Last Sunday morning at the Herbst Pavillion in San Francisco, Austin Amento of Augie’s Coffee earned the title of 2016 United States Cup Tasters Champion. What is the Cup Tasters? you may be asking, and we are here to tell you that the Cup Tasters is coffee cupping turned into a gameshow, a test of sensory skills and a race against the clock so exciting, so engaging, that it has fans and followers all around the world. The winner of the US event heads to China later this year to compete in the World Cup Tasters Championship event, pitted against able tasters from around the world.
Immediately following Austin Amento’s big win, I grabbed the fella for a quick and candid interview right there on the stage floor. Paper cup of bubbly in hand, Amento dished to me that the secret to victory can be found in a daring and palate-twisting combination of Indian food and cocktails enjoyed the night before the big meet. Or perhaps he found success by converting his typical cocktail habits from whiskey to gin, a hoochstuff known for its aromatic beguilement.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s about keeping an even keel with a smile on your face, while remaining humble even in victory. “I just got up there and tried to get the coffees right,” Austin Amento says in the interview below. It’s early still—only the month of January—but that may be the coffee understatement of the year, and it’s damn refreshing, I tell you what.
Congrats on the win Austin! Tell us—was this your first year competing in the Cup Tasters?
I did this last year too, actually! I went 8 for 8 in the first round, then everyone got 6 for 8 in the second round. Speed is not my game, as you saw here today, so I got 4th place last year by like 30 seconds.
Is there any kind of special training that you did for this event?
We did practice a few times in the past month, but beyond that not much — I think we did a set a week for the last 4 weeks. It’s a lot of set up, so it’s kind of hard to practice, but I did have a lot of help from our roaster Tim Maestas, and that was really great. Without people you can’t practice.
Talk to me about the experience of coming here and winning this event.
This was a great trip to come to SF and see a bunch of friends, so I just kind of took an opportunity to go to bars and coffee shops and hang out with people you don’t see often. That was kind of my whole plan for the weekend, and then try and get as many cups right as possible. Pretty low key.
Where did you go to go out?
We were rolling last night with Onyx Coffee Lab and Onyx Coffee, and we all went to a place in Berkeley called East Bay Spice Company, which does really awesome Indian food and cocktails. That kind of thing really helps train the palate. And then we also went to a bunch of crappy bars in San Francisco yesterday, just watching football and walking around.
You’ll be headed to Shanghai to represent the United States at the World Cup Tasters Championship. Have you been to China before?
No, I don’t travel too much — I’ve been out of the country once to Colombia. I’m really excited for China but I am horrible with chop sticks. At the very least I’ll have a spoon.
Do you have advice for future competitors in this unique competition?
I just want them to look at all the amazing past people who have won it. For me, I tried to keep it very casual and do what I normally do. I did drink a lot less whiskey recently and a lot more gin—but other than that, stay normal.
We have people in other comps that I’m helping out with, but this competition is so much fun, the energy is so positive and everyone here is rooting for everyone else’s success, which isn’t common. The community is so tight and it brings it all together in a relatively straightforward comp. I like coffee and everything but this isn’t some crazy training process, like other competitions. I just got up there and tried to get the coffees right.
Whom would you like to shout out?
Jon Allen from Onyx Coffee — I told him that if I won, I would shout him out. Ben Kaminsky for being a huge unrivaled dude. My support group here, especially Tim—and my wife and my daughter most of all. My wife kept sending me photos of Amelia the whole time and that’s what calmed my nerves. Actually I haven’t looked at my phone yet since it happened…
What will that next conversation be?
“Gotta go to China, babe.”
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge.com. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
All of Sprudge.com’s 2016 coffee competition coverage is sponsored by Urnex Brands, so keep it clean.