Give us a quick rundown of your coffee career and how you ended up competing on Friday 15 July 2022. It started in 2007 when I came over from South Korea. Never thought of it as a career but here I am. I was fortunate enough to experience so many things in this industry – being on the tools (my favourite part), training, roasting, sales, technical support, brand ambassador, consulting and, getting to meet some beautiful people. My most recent experience was leading the Auckland department for L’affare but I left after 5 years of service and joined Camper Coffee Roasting Co as a partner early this year.
Been competing almost every year since 2017 and got so close to winning in 2019 that I came back once again.
It’s a yes
You’re no stranger to the Cup Tasters Championships, tell us about your other placings.
2020 Fourth place – this was actually Woohyung Lee who is also known as Mr. #5, I think I placed 7 or 8th. That was a tough comp cause no one scored 8/8 and my tactic was to get the perfect score but ended up taking too long and didn’t get 8/8. (Apparently, there were Kenyan AA and AB or something like that in that set)
2019… 3rd. It was a speed game that year and so many good ones got knocked out in the end. In the final, I rushed it and made a mistake on the 1st set. I was the 2nd fastest.
Do you think success is training or natural ability? A bit of both. Training certainly is necessary and enhances the confidence and sensitivity of your pallet. Females are naturally better tasters (my wife Julia who doesn’t work in this field was practising with me this year for fun and she got 7/8 many times under 3 minutes) so there are natural aspects as well.
I just feel bad for people with hay fever.
Woohyung Lee congratulates Ewan.
What do you do to practise for the NZ 2022 CTC? Nothing too crazy but I tried to reduce salt and sugar in my diet and also ALMOST stayed dry for a couple of months. It really sharpened my pallet.
Unlike previous years I had so little time to practise this year mainly due to a growing family and dealing with COVID at work. I think I bought the ticket last minute as well and practised for a week with Moccamaster at home. Didn’t even have enough vessels to hold the brewed coffee and had to use Nutri Ninja blender jugs
In 2019 I did 2-3 months of training and tried so many interesting routines which I will do for the world champ in 2023.
But, this year I focused more on sharpening the pallet and building self-confidence.
Been to Athens before? Never. In fact, I’ve never been to Europe. So I’m super excited to go next year!!!
What are you looking forward to seeing the most? Authentic Greek salad (I mean not just seeing but eating), Parthenon, Santorini.
Who do you admire most in coffee? So many but not one in particular other than my brother Lee Woohyung.
I admire the front-line baristas who humble me every day with their knowledge and their love for coffee. These guys don’t seek fame or money and are real heroes in coffee.
What would you say to anyone entering the Championship next year? Drink lots of brown stuff and familiarise yourself with many different coffees. The more you taste, the more sensitive you get. It’s also a brain game so don’t just slurp without connecting your pallet to your brain. Do not over-practise close to the competition date. Your tongue gets tired too.
A good example of it being a brain game is what Alan Bruce said about this year’s cup configuration that threw him off. Over to you Alan.
We asked our cuppers what their favourite tastes to pop in their gobs were, but with a twist. One taste is a lie and two are their favourite. Yours was one of the funniest.
The first sip of Negroni – Love it
The Last sip of Negroni – Hate it
Tasting my own medicine – Love it and hate it
What kind of “tasting your own medicine or life lessons” have you learnt that you take into your everyday life in coffee?
Complacency will bite your arse one day so you’d better give your all every damn day – mainly with cleanliness
Do not take things for granted, be appreciative of your job, and your peers and, don’t be a dick!
And also, choose your friends carefully but more so for your business partners – I got scammed in one of my precious business partnerships back in 2015 (the Apothecary Cafe in Howick, this guy is a con artist and I want to warn people out there to watch out).
Finally, what’s in your cup? Ethiopia Aricha Washed from Langdon Merchants roasted by myself and Jamie Wesley Brown, our resident barista at Camper Coffee and a trainee roaster. Plus at the very moment, Pink Fizz from Gentle Folk Wines via Everyday Wine.
Anyone you wish to thank:
I would like to thank our sponsors, the volunteers, the team at Camper Coffee and wife Julia, the M&M, former colleagues at L’affare who supported me and cheered for me, and my 7-month-old son Reuben who allowed me to sleep through the night before the championship (he usually wakes up a couple of times a night but didn’t the night before) plus all of my friends in the industry.