Interview with Steven Lim, Latte Art Champion

Steven Lim is a process engineer at S&D Coffee & Tea, a self-taught barista and now, the Coffee Fest PDX Latte Art World Championship Open winner. Here he shares some insight into his experience in Portland and what is was like to be named the champion in his eighth latte art competition.

Tell us a little about the Coffee Fest PDX experience. Was anything different from past competitions?

Well, first of all I came down with the flu the first night I was there…maybe that helped with nerves! Also this competition was probably the toughest competition I’ve participated in due to the fact that there were five former past champions and one recent Coffee Masters tournament winner. I think the fact that there were a few local competitions at night time (Coava Coffee, Sister Coffee, Cup and Bar) throughout the weekend made it easier to stay in competition mode and not “let your guard down.” Anything helps!

During the competition were you nervous, excited, anxious, calm, etc.?

Going into the competition, and up to walking on stage for my first round, I thought I was calm mentally due to all the practice runs I had back at home. However, the second my time started for the first round, I started shaking like it was the first time I was competing! That happens in this competition…maybe it’s the audience, the adrenaline, the three minutes on the clock, etc.

In all past competitions I never got to the final day of competition, so maybe finally passing that hump calmed me down and allowed me to focus on the couple of pours I was working on back at home. At one point it does just become muscle memory and a lot of strategy kicks in — like making sure you put your pour down before the opponent because the smallest things can start to sway the judges your way.

What was the most difficult part of the competition?

I think beating the recently crowned Coffee Masters champion on the start of the third day was a highlight and probably the most difficult matchup. He had beaten me at a local competition the night before, and we were getting into each other’s heads that night about what we were going to pour against each other the following morning. He kept telling me he had a strategy against my pours for the morning, and I kept intentionally pouring something different that night to sway him to believing I would go in with a different pour than what I had been going in with on days 1 and 2. He was an extremely fast barista [even with the pressure of competition he would finish his drink and put it on the saucer in 40 seconds or less!] so I knew he would take the speed point. I poured twice because I knew I could perfect what I was going for on a second try. I did, and before I put my drink down I knew I had him. I think getting past that round set the momentum for the eventually victory!

What does it mean to you to have S&D’s support in these competitions?

It means the world. I flew on a red eye flight that night and landed in Charlotte at about 6 a.m. I knew I would be yelled at for coming into work (and I was!) but I also knew how excited everyone would be at S&D because I was holding the first place trophy. Countless coworkers have stopped by to watch me practice throughout the year that I started competing with S&D’s support, and it’s been amazing the amount of support I received from everyone. I knew anything could happen during this competition…and with this competition as stacked as it was, I figured I wouldn’t do so well again. I knew S&D would be proud regardless, and sometimes that’s all you need to keep going. I’ve lost early on in Atlanta and Chicago earlier this year and I kept getting encouragement from coworkers to keep fighting for a win.

What’s next for you?

Winning this competition brings international press, and I’ve already been contacted by a shop in Mexico to run a latte art seminar for their working baristas and competing ones. I don’t see myself leaving the World Latte Art Competition any time soon…I have a permanent #1 seed because of the first place trophy! The next one is in March at NYC, and I’ll also be competing in the Best Espresso Competition using an espresso Brent Hall and I have been working on since the summer. It’s going to be awesome!

Learn more about the competition and Steven’s win in this press release.