January 20, 2023

Calum's Aeropress Competition Journey

Calum's Aeropress Competition Journey

By Calum Taylor
Prolog Wholesale + Webshop

The aeropress is a fun piece of coffee gear to use. Its simple design consists of three plastic parts, a cap, a cylindrical chamber, and a plunger. The basic premise of the aeropress is that you place a single small, round paper filter inside the cap, screw the cap onto the chamber, add coffee and water, wait a short time for brewing, and finally press the resulting liquid through the chamber and past the filter with the plunger. 

Sounds pretty simple. And it can be. Following a simple recipe is easy for pretty much anyone to achieve, no matter their previous experience with coffee. On the other hand, the aeropress is an incredibly versatile device which can allow the user to manipulate and experiment with a number of variables in order to achieve different results. Even keeping the type of coffee beans constant, one can alter grind size, water temperature, mineral make-up of water, brewer orientation, brewing time, level of agitation, and many other variables. 

It’s this level of experimentation and the skill in recipe building that has allowed the Aeropress Competition to thrive since its inception in 2008. One of the main principles of the competition is that everybody uses the same coffee. Everybody’s on the same playing field. No two coffees are the same, and there is no guarantee that a recipe that works well with one coffee, will work similarly well when brewing another. It’s up to the competitor therefore to experiment and figure out, given the coffee they have, what they can do to produce a brew that is as tasty as possible.

On 29th of October of last year, I competed in the Danish Aeropress competition for the third time. National competitions are set up quite differently from country to country, depending on the size of the country and organisations in place. For example, in the U.S., there are multiple regional competitions, culminating in a national final. Luckily for my best chances of success, Denmark is a small country, with a singular final competition, consisting of 27 people. Participants compete in rounds of three, getting five total minutes to brew simultaneously against two others. Once the time is up and the three competitors have produced their brews, a team of three judges taste from the cups blindly, not knowing who has brewed what. The only criteria for their judging is, which cup of the three tastes best, and which one would they like to continue drinking from. After some time to taste and think, the judges vote for their favourite cup and the single winner progresses to the next round. This is then repeated until there is a final and, ultimately, a champion.

I came into the competition with mixed expectations. I enjoy the relatively laid-back and social aspect of the competition. A large part of wanting to compete in Aeropress every year is getting to meet up and hang out with all my friends in the coffee community in Denmark, and doing well is secondary. On the other hand, I am naturally quite a competitive person, I want to be successful in everything I do, and I wanted to improve on my standing of not having progressed past the first round in my previous two attempts. What gave me the most confidence this time around though is that I had a recipe I was happy with going into the competition with.

In the competition, my faith in the recipe I had built was well awarded. I was quite naturally nervous during the brewing and deliberations of the judges, but in each round equal parts delighted and surprised that my name had been called as the winner. No greater amount than in the final, my third time of the evening brewing the same recipe and sticking with what had worked before. When Janis Podins, the excellent MC of the night, called my name as the winner, I couldn’t have been more proud to be the Danish Aeropress Champion.

I was the Danish Aeropress Champion, and as the nominee for Denmark, I had the right to go forward and compete again in the World Aeropress Championships. So much were my expectations going into the Danish competition, I hadn’t even looked up when and where the World Aeropress Championships were in 2022. I only found out after I won, that I was going to Vancouver, and in only four weeks time.

A hectic few weeks of finding last minute flights and accommodation rushed by, and before I knew it, it was the 29th November and I was in Canada, bringing my loving girlfriend Clara along with me. Vancouver is 9 hours behind Denmark and I am very glad that I arrived a few days before the competition in order to explore a little bit, and shake off the jet lag. The first couple of days, I was definitely in a bit of a daze, incredibly sleepy during the day, and wide awake at night.

The day before the competition was my first chance to meet the other national champions, those who I would soon be competing against. This was a great chance for me to meet and mingle with coffee enthusiasts from all over the world, some having various jobs within the coffee industry, and some having coffee as just a hobby. It was really fun to connect with the other competitors and hear their journey to the World Championships as well. This was also the chance for us to finally receive the mystery competition coffee and quickly build a recipe for the next day’s competition. I personally found it quite difficult to be nervous up until this point. I couldn’t really practise and work on my recipe until I knew what coffee we were brewing, but at that point it became a lot more real for me.

On the day of the competition, we were greeted with a great venue and a brilliant set up of equipment to brew with. The organisers did an excellent job at ensuring we had everything we needed to do the best that we could. I was nervous but excited going into the first round. My girlfriend Clara was watching from the crowd, and my friends and family back home were watching on the live stream. Up on the stage, things went smoothly. I had once again built a recipe I could be proud of, and despite a little bit of nervous twitching, I completed my brew without any mistakes. Everything clicked well, and I made it through the first round. So far so good.

The World Championship was naturally a larger event, around 50 competitors, and since I was one of the few to compete in the first round, there was a large waiting time until I got to compete again. I spent the time trying to relax, watching the other competitors, eating a little food where I could, all with the aim of replicating what went right in the first round.

The second round came along, and this time unfortunately things didn’t go as perfectly to plan. The brewing routine was less smooth, more clunky. I dropped my hand grinder onto the table and almost knocked my aeropress over with boiling hot coffee inside. I took a sip of my brew before presenting it to the judges, and I was pretty sure something was off. It didn’t stand up to previous brews I had made with the same coffee. Up against such a strong level of competition, I knew I wouldn’t be progressing onto the next round. A couple of minutes later, and this was confirmed.

Initially, I was definitely deflated at getting knocked out of the competition. In the competitive frame of mind I was in, it was difficult not knowing whether I would have indeed progressed if my brew had gone right.

It didn’t take too much time though to look at the bigger picture, to see what I had achieved in just getting to Vancouver, and the experiences that I was lucky to have. To say that I have competed in a coffee competition internationally is something that makes me very proud. Looking forward, I am more than ever motivated and determined to compete and test myself again, not only in Aeropress but in more coffee competitions. I want to thank all my friends, family, and my colleagues at Prolog for all their support during my competitions. It means the world to me.