Sip by Sip: Waqar Alhammadi’s Journey to Brewing Excellence in Specialty Coffee
Introduction: In a world stirred by the aroma of specialty coffee, we sit down with Waqar Alhamaadi, a young Emirati whose journey into the realm of specialty coffee began amidst the challenges of the Corona crisis. From winning the UAE Aeropress Championship in 2022 to claiming the fourth spot globally, Waqar shares insights into her coffee-making odyssey and the distinctive flavors that set specialty coffee apart. Join us as we delve into her experiences, challenges faced, and the sweet success she achieved through determination and passion.
Can you tell us about your journey in the world of specialty coffee? What inspired you to pursue a career in this field?
Waqar’s journey with specialty coffee began during the Corona crisis and was limited to V60 coffee. However, it took a deeper dive after winning the Aeropress Championship in 2022. This marked the beginning of her exploration in developing her taste and experimenting with various coffee distillation methods.
What do you think distinguishes specialty coffee from regular coffee?
There are many differences between regular coffee and specialty coffee, including tastes, availability, and aroma. The prominence of flavors in specialty coffee stands out. As a coffee connoisseur, Waqar prefers coffee that is light and pleasant, akin to tea, with sweetness and acidity—qualities lacking in regular (commercial) coffee.
You are the UAE Aeropress Champion and secured fourth place globally. Can you share insights into your training and preparations for these tournaments?
Since winning the UAE Aeropress Championship, Waqar faced challenges due to limited experience. Introduced to the Aeropress tool just two weeks before the UAE Championship, she had no prior knowledge of recipes or flavors. A friend’s advice, rooted in expensive specialty coffee experience, played a crucial role in her victory. Waqar emphasizes presenting coffee to judges that she enjoys daily.
What challenges did you face at the Aeropress World Championships, and how did you overcome them?
Challenges at the World Aeropress Championship included a lack of support, finances, coaching, training space, and recipe testers. Despite the hurdles, Waqar’s determination led her to fulfill her dream. While challenges persisted, she acknowledges the support and assistance received, emphasizing her personal determination. The trip to the United States for the tournament, though arduous, resulted in the achievement of her dream.
What advice can you give to those aspiring to participate in coffee tournaments and those who want to improve their coffee-making skills?
Waqar advises aspiring participants to educate themselves through practice, reading, and studying various experiments and recipes. Confidence in oneself and one’s abilities is crucial for success.
You have become a judge in several coffee competitions. How do you judge, and what criteria do you look for in a winning cup of coffee?
Judging standards vary by competition type. For Aeropress championships, the judge’s taste is pivotal. Waqar looks for consistency in the winning cup, emphasizing the importance of prominent flavors and a preference for overpowering sweetness.
What do you find particularly exciting and rewarding about being a coffee judge? Are there any special moments that you remember during your experience as a judge?
Every judging experience holds beautiful and enjoyable memories for Waqar. She enjoys sharing sour gum candy with judges and participants, referring to the act as “calibration.”
In the specialty coffee industry, how do you stay current and on top of the latest trends and innovations?
Waqar stays updated by developing her skills through reading, attending exhibitions and workshops, and learning about new tools and equipment. Her interest extends beyond specialty coffee, covering roasting, espresso, and more.
Can you share some of the key trends or developments you have noticed in the world of specialty coffee, especially in the UAE and the Gulf region?
Waqar observes significant development in the coffee field, not only in cafes but also among cafe patrons. People have become knowledgeable about specialty coffee, its tasting nuances, and the suitable coffee crops. The passion for learning and exploration is evident, with home coffee makers willing to participate in various competitions.
What is your favorite way to prepare coffee, and why do you enjoy it so much?
While the V60 was initially Waqar’s favorite tool, the Aeropress, after winning the championship, became the closest to her heart. She enjoys it because each sip reminds her of her achievements, ambitions, and passions. The tool’s sensitivity to slight changes in standards makes the process enjoyable for her.
How important are sustainability and ethics in the specialty coffee industry, and what steps can consumers take to support these practices?
In Waqar’s “Relam” roaster, emphasis is placed on values linked to community development, education, and sustainability. Initiatives align with UN Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on quality education, responsible consumption and production, climate action, gender equality, and partnerships to achieve goals.
What future projects do you have in the coffee field that you are excited about?
Waqar aspires to further develop her skills in green coffee and roasting. She expresses a great passion for participating in brewercup tournaments.
Can you recommend any resources, books, or courses for people looking to learn more about the art of making and appreciating specialty coffee?
Waqar recommends the book “Specialty Coffee” by teacher and professor Ali Al-Diwani, along with courses offered by the International Specialty Coffee Association.
As a woman in a field traditionally dominated by men, have you faced unique challenges or special experiences, and how have you dealt with them?
Waqar received support from family, friends, and even strangers, but encountered challenges from those underestimating her due to limited experience. She emphasizes that experiences and a love for exploration shape individuals, citing her rapid success in the Aeropress Championship within two weeks.
Waqar acknowledges the invaluable moral bolstering she received from Mr. Garfield, CEO of Mokha 1450 Café. Upon recounting her tribulations during her journey to America and the subsequent cancellation of her ticket, she vividly recollects his reassuring words: “Waqar, book the ticket, and I will promptly refund its cost. We are in this together… unequivocally by your side.”
What is your advice to someone interested in starting their own business in the coffee field, especially in the UAE?
Waqar’s advice is to “Believe in yourself, trust your abilities, and your passion… There is nothing impossible. Live every experience to its fullest… and enjoy every moment and every sip.”