Alejandro Mendez

2011 World Barista Champion

Alejandro loves coffee, but that wasn’t always the case. It’s been a journey.Alejandro Mendez

Born in El Salvador's capital, San Salvador, Alejandro grew up with simple means.

"We grew up with nothing," he says. "Yet we grew up with everything we needed: a bed, food, and family. So simple things in life make me happy."

Like many kids in El Salvador, he dreamt of being a futbol star. He also loved to cook because it meant sharing time with friends and family.

In 2008, he made a decision that changed his life. He applied to be a barista at Viva Espresso, an independent coffee shop. He learned quickly and practiced hard. In 2010, he entered his first competition and won the El Salvador National Barista Championship, going on to represent the country at the World Barista Championship (WBC). He placed 11th in the world.

Not satisfied with his showing, he returned to the barista bar, re-dedicating himself to his craft and learning the entire process from farm, to roastery to extraction. He again won the El Salvador National Championship and was off to Columbia for the 2011 WBC.

Alejandro focused on his specialty drink for the competition using every part of the coffee tree from the flower to the mucilage to the bean itself. The drink, the presentation, and his espresso, using Salvadoran coffee, blew the judges away. He made it into the WBC Finals, the top six in the world.

"After that, I just relaxed and decided to have fun — enjoy the moment," said Alejandro.

He became the first barista from a coffee producing country to earn the title of World Barista Champion.

"The first thought in my head when I heard my name called was, 'I don't know anything about coffee,'" said Alejandro. "I knew I had to learn a lot more because I had just touched the surface."

He traveled the globe for the next year sharing, learning, and applying what he learned to his craft. He returned to the barista bar at Viva Espresso for another two years as head barista because he felt he owed it to the owners who had given him the opportunity to compete.

In December 2014, Alejandro launched his own venture with three Salvadoran friends — 4 Monkeys Coffee Roasters dedicated to sourcing, roasting and sharing fine Salvadoran coffee with their own country and region.

"We live in one of the best areas in the world for producing coffee, but since we've exported most of the specialty coffees for years, very few Salvadorans, or even Central Americans, really know what we have," said Alejandro. "So, my passion is to share with and educate my own little part of the world first."

Alejandro and Todd Allbaugh, another 5th Element co-owner and its General Manager, met in 2008 when Alejandro had prepared Todd's latte. After visiting Madison, Alejandro knew this is where he wanted to launch his first United States venture.

"People ask me, 'Why Madison?'" said Alejandro. "It's easy. I fell in love with the city, the lakes, the beer, the cheese, and the people. I wanted to do this project with someone who shared my passion for coffee and in a city that appreciated the concept of farm to table and farm to cup."

Alejandro, along with Todd and his long-time Salvadoran friends Silas and Nelson Valle, launched 5th Element Coffee in June of 2015, dedicated to providing the finest Salvadoran coffees to the people of Madison.

Alejandro continues to travel the globe giving seminars and sharing his knowledge of coffee and origin and divides his time between El Salvador and Madison.

In his rare spare time, he enjoys being with his family and surfing the great beaches of El Salvador, playing and watching futbol, cooking with family and friends, and continuing his coffee journey.