Du Jianing of China is the 2019 World Brewers Cup Champion. This is Jianing’s first win in three World Brewers Cup appearances, finishing 15th in 2016 and 8th in 2018.
Watching Du Jianing’s winning Finals routine on Sunday, one couldn’t help but feel like you were sitting around her kitchen table or at a practice run in her home shop Uni-Uni Roasters and Bakery in Nanjing (part of former Chinese Barista Champion Jeremy Zhang’s M2M Coffee brand), drinking exceptional coffee while Jianing used you as a sensory judge proxy. Part of this is due to the 10-minute routine itself, where Jianing prepared a fourth cup of her Ninety Plus Gesha Estate coffee for herself to drink with the judges.
But what truly made this feel like a dry run was how flawless it was. No one—and I mean no one, not World Barista Champions, not World Brewers Cup champions, absolutely no one—has a Finals routine that is without even the slightest indicator that they are feeling the weight of the moment. Perhaps it’s a shaky hand showing signs of nerves, often it comes as a script bobble, or maybe it is just a pause that is perhaps too pregnant to be intentional. No one makes it out unscathed. Except Du Jianing.
Her performance, which I have since gone back to rewatch multiple times to find any signs that she is in fact mortal like the rest of us (jury is still out), was completely and utterly without blemish. It was a 10 minutes of casual discussion about intentional, well-thought brewing, delivered as though the grandest prize of them all was not on the line.
For her winning brew, Jianing came equipped with a Gesha variety coffee—roasted just a brief four minutes in an Ikawa sample roaster—that she pre-ground off-stage. This was not due to any sort of time constraint; anyone who saw Jianing’s routine knows that she could have calmly fit 15 minutes worth of performance into the tight 10-minute window the Brewers Cup provides. It was due simply to the complexity of her grind. Jianing opted to grind her coffee twice: once as a coarse ground after which the chaff was removed to promote flavor clarity and then ground again to a smaller size. This, according to Jianing, produces particles sizes that are “more evenly distributed.”
With coffee in tow, Jianing opted to brew through the Origami Dripper, a new device whose shape draws inspiration from the flatbed Kalita Wave filter, essentially eliminating the air insulation normally created between the circular brewing device and the ridged filters. Along with the Taiwanese Brewers Cup Champion Shih Yuan Hsu, Jianing was one of two Finalists to use this brew method, doing so because the thinner paper and large opening at the bottom of the brewer are such that “water can go through the coffee quickly and achieve clarity of flavor.”
The flavor produced was punctuated by floral and apricot notes throughout, beginning with the floral, apricot, cacao, and whipped cream aroma that presented on the palate as apricot, white grape, cacao, champagne, and delicate florals, and finishing with a lingering aftertaste of white wine and apricot. It was a brew that Jianing describes wonderfully (and the best coffee description I think I’ve ever heard) as “round and elegant like a cello concert.”
Beyond flavor calls, it was the easy precision of Jianing’s routine that impressed both onlookers and judges alike. Not only was she intentionally oscillating pour rates from six grams per second to four and then up to five, but she was providing judges with real time information via iPad to check her work. Counter Culture’s Kathy Altamirano, a sensory judge during Jianing’s Finals performance, explains the high-stakes game the Chines Brewers Cup Champion was playing: “Her presentation was the vision of transparency. She provided us with time, temperature, and flow rate readings in real time for each brew, which is a huge risk if you make a mistake on stage.”
Which, of course, she didn’t.
But perhaps the most striking thing in Jianing’s exacting performance was not what it included, but what it didn’t: information about the coffee itself. While most scripts will devote a majority of their 10 minutes to discussing the interesting or experimental facets of the coffee they are using, Jianing’s routine was notably light. Yes, we learned it was a Nintey Plus Gesha Estates coffee grown at 1,600 MASL that used local bacteria during fermentation, but that’s it. That’s not a Cliff’s Notes version of the information; that’s all of it. You’d have to have foreknowledge of Ninety Plus or do research on your own even to come up with Ethiopia as the country of origin. And while I can’t with 100% assurance say this wasn’t some sort of misstep—though were it a misstep it would bring the grand total to one, so it’s safe to assume it was intentional—what it did do was place the focus on the coffee she was brewing right then and there. Where it came from, who produced it, what variety it is, what wacky processing method was used during fermentation, these are all important factors for how they helped shape the coffee up to that point.
But this routine wasn’t about the coffee up to that point. It was about the coffee at that very moment, how it tasted on stage at the Finals of the World Brewers Cup Championship in Boston, Massachusetts, thousands of miles away from where it was grown and even further from Jianing’s home in Nanjing. This was a moment not about a coffee’s past, but about its immediate present: being brewed by a world-class coffee professional, to be shared with a panel of expert tasters from around the world, in front of a crowd of hundreds. It was the moment Du Jianing became the 2019 World Brewers Cup Champion.
All of SprudgeLive’s 2019 competition coverage is made possible by Acaia, Baratza, Faema, Cafe Imports, Wilbur Curtis, Third Wave Water, Minor Figures, and Mahlkönig.
In 2019 SprudgeLive is home to the Digital Roasters Village, because it takes a village to cover a barista competition. The Digital Roasters Village features Camber Coffee, Verve Coffee, Partners Coffee, Intelligentsia Coffee, Rishi Tea, Kickapoo Coffee, Blue Bottle Coffee, Onyx Coffee Lab, Creation Coffee, Amavida, and Equator Coffees without whom this work would not be possible.
Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Photos by Elizabeth Chai