We’re so stoked here at Baratza to have a team member representing us in competition! This year, our newest member to the Support team, Alex Choppin, will be competing in the Brewers Cup Qualifying Competition in Austin on Feb 11-12. We grabbed a little bit of time between the craziness of supporting our customers and prepping for Austin to talk about this upcoming competition. Alex is a seasoned Brewers Cup competitor placing 3rd in the 2016 USBrC. In addition he was a qualified USBC Judge for the 2014 season.
Alex, tell us a little about your coffee history?
I have over 10 years in the Specialty Coffee industry working as a Barista with Starbucks, Batdorf & Bronson, then Olympia Coffee Roasting, and moved on to sharing my knowledge as a trainer. I’ve been an equipment service technician, and a shop manager. While at Olympia Coffee Roasting I was part of the team that opened two new cafes.
What do you do at Baratza?
As a Support Specialist, I handle the majority of support phone calls and emails, plus order processing. Outside of that, I also do educational work for coffee events, and handle customer questions which are more extraction-focused. I was lucky enough to do a good deal of testing on the Sette coarse-grinding burr, and thoroughly enjoy talking with customers about manual brewing using our grinders.
Do you have a quick ‘A-ha’ story about Baratza users and their grinders?
I love when a customer moves from a blade grinder and calls us for help figuring out the difference between the timer and the adjustment. I love their reactions when they “get it” about burr grinders regulating size regardless of grind time.
You’re a seasoned Brewers Cup competitor. When did you compete before and why do you keep coming back?
Yes – I’ve been competing in Brewer’s Cup since 2012. I placed 5th in 2015 and 3rd in 2016 at USCC. I used Baratza grinders, BTW 😉 Every year I tell myself I’m not going to compete in the next season, but by the time sign-ups come around I get the itch. Then, of course, as the event draws nearer I seriously regret my decision and question my path in life: maybe I should be a server or something and not have to worry about agitation and temperature-specific tasting notes! But the moment I step on stage, it all falls away and I realize why I keep doing this to myself. The feeling of being up there, sharing something I care about so much with people who care too is amazing and hard to explain.
Can you tell us about your prep for competition – coffee, brew method?
I’ve got preparation pretty nailed down, since I’ve competed so many times. The scoop: 1) fret and lose sleep for weeks until the last minute rolls up, then frantically gather my gear and dial in my favorite coffee. 2) fly to the event, continue not to sleep, write and memorize my routine and then go on stage. I always use the Kalita Wave. It’s not a rule, but I love the consistency and ease-of-brewing it provides. Plus I’ve made maybe thousands of cups of coffee on the Wave, so I basically eliminate technique from my thoughts while I’m competing. This year, I’m excited to be using a coffee from my prior employer Olympia Coffee Roasting. Hands-down some of the best coffee in the world roasted by some of the best coffee professionals I’ve ever met. I haven’t quite nailed down which coffee, but it’s gonna be a cool one.
How has your work here at Baratza influenced your brewing and/or competition approach?
It’s been exciting working for an equipment manufacturer – especially one I’ve always admired so much. Though it’s been an adjustment. Daily cupping, QC espressos, ready access to green coffee buyers and roasters makes it easy to compete with a lot of confidence. This year I’m relying a lot on my own palate and skillset, which is scary but thrilling too! I have had the privilege of working on the exciting new Sette coarse burr, which has consistently surprised me and challenged my presuppositions about particle size and grinding generally. I feel like I have a whole new dimension of understanding informing my preparation.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself as a competitor?
Forgive me if I get a little too sentimental, but the competition world (and Brewer’s Cup in particular) has changed my life. Obviously, it’s enhanced my career (or really started it, honestly) but it’s also given me a sense of belonging that I’ve struggled to find in the past. I used to just work at a coffee shop. But since competing, I’ve had my eyes opened to a world of knowledge, passion, work ethic, and collaboration and I’ve been sucked right in. These crazy, sometimes silly events are so energizing and inspiring that I can’t imagine not taking part in them. Coffee competitions make people into coffee professionals!