Agnieszka Rojewska: “My win means women are more visible in the coffee industry”
Agnieszka Rojewska speaks to New Ground about becoming the first woman to win two world coffee titles, the challenges of training with alcohol, and why she chose the World Coffee In Good Spirits Championships over a holiday to Alaska.
In her winning routine at the World Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, Agnieszka Rojewska places a hat and scarf on the worktop in front of the judges.
As the timer begins its 10-minute countdown, she turns to the judges and says: “Before we get to the party, there are some preparations that need to happen. My part is to prepare cocktails – your part is to make yourselves look fabulous.”
It’s an unconventional opening and perhaps not one that you would expect from someone who, by their own admission, is an introvert.
But the judges smile as they dress in themselves in the Great Gatsby-esque costume provided to them. And there’s no doubt that it played a significant role in Agnieska’s world championship-winning performance.
“There are seven different coffee competitions and for me each of them is about something else,” she explains. “Coffee In Good Spirits is the most fun. You never go to a cocktail bar to be sad and the bartenders are rarely in a bad mood.
“With the hat and scarf, I thought it would be something that would make the judges a little more relaxed, more engaged, and feel the vibe of what I wanted to perform.”
Agnieszka, more than most, understands what it takes to win coffee competitions.
Before becoming the first woman to win the World Barista Championship in 2018, she was a formidable presence at Poland’s national competitions. She won the latte art and barista championships a combination of seven times, and was crowned London Coffee Masters Champion in 2018.
It’s a competitive streak she says began at an early age.
“I was always a competitive kid. I liked sports, particularly football, and enjoyed playing with the stronger kids. I didn’t have the best skills, but I was ambitious. With the right attitude, you can always gain a little bit on others.”
Her victory at the 2018 WBC meant a lot, not only to Agnieszka but other aspiring professionals in the coffee industry – women in particular. Since its inaugural event in 2000, the most prestigious barista competition had produced an all-male list of winners, which meant there were no role models for female baristas who could claim the highest stamp of approval.
Agnieszka’s win, both at the WBC and, this year at the Coffee In Good Spirits Championship, changed all of that.
“In the WBC, it was so important to finally break that male dominance,” she explains. “There is a huge number of women involved in the coffee industry, but we are not always appreciated – we are somewhere in the shadows.
“I see that my win means that women can be visible in coffee. It has inspired a lot of other women to compete and they can be braver. They no longer feel as though it’s not for them. They can see that it is possible.”
With two out of seven world championships under her belt, Agnieszka has already achieved an incredible amount in her career. But it’s not always been easy.
In preparation for her most recent success at World Coffee In Good Spirits, she underwent a gruelling few months of training that was limited to just three hours a day. Any longer, and she says the alcohol would cause her to lose concentration.
“You can stay focused for a longer period of time when you’re practising for the tasters and brewers cups. But if you drink alcohol all day, three hours is all you can handle with a clear mind. After that, you stop noticing the little differences between recipes.”
Then there’s the cost. While latte art competitions only require a good source of milk and coffee and cup tasters a space to practice, training for the WBC and Coffee In Good Spirits championships demand a number of high-quality coffees, which are becoming increasingly expensive to source.
“Those two competitions are very, very expensive,” Agnieszka explains. “For Coffee In Good Spirits, each bottle could be anywhere between €10 and €150 – and it would often go to waste because if its flavours don’t match the coffee and you’ve already drunk from it, you obviously can’t give it back.”
Without a sponsor, Agnieszka has had to self-fund her training and participation at competitions. This year, she says it was between a holiday to Alaska and a shot at a second world title. “Coffee In Good Spirits won,” she says.
However, despite the cost and sacrifices she has had to make, Agnieskza’s belief in the value of competitions means she has already set her sights on the next challenge: the Polish Brewers Cup.
“All the competitions are great platforms for promoting specialty coffee,” she explains. “Of course, there is this broken link between what we are serving on stage and what we serve in a coffee shop. But as a promotion tool, there is nothing better.”