Meet Edouard Shao, a 26-year-old ‘barista in learning’ (Ed.: that is how Edouard introduced himself to us), born and raised in Paris, France. Even though Edouard has exactly 1 year of experience working in specialty coffee, he already won the French Cup Tasters Championship and represented his country on the World Stage in Athens. He became the 20th-best Cup Taster in the world!
Edouard’s career was orbiting around hospitality since his childhood but he currently rocks the bar at KB CaféShop in Paris. Humble and shy but also very social is a great asset in his vibrant and aspiring team. With a clear focus on learning and a never-ending urge to discover coffee – we are sure that this was just the first time we saw Edouard competing on the World Stage of coffee championships!
Edouard, what is your first memory of coffee?
Well, my first memories were of my parents’ restaurants they are in the hospitality business and in France almost every restaurant has an espresso machine. An Italian one usually. So I remember vividly this big machine with the portafilter splurting out the reddish liquid into the tiny cups that smelled so characteristic and intriguing.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started? What did you do before coffee?
So growing up in a family that owned multiple restaurants, I gravitated toward this industry. Always being curious about this world. Maybe at the age of 14, I started helping during the weekends.
My parents owned a Parisian-style bistro so mostly I was serving espresso on the counter and some simple milk drinks – old-school style coffee. I learned on the go how to make coffee on the machine without all the extraction theory or proper information about the coffee. We only knew the brand of coffee we had never asked ourselves the origin or roast profile.
After a couple of years of helping it became my full-time job as I dropped out of school.
Then more time passed and I grew tired of working with the family so I went to try my luck in a real restaurant where I had no family ties. With a serious commitment to the French cuisine craft where I learned a whole lot about food, techniques, and wine. I was always curious about food and how to run a restaurant but I felt I was too much in my comfort zone at my parents.
I loved my time at this place. Meanwhile, I discovered a local coffee roaster named Dose. So during my afternoon breaks, I went there to get my coffee. That is where my deeper interest in coffee started and I learned about the many flavour profiles of this amazing beverage.
Then covid happened and everything came to a sudden stop.
I had to go back to my parents to help them as they were in a difficult place and it felt like a step back. Of course, we were all locked down so I spent my time at home browsing and learning about coffee. Binging on James Hoffmann’s videos and I stumbled also on European Coffee Trip. I love the format and also got really interested in the AeroPress. It was one of the first coffee gear I bought to brew and still love it to this day.
Tell us a bit about the place you work at. What is your role there?
Okay, so I was bored at my parents again and started thinking about working in the coffee business. I always told myself that it had to be a coffee roastery not only a coffee shop since I figured that I would learn so much more.
One day scrolling through social media I saw a post about KB Coffee Roasters that was looking for staff. I said to myself that I had to go since I felt miserable and unhappy and I needed some immediate change.
This place exists since 2011. The owner Mr Nicolas Piegay wanted to open an Australian style coffeeshop in Paris upon returning from working abroad over there. It is one of the pioneer places for specialty coffee in Paris alongside Coutume, Lomi, Bellevile and La Caféotheque.
They also opened their second location and roastery Back in Black in 2019. Actually, through them I discovered KB. My role there is a barista ‘still in learning’ as I started without professional knowledge of coffee and only a limited one as a home barista.
It’s been a blast since the beginning! I have wonderful colleagues that are so passionate about coffee.
What is your favourite part of the work in your cafe, and why?
I’d say my favourite part would be interacting with my colleagues and sharing our passion for learning. Also, getting to know their personalities by sharing our music tastes and other hobbies. Most of all witnessing the commitment to the craft and professionalism is a real inspiration!
How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep improving your coffee-making skills?
I feel like ever since I got attracted to the world of coffee it’s been like falling down a rabbit hole. There is so much to learn, to try and taste. It’s almost overwhelming but it is also stimulating!
I like to always question every decision that impacts the taste of my brew and how this method works. Also, discover how at the origin level how the cherries are grown and processed – what kind of impact that has as well.
You have some nice achievements in championships. Can you tell us more about them? What are the next championships you’d like to take compete in?
Yeah… I mean, I won my first competition – The Cup Tasters Championship this year in France.
At first, I didn’t even know about this competition and my manager and teacher pushed me to participate. He. said it would be a great experience and it was!
We were three as a team. It was an amazing experience to train together and having access to the immense knowledge and past competition experience of my colleagues was a great help. I also had another colleague participating in the French Brewers Cup so I had the opportunity to witness the hard work and commitment that is required for this category.
After my unexpected win the support was overwhelming. Everyone was super enthusiastic, it felt so amazing.
I participated also in the Parisian Aeropress qualifications. Great experience as well even though I didn’t get through the first round! The sense of community was great!
And a month after I was thrown into the World Stage where I finished 20th in World Cup Tasters Championship in Athens. I wasn’t happy about my result but everyone cheered me up. I will train hard for next year!
As for future championships, I’d like to compete Brewers Cup. I like. the format and the learning experience are very attractive. I feel that I am definitely not ready yet so I will allow myself some time to get more experience before getting into it seriously.
How did it feel to compete on the World Stage?
Wow, it was so unreal. Everything went so fast between my win at home and then the World Stage. It was hard to fathom and get everything ready. World of Coffee is such an enormous event. I was impressed by the sheer size of it.
Meeting all the people from the coffee industry and all the competitors from all around the world and sharing this time together felt so great. Everybody was so friendly and open-minded!
I felt the pressure slowly rising throughout the day as I was in the last group of competitors. I did my best but the level was very high. And it was so close!
What is your advice for yourself and others when they enter the World Championship stage?
It was my first competition on the national level as well so I had no previous experience. I would say, train as much as you can. Be confident and most importantly won’t let the stakes take over from having fun. Enjoy the journey because it is already a great achievement to reach this stage!
What is in your opinion the most important thing to have in mind when you start to compete in coffee championships in general?
Take it as an amazing learning opportunity to know about yourself regardless of the outcome.