Coffee Guru - A Cup of Coffee with Sonja Björk Grant
Sonja Björk Grant runs her own business called Kaffibrugghúsið – a multi-functional coffee company – in Reykjavik, Iceland. She has been involved with the World Barista Championships since 2000 and has influenced the development of the competition’s judging system.
Sonja Grant first started working in Kaffitar in Reykjavik as a barista in 1995. She worked there for 13 years and ended up running 14 of their coffee shops and doing quality control for the roastery.
“I was at a crossroads in my life and wanted to go back to simply running a coffee shop with a small micro-roastery in order to continue developing myself as a professional. Kaffismiðja Íslands was the first third-wave coffee company in Iceland. I ran that for five years, after which I sold it and started Kaffibrugghúsið, a café, micro-roastery and training centre,” Sonja Björk Grant explains.
Sonja Grant is WBC pioneer
Grant is one of the pioneers of the championships that World Coffee Events (WCE) oversees, among others the Nordic Barista Cups and the World Barista Championships. She is one of the head judges at WCE’s Championships. She trains coffee competition judges all over the world. Just before the interview, she had been to Greece to train national level judges and to Belgium to certify international level judges.
“I was part of the first group of people pushing for international coffee competitions. In 2000, there was no social media and we wanted to share and gain knowledge.”
These days the World Barista Championships have more than 100 000 viewers that live stream on-line.
“After all these years, I have become an information centre about coffee competitions and coffee in general. I’m happy to share my experience about championships and help nations to organise high quality national championships,” Grant says.
Competitions push professionals forward
Sonja Björk Grant has trained eight national barista champions in her country and a few finalists in the world championships. The competitions help baristas grow as professionals.
“If you want to compete, the worst mistake is to be arrogant. The winners are humble, open-minded and curious. They ask questions and learn from the answers. You can learn a lot by watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts and you need to practice a lot.”
There is now finally a woman that is the World Barista Champion, Agnieszka Rojewska. There are still, however, more men than women that participate in the competitions.
“I think most women just don’t have the same hunger to compete as men. You must understand, that when you practice for the world championships, you don’t really see your family for some time. Most women are not ready for that. Men also often have a bigger team behind them helping them. We have changed the rules to apply equally to men and women. Four women have come second since 2000. Two of them are from Iceland, and I trained them.”
Coffee is an icebreaker all over the world
Next year, Sonja Grant will become chairwoman of the international Coffee Roasters Guild. She is currently the vice chair. Grant is interested in the people behind a good cup of coffee.
“Coffee is an icebreaker wherever I travel. I get inspired by my students from different cultures and their life experiences. So many different professionals work with coffee. Coffee can be ruined at every stage. At the tree, the bean is perfect, but after that, we start removing some of its qualities. A good cup of coffee is a miracle. I love all these people from different backgrounds who end up around a cup of coffee.”
Sonja Björk Grant
• Place of birth: Akureyri, Iceland
• Town where live: Reykjavík
• Favourite coffee off-duty: I prefer having my coffee black, made with a V60 or a Chemex. This method brings out all the wonderful flavours if the coffee is well roasted.