Double Duty: Coava's Devin Chapman sweeps Northwest barista competition
Posted: Feb 01, 2012
When Devin Chapman discovered last May that he had failed to advance to the finals of the United States Barista Championship in Houston, he instantly turned his eyes to the next season of barista competition. He meticulously reviewed his semifinal-round score sheets with the judges, then catalogued his thoughts while the experience was still fresh in his mind. “I did a personal debrief,” he says. “I wrote down some general ideas and directions for the next time I did it.” He continued to process it throughout the weekend, and on his flight back from Houston, he pieced together what would be his 2012 competition performance. “I had my basic structure and my main points of this performance by the time my plane landed in Portland,” he says.
His forward thinking paid off in spades, as he nabbed the title at the Northwest Regional Barista Competition, which took place Jan. 27-29 at the Tacoma Convention Center. But Chapman, of Portland’s Coava Coffee, didn’t stop there; he also won the Northwest Brewers Cup for the second-consecutive year, becoming the first barista to win both regional competitions in one weekend. “It was such a shock to me,” he says. “On the barista competition end of it, I came into the weekend thinking I would have been happy just making finals. I never thought in a million years I would actually win the barista competition.”
Chapman’s path to victory started with three main ideas he centered on following the Houston competition: sensory experience, meaning a focus on great-tasting drinks; being coffee-centric, which to Chapman meant identifying the different flavor characteristics in his coffee; and engaging the judges throughout his performance. “I wanted to keep the people that I was sharing the coffee with engaged and feeling like they were being interacted with beyond just talked at and given drinks,” he says.
Chapman used one coffee in his routine, and as his presentation started, he told the judges it came from one of three origins—Ethiopia, Guatemala or Honduras—and listed the processing method, varietal and sparse tasting notes for each coffee. But he declined to give the judges more information, creating a performance centered on taste, not origin facts. “It was a big risk,” he says. “But I wanted to deliver in terms of how I was able to extract the different flavors and kind of portray the different sides of the coffee.”
However, the specifics about Chapman’s coffees were not left totally untouched. In a creative play, Chapman tucked a piece of paper with the coffee details into an envelope and then gave it to the judges. In his final-round performance, he asked them not to look at those facts and to instead let the taste speak for itself. Which begs the question: Did the judges respect his wishes, or did they give into the temptation to know where the coffee came from? “After my finals performance but before the announcement, I asked one of the judges if they looked, and he said they did look,” he says. Chapman says his idea to refrain from focusing on specifics came from his desire to get back to what’s in the cup, which is what attracted him to coffee in the first place. “All that knowledge and information about coffee is vital to the industry, but as a barista, it’s my job to translate that into a sensory experience,” he says.
On the Brewers Cup side, Chapman used a coffee from Guatemala’s San Rafael Urias Valdes that competed in the country’s Cup of Excellence competition in 2011. He brewed it using a Chemex, but with a surprising twist: Though Coava is the creator of the Kone (a reusable stainless-steel filter for Chemex), Chapman opted to use a paper filter instead. “That coffee has really nice body, and brewing on the Kone with that coffee, the body muddled the clarity of some of the flavors,” he says. “I would say with 99.9 percent of coffees I would have used the Kone, but paper just tasted better.”
Another noteworthy element of the weekend’s festivities was the strong showing by Portland cafés; all six barista competition finalists hailed from the Rose City. Laila Ghambari of Stumptown Coffee placed second, while Tyler Stevens of Barista (who also used Stumptown beans) finished third. In the Brewers Cup, four baristas from Olympia Coffee Roasting qualified for the finals, and the company’s Sam Schroeder and Oliver Stormshak placed second and third, respectively.
But at the end of the weekend, it was Chapman’s dual win that was the big story. Though he has been working in coffee for less than two years, Chapman credits his curious nature for helping him ascend quickly. “I’ve always been a really, really driven person and a really driven learner,” he says. “I like to rise to challenges.” He’ll have his next challenge at the USBC in April, where he’ll vie for the national title in both contests.