Meet The Cup Tasters Competitor – Josh Clarke

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.


Josh Clarke    

Director of Coffee, Clifton Coffee Roasters

Bristol, UK


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.

Competitor Q&A

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. 

Photo Credit: Kristaps Selga for World Coffee Events

Photo Credit: Kristaps Selga for World Coffee Events

What Is The Cup Tasters Championship?

You’ve mastered the pour, you can tell your arabica from your robusta and you’ve just invested in the best burr grinder money can buy but what on earth is the Cup Tasters Championship?!

To any passing observer this competition looks like a lot of slurping and cheering for those in the know. Here we’ll break down the rules so you can come along and cheer with all the industry pro’s at CUPS this November 9-10.

The Rules

Each competitor is presented with 8 sets of three bowls of coffee. Within each set is one coffee that is different to the other two. The difference in the first round could be a set with 2 coffees from Kenya and 1 from Ethiopia and as the competition gets harder in the Semi’s and Finals the difference could be 2 coffees from one lot in that Kenyan coffee farm and 1 from the same farm but a different lot. Eeeek!

It’s up to the competitor to identify the odd one out in each set in the quickest time possible. So where two competitors get 6 out of 8 sets correct, the competitor who finished all 8 of their sets in the quicker time will automatically be higher on the leader board.

The maximum time for each competitor is 8 minutes. The competitor must taste every coffee (they can’t just smell or look). They’ll push the one they believe to be the odd one out to the front of their competitor station.

Who Can Enter?

This competition attracts entrants from all areas of the coffee industry, from baristas to roasters to importers. Tasting coffee is a skill which unites all members of the coffee supply chain. Cup Tasters is a real chance for industry pro’s to flex those sensory muscles in front of their peers.

How Is It Judged?

The fun bit! Representatives from Speciality Coffee Association UK will be on hand to check each set one-by-one under the watchful eye of the audience.

Throughout 2019 regional heats have been taking place in London, Glasgow and Bristol in preparation for the Semi-Finals and Finals taking place this November 9-10 in Manchester.

The winner of the UK Cup Tasters Championship will head to represent the UK on the world stage in Warsaw, Poland in 2020.

Join us in November to watch the competition at CUPS — tickets available soon!

It's not just about the coffee.

We know. Gasp, shock, horror! It’s not all about the coffee?!

We it’s not actually. We’d like to think we are leaving the world a little better than we found it, especially in Manchester, so we have teamed up with some of our amazing exhibitors and sponsors to bring you our #reusable campaign. We want to encourage you to bring, buy or borrow a reusable coffee cup so we can reduce our environmental footprint for the festival.

Why though? Well here are some interesting facts about waste that made us want to be better.

In the UK we use more than 7 million disposable coffee cups every day - that’s 2.5 billion a year. And out of that 2.5 billion a year, less than 1% are recycled. This is because the cups are bound together by plastic polyethlyne, which makes them water tight so they can hold coffee. But when we put our latte’s in them, it means we can’t recycle them in a normal plant, because they contain liquid, so have to be sent across to one of three specialist facilities in the UK to do so.

The coffee cups also have to be separated because they aren’t pure paper and for them to be recycled, this needs to happen, so it’s a tricky business recycling what holds our favourite cup o’ joe.

So what are we doing to help the problem at the Manchester Coffee Festival?

This year we have taken quite a few steps to make it really easy for you to go reusable with us.

Here's what you'll find. 

1). KeepCup are providing cups so you can put a deposit down to use a reusable cup when you arrive, and when you leave, you can return the cup for free or pick up the lid and keep the cup at no extra cost  

2). La Marzocco will have a dedicated "disposable free" zone at the festival 

3). Espresso Solutions will provide wash stations for your cups around the event 

4). And we are encouraging all of you to bring your own reusable cup with you too. If you forget then there’s no need to worry (see KeepCup point 1).

We would love for you to help us on this journey of making the festival as reusable as possible, so do let us know if you have any other ideas that would help too.

We can’t wait to see you with your reusable coffee cups in November!

The Manchester Coffee Festival Team.

Image from @keepcup

How To Brew Your Best Cup Of Coffee Ever in 2018.

If you’re reading this blog post, then let’s assume that you care about how your coffee tastes. Whilst most people don’t, we strive for perfection with our cup of the good stuff, so we thought we would share with you some expert tips, tricks and advice on how to make your morning coffee it’s best tasting yet.

Find the right coffee for you. 

This can be a little like dating, there are so many varieties, you just have to try a lot until you find the perfect one for you. To make this task a little easier, research the best local roasters in your area so you can not only buy ethically, but you can also learn about the flavours, tastes and where they came from. They tend to be also made in smaller batches which helps with getting maximum flavour so it should be delicious. If you’re around Manchester, we have our yearly Coffee Festival in November, which you can find more about here. Grab a ticket and try coffee till your hearts content. 

Start with whole beans. 

If you want an amazing tasting coffee then start with fresh, whole beans. The flavour is not only stronger but also the subtleties of the bean will be more noticeable, overall making it a much better tasting cup of coffee. 

Invest in a great grinder. 

There are blade grinders and there are conical burr grinders. A burr grinder let’s you change the consistency and adjustability so you can then match your grind to the type of coffee you want. For example, an espresso is very finely ground and French Press is very coarse. 

When to grind. 

Grind your beans right before brewing so you can get the maximum flavour out of them, but only grind the amount that you need. This helps ensure each coffee you make is delicious and full of flavour. 

Store Coffee Properly.

Do you keep your coffee in the fridge or freezer? Well take it out. You need to store your coffee in an airtight glass container in a cool dark place. When you keep it in the fridge or freezer, it ends up in the freeze, thaw cycle which affects the taste hugely. 

Brew at this temperature. 

The best temperature is between 90.5 - 96.1C. 

If you go over this then it burns the coffee. 

Use filtered water. 

This without a doubt, has a huge impact on the flavour of your coffee. Use filtered water where possible. 

So these were our essentials for getting you your perfect cup of coffee in the morning. Did we miss anything out? Do let us know what your key tips and tricks are too. We love constantly learning so leave a comment below.  




COMSA Come to Manchester – Tasting, Talks and Panel

Our pals at Heart and Graft have invited producers from a co-operative that they work with to come to Manchester. COMSA will travel from Honduras to visit Manchester, see where their coffee is being used and meet the thriving coffee scene in the city. 

There are two events happening next week during their visit. If you have the time then I highly recommend checking them both out!

Tuesday 11 July – 19:00 at Grindsmith Deansgate

Heart & Graft will host an evening panel discussion based on issues of sustainability in coffee trading. The panel will include Rodolfo (COMSA), Howard Barwick (Head Coffee Buyer, Bewleys UK), Holly Bowman (North Star Coffee, Leeds).

Provenance is a key part of coffee buying – this is a fantastic opportunity for the panellists and audience to dig into this idea of fair 'ethical' 'direct' trade of coffee, and what this actually means to the farmers whilst hearing from the farmers themselves!

Entry is free! You can sign up here.

Thursday 13 July – 18:00-22:00 at Heart & Graft

Heart & Graft will host a cupping event with a difference at their roastery – the main difference being that the farmers will be there to present their coffee! H&G will set up all sorts of interactive stuff so you can really dig into the elements that influence how coffee is grown and processed and how this is fundamental to its character and flavour. They’ll also be brewing and pulling shots…well, you will!

The cupping will be structured, and there will be a talk about COMSA's organic vision and how this contributes to flavour. However, they also want to leave lots of time for you to just hang out and socialise, brew coffee with the producers and chat to some awesome coffee brains, and ask all those questions you’ve always wanted to ask coffee farmers about!

This event is ticketed at £10 each and will include a bag of coffee. All the proceeds will go towards Team COMSA’s travel costs. Register here!

UK Barista Championship – Manchester Heat

We're honoured that SCA UK has chosen Manchester as a location for one of the regional UKBC heats this year. We're used to hosting the UK Cup Tasters at our annual festival in November so it's a pleasure to welcome SCA back to Manchester with more of their national competitions!

The UK Barista Championship is the UK's premier coffee competition and showcases current and innovative trends in the barista world. Each competitor will have fifteen minutes to produce three sets of four drinks, espresso's, milk beverages and a signature beverage. Set to music and with an accompanying presentation, each UKBC routine is a platform for new methods and tradition alike. 

The drinks are judged by two technical judges and four sensory judges who are all responsible for scoring the baristas in order to eventually identify the top twenty who will go through to the semi-finals this August.

You can catch the competition live at Ancoats Coffee during the daytime on Saturday 20th May. Entry for spectators is free to all and we wish the best of luck to everyone competing!

Address for Ancoats: 9, Royal Mills, 17 Redhill St, Manchester M4 5BA