It’s May 7th, and I’m with a friend from the coffee industry, getting ready to leave the first Independent Barcelona Coffee Festival after a nice, long day of coffee festivities. Earlier that morning, the 2016 Spanish Aeropress Championship had taken place at the same venue, and throughout the day, the building has filled up with hundreds of happy, coffee drinking Catalans.
Me: “Oh, wait…I need to interview the Aeropress Champion before I leave. Did you hear who won?”
Friend: “Yeah, some guy named Carlos. I’ve never heard of him before.”
Me: (helplessly looking around at the giant crowd) “Um…well, any other clues to his identity? You know, we are in Spain, so I imagine if I yell Carlos into the crowd, there might be quite a few responses, don’t you think?”
There were surely quite a few Carlos’ around that day, but maybe none quite as unique as Carlos Zavala, the 2016 Spanish Aeropress Champion. Zavala, who first came to Barcelona 13 years ago to study a Bachelors in Philosophy, is now writing his PhD thesis on the work of philosopher Giorgio Agamben, while blogging about food and coffee in his spare time. Although relatively unknown in the coffee world, the talented Chileno barista/philosopher has quite a bit to say about coffee—and a lot of other things, too. I spoke with Zavala about coffee, philosophy…and also his hair.
Sprudge: What’s your background in coffee?
Carlos Zavala: I’ve been obsessively drinking coffee for many years, and I’ve been using the AeroPress for quite long as well; but I have worked as a professional barista only in the recent six months. I’m a philosopher and all started with a paper I was reading on Kant’s Critique of Judgment. “What’s the nature of the taste judgment?”, that was the question. I started to look at the cup of coffee I was drinking and discovered a totally new world in that moment. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of theoretical and empirical research in order to balance the objective and subjective elements that make a cup of coffee taste awesome.
So, as a barista/philosopher, what is your philosophy on life?
It’s well known that once Heraclitus of Ephesus said: “you can never swim in the same river twice”. And I’d say: “you can never brew the same coffee twice”. When you know that you can accept that Life is essentially a flux, so everything you do to control or to exactly replicate the same coffee is essentially going to fail. Good or bad, every coffee is unique. During the training for the Spanish AeroPress Championship it happened to me that I made a coffee I absolutely love. It was much better than the one I did to win the Championship. I wrote the recipe and I tried many times to get the same thing, but it was impossible. It’s impossible.
Tell me, what is the secret to making good AeroPress coffee?
Trust your own taste. Making a good cup of AeroPress coffee mainly involves controlling a lot of details: the variety and origin of the coffee, the roasting profile, the grind or particles size, the particles distribution, the ratio, the composition of the water, the water temperature, the time of blooming, the stirring or agitation, the infusion and extraction times, the extraction yield. But even if you manage to control all these details with surgical precision, it does not assure that you make a good cup of coffee. Because “good” or “bad” here is purely a matter of taste. So the first thing is to be clear about your own taste and to train it; and the second thing is to understand the scientific and cultural reasons that make others like your coffee. There’s a lot of science, philosophy, and history behind this.
And is the AeroPress your favorite brew method?
I prefer filtered coffee; I don’t like espresso too much. And from all coffee brewing methods, immersion is my favorite: AeroPress, French Press, Clever, Eva Solo. In this group, AeroPress is for me the best brewing method to appreciate all the good qualities of a coffee. But in my daily life, I use all kinds of filters: Kinto, V60, Chemex, Bee House, Kalita, Kono. The one I pick each day depends on the mood I guess.
What are you looking forward to in Dublin?
I want to meet all the baristas from other countries, learn from the techniques and methods they’re using and taste all these new coffees roasted in different countries. And for myself, I really want to make a unique cup of coffee there: complex and rich in flavor, with a strong mouthfeel and with a lot of body, but balanced at the same time. That’s what I like.
This will be my first time in Dublin, so I will visit the local specialty coffee roasters for sure. I will just let the Dubliners surprise me.
Last question, Carlos. Is there a story behind your hair?
I like the minimalistic style of Alexander Wang, so one day I just had the idea of copying his hairstyle.
Well, it's really working for you. Thank you, Carlos.