Erin McCarthy is a serious vet of this industry—I recall meeting him in person for the first time at the SCAA show in Minneapolis in 2008. Back then, he was working for Gimme!, brewing coffee and taking names, and helping me gather deets on the awesome coffee community coming to fruition in the great state of New York.
Erin has been loving on the Brewers Cup competition model since its very first year, and he came out gangbusters from the get-go by winning the first Northeast Regional Brewers Cup back in 2011. This year, Erin won second place in the NE Brewers Cup. But he went on to take the grand prize home by winning the 2013 United States Brewers Cup Championship on April 14 in Boston. Erin will travel to Melbourne, Australia, in May to represent the U.S. at the World Brewers Cup Championship.
He’s hard at work prepping for this international manual brew showdown, but he was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for us about his win in Boston, his history as a barista and coffee pro, and what he’s looking forward to about Melbourne.
Sarah: Can you tell us about the coffee you used to win the U.S. Brewers Cup?
Erin: I used a Gesha variety from the Leon lot of Hacienda Esmerelda in Panama. It has the classic Gesha floral fragrance, honey and vanilla aroma, and apricot and plum sweetness, with tropical fruit acidity, like mango. It’s overall an extremely clean coffee, and I talked about how the variety, growing conditions, processing, roasting and my brewing all relate directly to these tasting notes. I also talked about the Gesha variety being like a celebrity in the coffee community—and I got to say that it’s kind of like the Meryl Streep of coffee. If I don’t know anything about a movie, but that Meryl Streep is in it, I can assume that movie has the potential to be great.
The same goes for variety Gesha. Going further, I talked about this coffee in particular being a milestone for Specialty Coffee, especially in how we think about what causes coffees to taste a certain way. Before Hacienda Esmerelda’s Gesha won Best of Panama in 2004 and received the highest price EVER for green coffee per pound, the way that us coffee people talked about flavor mostly related back to geography and processing. But after the success of that Gesha, we started seeing roasters putting variety info on bag labels, coffee drinkers asking what variety they were drinking, and most importantly, we started to pay attention to what producers were planting on their farms (this being important because of the role we see genetic diversity playing in resisting disease.)
Sarah: What was challenging about this year’s competition?
Erin: There were some really amazing coffee people competing! I worked my presentation speech a lot, so my main challenge was to brew the coffee perfectly on stage.
Sarah: How were the preliminary rounds?
Erin: This was the first time I’d competed where I got to do my presentation in the first round. I think it’s a fantastic idea and if possible, should be done at Regionals, too. I still don’t know what the coffee was for our Compulsory round, but it was really good.
Sarah: Erin, you are a previous Regional Brewers Cup champ — how have you changed and grown since you first started competing?
Erin: I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the presentation aspect, for sure, and I now make myself a practice schedule so that I’m more prepared. This year, with both the Regionals and the Nationals, I really wanted to challenge myself to have barista-competition-level discourse and performances. There’s obviously a lot more preparation going into a barista competition, but I wanted to bring the kind of dialogue that we’ve heard from some of the best barista competitors to the Brewers Cup. I treated my presentation like I was writing a paper, or presenting an argument. I wanted to acknowledge my judges as fellow coffee professionals and speak to them about something I was passionate about and found incredibly interesting – kind of like what Katie Carguilo did at last year’s USBC. I feel like I’ve really changed and grown with the industry, and working with my co-workers at Counter Culture the past year has really deepened my understanding of many aspects of coffee. I think this U.S. Brewers Cup win was just a long time coming – it was a product of many passionate conversations, messed up brews, and inspiring co-workers.
Sarah: How are you preparing now to compete on the world stage in Melbourne?
Erin: I’m reaching out to my coffee peers/coworkers for advice on taking my presentation up a notch. I’m working closely with our coffee buyers Kim Ionescu and Tim Hill to figure out which coffee I want to use, and also refine the ideas in my presentation. I’m brewing at least one Kalita Wave a day.
Congratulations again, Erin. We can’t wait to see you take the stage at the World Brewers Cup in Melbourne, May 24.
WANT TO KNOW ERIN’S SECRET RECIPE? Like any great coffee professional, Erin believes in sharing with his coffee peers. Here’s the scoop:
Kalita Wave; 24g coffee to 380g water; med-coarse grind; sifted fines.
45 second bloom; added water just off the boil for the first two minutes from regular kettles, then switched to flow restricted kettles: this was so that I could have a high water bed on top of the coffee bed. The flow restricted kettles allowed me to keep a consistent pour, and buffer agitation of the coffee grounds through the bed of water. The bed of water also allowed for very even extraction of the grounds.