Honoka introduces “María” on stage at WOC Busan!

coffee world

Honoka, the Barista Champion from Aotearoa/New Zealand took to the World Barista Championship in Busan with a new variety cultivated by one of our star producers: Luis Anibal Calderon. We spoke with Honoka about her journey in specialty coffee, her experience in the national competitions and her success on stage in Busan with “Maria”.

What is Honoka’s story?

Honoka is originally from Japan and has been working in New Zealand since 2018.

Honoka’s life in coffee started in Australia in 2014 when she moved to Sydney to improve her English. It was here she had her first experience as a barista working in a local café and started getting involved in the specialty coffee community.

Upon returning to Japan, she mastered the art of latte art and after learning more about coffee she was encouraged by a colleague to move to New Zealand as this was a perfect place to develop her coffee skills along with her English. Once landing in New Zealand she started work at Frank’s Coffee where she can still be found behind the machine on busy Wellington mornings.

She learned a lot from Frank Hsu, the owner of Frank’s Coffee, a frequent competitor and judge in the New Zealand Barista Championships. Frank encouraged Honoka to start competing, from latte art throwdowns and then the big step up to the New Zealand Latte Art Championship in 2019 and 2020 where she placed 3rd in the country. Honoka’s excitement and passion for competitions was growing and she set her sights on a new objective, the New Zealand Barista Championship.

Prepared to Compete in NZ Nationals

Although this was Honoka’s first attempt at the Barista Championships, she had gathered an experienced and motivated team around her with previous competitors, judges, and volunteers.

Frank has long been a supporter of Cofinet, using our coffees and visiting our operations in Colombia in 2022 on an origin trip. It was during this trip that we were able to connect Frank and Luis Anibal via video call during which Luis Anibal shared his passion for growing new and unique coffee varieties.

When Honoka was looking for a coffee for the New Zealand Barista championships, Cofinet had the perfect candidate from Luis Anibal, a Lactic Washed Sidra.

This coffee was splendid, with exceptional characteristics for competition. High sweetness, floral, and elegant, it contained everything that Honoka and her team wanted to showcase on stage.

An amazing coffee is only aspect of the competition however and Honoka’s training was in full swing with her coach Logan Collinge with help from Nico Nozaki and Carlos Escobar, among others.

On stage, she captivated the senses of the judges with Sidra. The quality of the coffee and her performance secured her victory in the New Zealand Barista Championships 2023 and a ticket to the World Barista Championship in WOC in Busan!

Honoka says that she did not expect to win on her first attempt, as she knew she was competing against very experienced competitors. For her, it was a beautiful surprise but also an understanding that her journey as a competitor was only beginning.

The way to the Worlds!

“Maria” variety was the sensation on the WOC!

New Zealand Barista Championships 2023 was held in March, giving Honoka a full twelve months to prepare for World Barista Championships 2024 in Busan. This time to prepare gave the opportunity to improve on all aspects of her routine and one component would be key – her coffee selection.

Honoka and coffee farmer Luis Anibal struck great connection from the first time they met. Cofinet organized a video call between them and then the opportunity to meet in person at WOC Athens last year. Despite speaking different languages, their smiles, joyful gaze, and hugs showed the universal language of gratitude and celebration.

Thanks to this connection and mutual trust, Honoka selected an incredibly special lot to use at the World Barista Championship. A new variety that Luis Anibal had discovered on his farm and spent years diligently cultivating until he had sufficient production. Honoka selected Maragesha variety, or as she named it, ‘Maria,’ to showcase to the world.

The coffee had a unique profile, combining the best of its two parents: Maragogipe and Gesha. With a full body, syrupy texture, floral notes, hints of pineapple and biscuit.

Luis Anibal first discovered Maragesha on his farm Villa Betulia in 2017 when he noticed a handful of trees were producing cherries distinctly different to their neighbors. Intrigued by his find, he separated the cherries and started the long process of cultivating this new varietal.

For this Maragesha lot, Luis Anibal and the Cofinet QC team chose to process the coffee as a Natural with a short fermentation. Due to its pronounced aromatic and floral notes, the shorter fermentation period allows the Maragesha to present its unique characteristics with a sweet and clean cup profile.

With a coffee selected, Honoka’s preparation was fully underway. Her routine focused on both the simplicity and complexity of coffee and represented this through her own a childhood pastime of origami. To help judges connect with her coffee, she chose to name it “Maria” with the intention of making it more memorable to the public.

She took the judges through “Maria’s” journey from seed to competition stage, linking each small step with a simple origami fold. Slowly building on Maria’s exceptional characteristics through the Milk Beverage and Signature Beverage courses before her dramatic finale of simplicity and elegance with a perfect espresso.

Honoka’s performance throughout each round of the competition was fantastic. Her hard work and many hours of practice paying off as she held her nerve and showcased her love and passion for coffee to the judges with confidence and sincerity.

Her placing of 4th in the World was an amazing accomplishment exceeding her own expectations and testament to the hard work of her and her team.

We at Cofinet are honored to work with such an incredible woman, and we wish her the best in her next coffee adventure!