Josh Clarke won the 2019 UK Cup Tasters Championship and went on to represent the UK in Berlin at Specialty Coffee Association's event, World of Coffee last June. Josh did the UK proud when he placed 3rd place in the World Cup Tasters Championship!
In this interview Josh reveals all on how he prepares for the competition and shares his advice to competitors competing at CUPS this November.
Director of Coffee, Clifton Coffee Roasters
Josh went to University to study Sports Conditioning Rehabilitation, and Massage. It was during this time that Josh went to the London Coffee Festival for the first time, and had the privilege to cup a Panama Geisha with some of his coffee heroes; Johannes Bayer, Anne Lunell, and Gwilym Davies. Following this he got his first job as a barista in a local Cardiff hangout, the College House before finding his feet at Waterloo Teas. After two years, Josh moved to Bath to work at a shop called Colonna & Hunter, before moving to Clifton Coffee Roasters to work as a Wholesale & Business Development Manager in 2015. In 2017 Josh took over as Head of Coffee, and now oversees the entire coffee programme at Clifton Coffee Roasters in Bristol, UK.
Can you describe your preparation routine for the CTC?
Taste as much coffee as I can. My job requires me to cup coffee every day. When cupping, I’d be constantly thinking about the characteristics of the cup I’d tasted; it’s structure, aroma, body, sweetness, acidity, balance etc. I usually look for the most defining character of the cup and use that as a base to compare against others.
How does the National competition differ from performing on a World stage?
Firstly, I think we are privileged to enjoy the fruits of all the hard work and planning that goes into the UK Competition scene. At the worlds, the competition is very similar, arguably there’s a little more pressure. The crowd is bigger. Otherwise it’s very similar. The UK scene is very competitive. In the worlds you are competing against other champions, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that makes the competition harder.
You made it to the CTC Finals in Berlin – is it noticabley harder to identify the odd coffee in each triangulation in a world final?
Yes and No. The UK competition usually runs over 2 days with multiple heats, if you make it through to the finals you can quite quickly get palate fatigue. The worlds run over 4 days so it’s slightly more spread out. But in the finals, I must say that the triangulations were really hard to identify.
The CTC always draws a big and engaged crowd at Manchester Coffee Festival – why do you think people enjoy spectating this competition so much?
It’s the most exciting competition, you get immediate results that cannot be contested. There are no grey areas. You’re either right or wrong. Within the coffee industry we all taste coffee, so I think on one hand it’s the easiest competition to enter although it sells out within minutes every year. You just need your palate and a spoon. It’s the lowest barrier for entry. I love that.
What do you think is most important – speed or take your time to get it right?
In the World Championships this year I was actually the most accurate cupper over the entire competition. But it counted for nothing. I finished 3rd. You’ve got to be great at both to win.
Do you have a mentor/coach who supports you in preparation for CTC? If so, how do they help you?
There’s a whole team behind the scenes at Clifton Coffee who help me with competitions. Jimmy (Training Manager) helps setting up table after table, Sam (Green Coffee Buyer) helps get a variety of coffees in to cup and roast, Paul (Wholesale) travelled with me this year and kept me cool, calm and collected.
How does taking part in CTC support your professional life?
It keeps me engaged with the industry, it brings credibility to our company and helps our brand perception.
Will you be competing in CTC again?
You’ve been at Manchester Coffee Festival for the past couple of years. What’s your perception of the specialty coffee scene in the city? Any favourite coffee spots?
From what I can see the overall scene in Manchester is great. It represents a quality and service focussed city that seems to be ever growing. It’s super exciting. Every time I visit there’s new shops, cafes, restaurants that serve great food and drink. I have to say Takk, and not just because they are a customer.
Finally, what’s your one piece of advice for anyone competing in the UK CTC 2020?
Taste every cup and spot the odd one out.