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Barista Stories: Claire Wallace of Assembly Coffee, London

If you are a devoted follower of our Barista Stories you might have noticed that we have already featured Claire in the past. However few weeks ago Claire made history by becoming a female UK Barista Champion, first time after 18 years when in 2004 the amazing Sarah McCandless was awarded the title.

Claire slowly approaches 10 years in the industry and currently is the Head of Quality at Assembly Coffee in London.

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress. Photo by Assembly Coffee.

Claire, few years pasted since we last chatted. What changed? 

Quite a lot! I've made the move from my home in Scotland to a new home in London, I've changed job role, I've aged… 🙂

How does it feel to be the new UK Barista Champion?

It feels surreal; I've entered the competition a few times before and it's always good to see that hard work and trying again can pay off. On the other hand, a gap of 18 years between female champions is mad statistic and highlights that we have some digging to do within the UK competition scene as to why that is the case and how we can ensure our competition scene can be more diverse in many ways.

Tell us a bit about the team that helped you to during the championship journey.

Team work absolutely made the dream work and I worked closely with my coach and very good friend Roosa Jalonen since the heats at the beginning of the year to craft a routine I was passionate about and chose an outstanding coffee. We trained every weekend (and many weeknights) for 3 months to get things competition ready. We then joined forces with Sierra Yeo (the UK Brewers Cup Champion) and her coaches Lisa Laura Verhoest and Matt Winton. We sat through hundreds of hours of each other's run throughs, workshopped tasting notes, carried suitcases for each other on competition days… And it paid off, as we both won! Doing competition surrounded by a team of friends is honestly the best way to do it. Making sure you have others to lift you up when you're exhausted or have hit a mental block is key advice I would give to any competitor. 

Claire and Sierra winning the UK Barista Championship and UK Brewers Cup.

What do you plan to focus on while preparing for the World Barista Championship in Melbourne?

Not getting too nervous! 🙂 It's my first time on the world's stage and I just want to focus on delivering a routine and a coffee that I'm really proud of, so no matter the results, I can leave happy.

What do you enjoy the most in your current role?

I love getting to cup and analyze coffee I've roasted; making connections between the roasting choices I've made and the flavors in the cup. I feel like I learn something every single day from that process, whether it's gone well or not so well! 

What keeps you motivated to grow your career in coffee?

There's such a varied range of roles and skills you're able to acquire in the coffee industry and I think that potential for growth and exploration is what keeps me here. It also gives me the opportunity to have a varied day to day and not be stuck at a desk all the time which i like!

What advise would you have to Claire we met 4 years ago?

Claire from 4 years ago had just moved to London so a lot had changed! Most of my best advice to myself would be to trust my instincts, if you do that there are no wrong choices 🙂

Quick Fire Questions for Claire Wallace:

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?

Filter with milk – Yep!  

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?

 I like sugar syrup in my iced milky coffees for sure.

Espresso or Filter coffee?

I go through phases, but at the moment its filter.

Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

Neither, and all – I go for balance!

Milky or Black?

Black.

Slurp or Spit?

Slurp.

Sit in or Take Away?

Sit in.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?

Never going to say no to cake!