The regional competition was a little rough as I developed a lot of my routine without seeking guidance from my team around me. I performed the first judged run-through three days out from the competition, and it scored horribly. From there, I had to develop an entirely new routine. This meant changing my coffee, resulting in a very sleep-deprived three days of intense work and placing 3rd place in Victoria. While being super stressful, the experience helped instil in me the importance of working with a team and seeking multiple opinions and input, especially early on. It's easy to go down rabbit holes in the training room when you're obsessing over it night and day, and it's good to gain perspective from others in the industry you respect to sense-check your ideas, routine, extractions whilst you still have time to improve and refine them.
I had my first experience working with a dedicated coach, Federico Bolanos, in preparation for the National routine that year. Federico was a friend of Axil's for years, and to date, he's coached many World and National Barista Champions. I felt confident working with him that year. Our time together was extremely valuable. I learnt a lot, and I placed 4th once again at the Nationals using two beautiful honey-processed coffees I had sourced from our friends at Granitos de Alturra, on my first origin trip to Costa Rica. Placing 4th was a big reality check for me, and it also helped me realise that your coach can't carry you to victory. At the time, I still had a lot of work to do myself before I was ready to reap the benefits that coaching might have brought. This was the year I realised the importance of mental health and confidence and how it affected my routine and scores.
Shaken but not deterred after a bit of downtime, I began preparing for the 2018 campaign. This was the first year I had really upped my game in terms of organisation. I'd implemented a reliable system that allowed me to keep on top of the complexity of moving pieces that competition comes with. I worked with multiple coaches that year, such as Kapo Chu (multiple WBC finalist) and Maxwell Colonna Dashwood (multiple WBC finalist). I focused more on my coffee making and workflow than in previous years and worked with a washed Sidra and natural Gesha from La Palma y El Tucan in Colombia. I also worked with Federico again to develop the concept I presented on stage. I placed 2nd in the regionals and went on to place 2nd in Australia, 20 points from first-place winner Craig Simon. I was extremely happy with my result that year and happy to see Craig Simon take the title. He had a phenomenal concept that year and in the words of one of the judges I spoke to, "With a concept like that, we couldn't not let him win." This taught me the importance of having a compelling concept that not only excites the judges, but also yourself. I learnt the more passionate you are about your concept, the more drive you have in your preparations and that passion really comes through in your routine.
I was lucky enough to join team Australia and work with Craig in his preparations to compete at the WBC in Amsterdam that year. During our training, sometimes I would make coffee with him, and with the same recipe and equipment, somehow his coffee tasted better than mine. I've had multiple experiences like this in my career (the first was with my boss David Makin), and this instilled the fact that if I wanted to become a champion one day, I would need to refine my skills and confidence to the point where I knew I was serving the best coffee I could.
The following year, I began my preparations and spent almost every day refining my concept and routine in the training room. I received a lot of support from the team at Axil that year. Although no pressure or expectations were put on me in terms of the results I achieved at competition, I placed a lot of pressure on myself to do well, as so much was being invested in me. I realised later on how counterproductive and self-disabling this mindset was. I placed second that year at the regional championship to Jack Simpson, dear friend and competitor now who has also worked with us at Axil for a number of years. I went on to prepare for the Nationals that year and placed 3rd.
After a lot of time thinking I made the decision to compete again in 2020. Up until this point, I hadn't made the same mistake twice, and I'd convinced myself as long as I competed long enough and fixing my mistakes, I would eventually run out of things that would hold me back from winning. I prepared for the regional routine with an engaging concept, and though it still needed refining, it was enough to win my first-ever regional competition.
Then covid happened, and the National competition was delayed. I'd let go of my meditation/self-improvement practices, exercise and eating well, and before I knew it, I was in bad physical and mental shape. I was intent on winning and had lost sight of why I was doing it in the first place and how rewarding the process could be. I took on as much feedback as possible, implementing as much as I could, losing sight of who I was as a barista and what I wanted to express on stage through my routine and extractions. I called time at the national competition, knowing I had come second before the announcement had even been made.
After this, I wasn't sure I wanted to compete again. However, after much thought, I decided to give it one final push. I took a lot of lessons from the previous year.
Your routine has to be your own; you need confidence and conviction in your presentation.
I needed a concept extremely close to my heart.
I needed to explore every variable I could to give me the confidence that I was making the best possible coffee on stage.
I needed to feel that I deserved to win before I could actually win. Otherwise, you'll subconsciously sabotage yourself so your reality reflects your internal belief systems.
I needed to rely more on my team and their expertise for their input and to free me up to focus more on certain things.
– Anthony Douglas, The 2022 World Barista Champion