In late February Caffe Ibis coffee roaster Brandon Despain went from coffee competition newbie to first place winner of the US Coffee Championship. Despain began working for the Logan-based café as a barista a decade ago. He eventually transitioned to the position of roaster, training under late Caffe Ibis Co-owner and Roastmaster Randy Wirth.
“Essentially, the beans come to us green, they’re rock hard. They would break a tooth if you tried to chew on one," Despain said. "So, we roast it to bring out whatever flavor profile we’re after for a particular roast or bean or blend and then people get to drink the finished product."
This year, Despain decided to enter into the US Coffee Championship in Long Beach, Calif. to see how his skills compared to other top roasters in the nation.
“I’ve been going to those events for a long time now, and this is the first time I’ve ever actually competed," Despain said. "I honestly didn’t expect to win, I went for feedback.”
For the first round of the competition, entrants were each sent 50 pounds of the same kind of coffee to roast to perfection.
“This year, everyone that entered had to roast the same coffee for the first round, so it was kind of like a level playing field where it was really your skill that had to shine through," Despain said. "You couldn’t just buy a really expensive coffee and kind of ride on that. Any time I approach a coffee for the first time, you know, I really try to tune in with all of my senses, especially olfactory. So, the first time I roasted it I was really smelling it every 5-10 seconds."
Despain was so sure he wouldn’t make it past the first round that he was scheduled to fly out of the country on the last day of the competition. Those plans had to change when he was named as one of the six finalists for the championship.
“It was honestly a great learning experience, it was everything I wanted from it and a little bit more.” Despain said.
While he awaits the arrival of his new roasting champ trophy, the coffee-drinking community has already shown their support for the roaster by raising a mug to his hard-won achievement.
“Everybody at Ibis was really proud," Despain said. "It’s conformation of what we’ve been doing for a really long time.”