Chat with a champ… Charlie Self, Huhtamaki NZ Cup Tasters Champion 2014

Charlie Self is our current Huhtamaki Cup Tasters Champion for 2014. Charlie competed at the World Cup Tasters Championship 15-18 May 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.
A little bit about the comp:
The World Cup Tasters Championship awards the professional coffee cupper who demonstrates speed, skill, and accuracy in distinguishing the taste differences in specialty coffees.
Coffees of the world have many distinct taste characteristics and in this competition format the objective is for the cupper to discriminate between the different coffees. Three cups are placed in a triangle, with 2 cups being identical coffees and one cup being a different coffee. Using skills of smell, taste, attention and experience, the cupper will identify the odd cup in the triangle as quickly as they can. A total of 8 triangles are placed in each round. The top 8 competitors with the most correct answers and the fastest time proceed to the next Semi-Finals round. Then the top 4 will compete again in the Finals round to determine the next World Cup Tasters Champion.
2014 World Cup Tasters Championship Results
Champion: Pang-Yu Liu, Taiwan 2nd: Amanda Juris, United States 
3rd: Panu Reinikainen, Finland 
4th: Yoeri Joosten, The Netherlands
The World Cup Tasters Champion was awarded a trip to Panama to visit coffee origin with Toby’s Estate. They also won a Mahlkoenig Vario Grinder.
View a full list on rankings here>

Did you enjoy your time in Melbourne?
What’s not to enjoy, the city seems to be teeming with switched on Hospo spots, each with there own individuality and concepts. Apart from some of the stunning suburb locations, there is a nice hub located in good walking distance of each other in the city centre. Even if a location is out of your comfort zone in terms of walking, then all you need to do is catch a train or a tram and its that simple because they have a public transport system that actually works and is user friendly.
Did you feel prepared for what the competition would be like at the Worlds?

Kinda. I was walking into something that I have never done before. Yeah I did the comp in Wellington, but that was done on a Friday night amongst friends, peers, people who I know and respect. Not to mention beers, most people had a glass in there hand. Everyone was in good spirits and the room had that good vibe going on.
My first heat in Melbourne was first thing in the morning. I’m not a morning person, no matter how much caffeine I have running through me. The room had that first day at college feel. Of cause you break the ice with a few people, but people are there with pressure on there shoulders. Try making polite conversation with a stressed out Eastern European, it ain’t gonna happen. I felt like I walked into a new environment, at a whole new level.
I thought I was prepared leaving our shores.

How do you prepare for a competition like this?

Lots of cup tasting, trying lots of various coffees with similar taste profiles, also I did lots of threshold tests of our general stock beans at the roastery. I then used those samples to create triangle tests. I got the girls at work to help out by getting involved and roped in a few of the regulars. This created a bit of a buzz and helped people understand what I was up to.
For cup tasters, it’s unlike many competitions as all you need is a spoon. Did you take your own ‘spoon’ with you?
I did, it was the spoon I won with on the night in Welli. But i kept it on the down low, as I didn’t want to be that guy.
Then as the proceedings played out, all of the contestants got given a comp spoon to use and keep.
What was the most memorable thing that happened?
Safe to say it was at the end of my first round, we were going through the process of holding the cups up to show our scores, and It becoming apparent that I was sinking fast.
I just remember thinking to myself, yep, you’ve gone and got yourself in one those situations again.
Watching the others dominate the comp was a humbling experience.
What was the best thing to come out of your experience in terms of professional development?
The win in Welli gave me a new lease of energy which helped me to reinstate myself back within the industry after having a bit of a sabbatical away doing a few marine studies papers and scuba diving around some of the outer islands off the Coromandel for research.
This is an ever changing industry so this gave me the ticket to go and have a catch up and relish in the world of ninety plus coffees. Which is a very rare sights around my way (Tauranga). Back home now the brain is ever ticking over on how I can better myself and push myself forward with new schemes and new ideas.
Now I’m not new to the humble pie experience, hence I’ve got a bit of girth to me, but being immersed in a arena where most people are well and truly on another level really pushed me to get my ducks In a row. It’s one thing to sit there and assume, but it’s another when it’s proven to you. The drive to acquire more knowledge and understanding of the product I use on a daily basis is now my main goal.
What would you do differently next time?
Has the experienced encouraged you to compete again?

Ask me closer to the time. I gave up competing as a barista due to all the stress that  came along with it. But having the chance to do an international comp was awesome, getting to meet new people from the global industry and having the time to see what they are up to, was the icing on the proverbial cake.

You had a little bit of personal time around Melbourne what was the coolest thing you did?

Hands down, traversing all the little cafes and espresso slutting it around. I could go on and list all of them, but some made you think your place is on par with them. This was uplifting because you just had an enjoyable experience. Some made you chuckle to yourself and some made you just stop and think again about what you are doing back home.

Some of the cafe layouts really made me assess the evolution of this aspect of the game. A couple had gone down the science feel, some had done the whole white tile and coloured points of interest and the best concept that kept on emerging was cafe and bars having guest coffees or guest roasts along side their house coffee.
I love the idea of having interchangeable coffee roasted by your mates from another roasters. They were generally micro lot single O’s. One lass I talked to in a small espresso bar on little Bourke st. Explained how the system worked, she pretty much had a few mates across town who also got some stunning coffees in, so they started swapping and before they knew it, it became a regularity. Their roasters didn’t mind because it wasn’t like they were stocking another variation of something they could supply, but more like they were getting in something different. The openness and the lack of fearing the competition was beautiful. I have always believed you should never be scared of the competition.
If at any point you are scared, then you may be sub-concisely thinking that perhaps, you may have to be trying harder.

Photo Credit: Michael C Y Park, all rights reserved