Sunday 26 June 2022

Charlie Chu, the Mozart of tasting: “Coffee brought a new dream into my life”

The champion: "I had worked as a barista for last 6 years. When It had been over 2 years, I gradually started feeling to look at myself of the time as barista, and I had realized that needed to improve my sensory skills in the second half of 2018"

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MILAN – Some have described him as the Mozart of tasting, and his skills when it comes to a trained palate are not in question: we are talking about Charlie Chu, the reigning world cup tasters champion: as a prelude to the next challenge in Milan, we caught up with him to find out what lies behind the stuff of the best in the world.

First of all: who is Charlie Chu and what is coffee to him?

“I’m Kyoungha (Charlie) Chu, who is 2021 World Cup Tasters Champion, and originally from South Korea. I lived in Australia for last 6 years. And, now I’m back to Korea after the world competition as the Australian boarder was closed at the time because of COVID-19 situation.

Now I’m working with Momos coffee in Busan of South Korea. Coffee brought a new dream in my life to myself when I lost a previous dream, therefore It’s precious, grateful and inexpressible.”

From South Korea to Australia: what made you choose barista as a profession?

“I started my coffee journey in Melbourne of Australia in 2016 after I was discharged from the military service as a professional soldier, which was a previous job that I didn’t enjoy working. I had some periods were struggling with finding what I want to do in my life after finishing the previous job. While I was doing it, I found that It would be very cool if I open up my coffee shop.

That’s the reason why I started studying coffee to open my cafe. When I studied more, I realized that coffee is pretty much more worth to look at it. And I felt that needed to broad my outlook for my life as well as coffee experiences, so I decided to go overseas to do it. And the destination was Melbourne of Australia because Melbourne is one of the cities well known as a coffee city.”

Some have called him the “Mozart of tasting”: how does one become a world cup tasters champion?

“I had realized that needed to improve my sensory skills in the second half of 2018. While I was trying to look it up for methods for sensory training, I found that there is a Cup Tasters championship in coffee competition. Once I found that, I started looking it up, and eventually watched the Australian National Cup Tasters competition in person at MICE in February of 2019. It was the trigger to make my will stronger and more willing to challenge for it.

In the same month, Alicia who was a colleague at the time showed me how to practice, and she let me have a triangulation test with 24cups on that day, and it was the first ever experience of triangulation in my life. Since that day, I’ve done training myself for triangulation as well as many other sensory skills training.

The Australian Southern Regional Cup Tasters competition was my official first ever competition experience, and I got 1st place in there. (Record 8/8, 3:06).

And the Australian National comp was planned on March of 2020, but it got postponed by COVID-19, and the National competition happened on March of 2021, which is this year. And I got the first place at the Australian Cup Taster Championship. (Record 8/8, 2:37) Eventually, competed in the World Cup Tasters Championship this time, and I’ve got the first place here in Milano of Italy.”

My World Records

1st round 8/8, 6:46 / Quarter final 8/8, 4:20

Semi final 8/8, 7:44 / Final 8/8, 3:20

It was his first competition at this level and he won it?

“There is no jury in the competition. Cup Tasters Championship is the most objective discipline that you have to identify one different cup out of 3cups, which are 2 cups are same from them. Every each time for each competition was all my first ever experience. There were definitely some moments that I was struggling with, but I think I’ve overcome those well thanks to my consistent training times for last 3 years.”

Why did he choose the cup tasters of all categories?

“I had worked as a barista for last 6 years. When It had been over 2 years, I gradually started feeling to look at myself of the time as barista, and I had realized that needed to improve my sensory skills in the second half of 2018. While I was trying to look it up for methods for sensory training, I found that there is a Cup Tasters championship in coffee competition.

Once I found that, I started looking it up, and eventually watched the Australian National Cup Tasters competition in person at MICE in February of 2019. It was the trigger to make my will stronger and more willing to challenge for it.

Because it was the most objective competition among all the competitions in my eyes as there are only objective answers in the cups with no judgement or evaluation from other people. That’s was pretty attractive and intuitive to myself who had no competition experience.”

What was his preparation for the competition? How does one train a world-class palate?

Charlie Chu during the competition (photo by Charlie Chu)

“I made the training for triangulation test (the format of Taste competition) as a daily routine of my life. A regular training for the sensory skills in daily life is the best preparation that I believe.

Besides, I used preferably batch brew machines as it’s more convenient and fast for my training routine. I used to try to practice 2-3 times a week at least, and averagely 3 rounds whenever I did training every times.”

Which specialities were the most difficult for Charlie Chu to taste?

“From a few years ago, Fermentation coffee has been coming out to the world. This kind of coffees tend to make my palate easily tired in comparison with other traditional processed coffee.”

You have only been working in the industry for 5 years. Did your career take a turn with the World Cup? And what do you do now?

“Well, honestly, It’s hard to say that my career has got turned into a different career because of the title of World Cup Tasters Champion. It might’ve helped, but the most helpful part would be whole times that I had taken for the journey into the competition.

The times were telling me that I needed to step further towards what I want to do for the next, which was a position regarding green bean section in coffee industry. Currently, I’ve been working with Momos coffee in Busan of South Korea since January, 2022 as a greenbean buyer, and also a Q.C team leader.

What is on the agenda of a world champion? Open a coffee shop? Become a coffee roaster, a trainer…maybe compete again?

“As what I said above, the main purpose of preparing for the competition was improving myself as a person in coffee industry. But above of all, especially, I wanted to work in green bean section in coffee industry, and now I’m doing it, which is very grateful.”

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