During the Eastern Regional Aeropress Championships in Louisville I had the chance to talk to quite a few of the competitors about their approach and background in coffee. These conversations were incredibly interesting and gave me a ton of insight into some of the different coffee scenes around the Midwest.
One person that I didn't get the chance to speak with directly was Brian Beyke, founder of Abandon Coffee and 3rd place winner in the competition. I got in touch with Brian after the competition to ask some of the questions I spoke with other folks about and think you'll really enjoy his perspective. If you're a coffee fan, be sure to check out Brian's blog as well for awesome coffee reviews and more.
Go grab your aeropress, make a cup, and enjoy the interview!
Tell me a little bit about your background in coffee: where you work/have worked, what got you into coffee, etc.
I've never worked in coffee, just started to explore specialty coffee a few years ago through several local shops where I lived in Cincinnati, OH. I worked in a lab at an engineering company at that time, so it allowed me to tinker [Ed.note: Love a good natural Tinker reference] with brewing coffee. Over time, I became a bit more involved with it at home as well. Before that, I wasn't really into coffee. I traveled to Brazil even more years ago than that, 2008 I believe, and it was there I realized coffee had potential to be something good, not just burnt and watery and gross like I found coffee to be in US. Sadly when I returned, it was hard for me to find a cup that had that same experience, until I realized shops and this whole "specialty coffee" thing.
How long have you been entering events like this? Do you compete in other barista competitions?
This is my first event. I was going to do Brewer's Cup last year, but had a convention for work during the regionals and wasn't able to attend. I plan to do Brewer's Cup this year.
[Ed.note: This was Brian's first event and he came in 3rd! Respect.]
This was my first coffee competition, and I was a little surprised to learn that each competitor could supply their own coffee. How much do you think the choice of coffee has to do with who advances versus the technique/recipe a person chooses?
I think it made a big difference. Talking to a lot of others as well, it seems in this format the most tasty coffee will win, as opposed to the most interesting brew of that. However, day of competition there was a lot of talk about "perceived cup extraction" that was part of the judging, which I felt a bit better about, especially since extraction result is one thing I pay very close attention to. For as much as this format could be "which cup tastes better," it also is easy to under or over do that from brew to brew depending on its tendency to swing in extraction depending on variables such as agitation.
Talk a little bit about the coffee you selected and why you liked it for the event.
I used Ruby Coffee's Kenya Gachatha. As soon as I tried that coffee, I knew I wanted to use it. I did debate 3 other coffees that were all very close, one of which one of the other competitors used and I went up against in the second round. It was a very interesting coffee, one that I really enjoyed brewed other ways, but make after make gave some varied results until I found my final recipe for the aeropress. There were times it tasted very lifeless and dull, but when right it was magical to me. What I think I loved so much about it was its inability to pinpoint the region. The coffee has so much going on, I thought the complexity would be something that was intriguing and challenging for the judges, and (hopefully) have that something that stood out. The recipe I had was pretty daring, not necessarily just because, but daring because of its potentially disappointing outcome. However, I knew it would never taste as good as it could (to me) if I didn't do things a particular way, and I was pleased with how it turned out in my practice runs the day of, night before, and cups during competition.
Who inspires you in the coffee world?
I am inspired by a lot of people, it is hard to narrow it down. Maxwell Mooney from Spotted Cow, Kian Abedini from Compelling & Rich, Jared Linzmeier of Ruby Coffee all are pretty special people to me. I am particularly intrigued by several names in the coffee realm outside of the US, Tim Varney, Ingrim Johnsen, Matt Perger. Also Jonathan Bonchak from Counter Culture, Todd Goldsworthy from Klatch. There are a lot of people I follow who are just worth looking up to for me, to strive to understand and present coffee like them in their various connections to coffee be it roasting, brewing, latte art, whatever.
What's your favorite coffee? [Ed.Note: this is a terribly unfair question]
Another hard one. I try so many coffees throughout a given year, that I generally have a list of favorites. Last year it was Verve's Green Tip Gesha, this year so far it would be one of the very great Kenyans I've had, not excluding the Gachatha I brewed with, Heart's Chorongi. Overall I'd say I typically side with Nordic style roasts, but not ones blasting with acidity. I'm a fan of complexity, delicacy, herbals and floral, and sweetness. It is hard, though, because I find myself surprised all the time with a profile that is different than I expected, but resulting in an incredible cup of coffee. I try to have no expectations and take a coffee for what it is.
We really appreciate Brian taking the time to chat with us, and hope you enjoyed it as well. Be sure to check out his blog and follow along with his coffee reviews!