From left to right: Niall Wynn (2017 Barista Champion), Ali Wynn (2018 Brewers Cup Champion), Renata Khedun (2018 Latte Art Champion), Arvind Khedun (2018 Barista Champion)
Ask any married couple in the world, and they would immediately declare their unwavering, hands-down support for their spouse. They’d say that they would do anything to help their partner succeed in any endeavor. And that they would work toward their shared goals in total alignment.
But while this hypothetical couple might sound convincing in their undying love and support for each other, they simply can’t compare to the marriages of Arvind and Renata Khedun and Niall and Ali Wynn – the two husband-and-wife coffee champions of Ireland.
Arvind is the 2018 Barista Champion of Ireland, and his wife, Renata, is the 2018 Latte Art Champion of Ireland. Ali is the newly-crowned 2018 Irish Brewers Cup Champion, and her husband, Niall, is the 2017 Irish Barista Champion and an Urnex Ambassador.
Coffee Love Stories
These coffee power couples met well before they became champions of their respective coffee competitions. Niall and Ali met at the Dublin Tea & Coffee Festival in 2015, and according to Ali, Niall was too busy competing in the Barista Championships to notice her. But the two connected and started chatting online shortly after the festival.
Unfortunately for Ali, Niall did a “really stupid thing” and invited her to interview at Coffeeangel, the shop in Dublin he was managing at the time, putting any romantic ideas for Ali on hold.
“I did tell a friend of mine that if I didn’t get the job, I’m asking him out,” Ali said. “But I got the job. So the relationship took a few years to actually come around.”
Arvind and Renata met in 2012 while they were both working for Bewley’s, the 178-year-old Dublin-based coffee and tea company, and were married the following year. Bewley’s is also where both Arvind and Renata were introduced to coffee competitions. Managers at Bewley’s would provide interested employees with the coffee equipment and training facility they needed to practice their craft, as long as the employees were willing to put in the time and effort to train.
“Arvind really loves to talk about the coffee,” Renata said. “This is a good thing from his personality, this is his passion. For me, my passion is the drawings on the coffee.”In Arvind’s first year in coffee competition in 2013, he competed in three different events – Barista, Latte Art, and Cup Tasters. But he knew that if he wanted focus his training and win a competition, he needed to pick one. And he chose the one he loved – the Barista competition.
Renata was always drawn to the designs one could create in a latte, like a heart and rosetta. After some encouragement from her manager at Bewley’s, she tried her hand in the company’s in-house latte art throwdown. She won first place in her very first competition.
Since then, Arvind and Renata have been mainstays of the Irish coffee competition circuit, working hard to reach the top of their game. And after his fifth year of competing, Arvind will represent Ireland in the 2018 World Barista Championship, which will take place from June 20-23 in Amsterdam.
“People know us in the local coffee community,” Arvind said. “People know us for how we work and who we are. People sometimes expect us to win.”
Arvind and Renata have even competed against each other head-to-head in the same category: in 2014, Renata edged Arvind to take second place in the Latte Art competition over his third place finish. And just this past April, they were on stage together to compete in the Irish Cup Tasters competition.
But even though they compete against each other, Arvind and Renata never lose sight that they're on the same team.
“We support each other through every single step,” Renata said. “It’s healthy for the relationship.”
Training Together for Coffee Competitions
But not only do these power couples support each other - they train together. Ali and Niall have been each other’s coaches for the past two seasons of competitions.
“We’re always there for each other and know we can be totally honest when it comes to feedback, sometimes a bit too honest,” Ali said. “It’s a part of our relationship that can get a bit stressful but we definitely enjoy it at the end and wouldn't have it any other way.”
Arvind and Renata take judging each other’s performances as seriously as they take their training. With Renata’s latte art, Arvind can be critical about the consistency of her pours. He’ll also distract Renata by talking to her mid-pour to prepare her for anything that might happen on stage during the competition.
Arvind specifically helps Renata with the pacing of her performance. When she competed in the World Latte Art Championship last year in Budapest, she went 28 seconds over the time limit. If she didn’t incur the time overage, Arvind said that Renata would have been the World Latte Art Champion.
“With Arvind, very often it’s ‘not good enough, not good enough!’” Renata said.
Renata will bring in a small group of friends to collectively judge for Arvind’s barista performance. They will judge every detail of his routine, from the language he uses in his speech to the technical aspects of preparing his coffee.
“Every single small detail counts because you can lose points very easily on stage,” Renata said. “I have to be very strict on him during training.”
Working Together in Specialty Coffee Cafés
In addition to training together, both couples work together too. Arvind and Renata both work for the Dublin Barista School, although they work in separate locations and don’t see each other on the job. But when the work day is done, they rendezvous at the school classroom to train together.
Niall has been the owner and operator of Proper Order Coffee in Dublin since opening in 2016, and brought Ali on board this past January to run the training school. Niall has focused most of his energy recently on opening Proper Order’s section location, so Ali has taken some pressure off him by managing many of the day-to-day aspects of the original café location.
Ali said that since they’ve both been at Proper Order, they’ve learned to work through their arguments much more quickly. But it wasn’t always so easy working together.
“It was a real struggle when we did start to work together because we're both really good at what we do and have very strong personalities,” Ali said. “But we realized that instead of working for each other, we work as a team instead, and that we are both pushing for the same things in Proper Order. I think it has made us a lot stronger as a couple.”
But the two have always had great mutual respect for each other. Niall explained that even when Ali was working at a different coffee bar before Proper Order, Ali was his coffee role model.
“I am absolutely convinced she works so much harder than me in a much tougher environment,” Niall said. “And she still goes into it every day with the most passion than I’ve ever seen of any barista. She works so hard in such a busy café. To have that determination and drive is something I really look up to.”
Living with a Coffee Champion
Ultimately, neither couple takes for granted the fact that their significant others are equally dedicated and passionate about the same thing as they are. Arvind has a friend who manages a specialty coffee café, and is married to a woman who works as a hairdresser. He’ll try talk to her about the particulars of coffee, like varieties and processing techniques, but she doesn’t fully appreciate the intimate details of his work as he does.
“When he talks about coffee, she says ‘can you stop talking about coffee?’” Arvind said. “She doesn’t understand.”
To some degree, Renata can relate. At the end of a long night of competition training with each other, she would be happy to give up the coffee talk.
“Sometimes we’re coming back home, and I say ‘can we please don’t talk about coffee competitions?’ Sometimes it’s too much.”
But Arvind has different thoughts.
“It’s never enough.”
For more on coffee champions, learn how to taste a Gesha coffee with a World Brewers Cup Champion.