in the cafe. I will be taking on a more involved role at P&S, hopefully focusing on more R&D, and developing lots of events and customer experience and knowledge type work. Who knows, maybe another competition is in the works too 😉 …

What is the biggest impact or change you’d like to have made in the coffee industry through your career?
I want to bring Canadian coffee in the global spotlight and have people view us as a thriving community where coffee innovation and quality experiences exist. I want to inspire new baristas and people and raise their expectations as to what coffee can be. I want to be involved in helping people discover what we love so much about coffee, world wide. I would like to also help move forward the cafe experience and interaction component of coffee, especially in the Canadian context.

What’s your next goal to accomplish totally unrelated to coffee?
Finish my MSc in Population and Public Health, and to get my paper published in a peer-reviewed journal.

I know there have been so many people that have had their fingerprint on getting you to where you are, any shout outs you’d like to make?
Obviously everyone at P&S, from Cafe to roasterie staff and everyone in between for their support. Everyone cheering me on in the Canadian coffee scene. My close friends, family and loved ones for supporting me during competition. And thank God for the opportunity given.

To Find out more about Jeremy you can follow him on twitter and instagram: @OhYmerej
and his blog here.

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