It was Kay Cheon’s first time ever entering a barista competition, but The French Press trainer and educator placed third in the nation at The United States Barista Championship finals in Seattle.
After two preliminary events, the final competition required baristas to serve 12 drinks (espressos, cappuccinos, and a signature beverage) in only 15 minutes, all while being judged on their technique, neatness, and spoken script.
If you’ve ever seen the tall, humble Cheon making coffees at The French Press on a busy weekday morning, you know his unfaltering focus and delicately calculated movements could pass any test. But like any competition, there was a lot of intensive training that went into Cheon’s barista routine. “I kind of consider working in a coffee shop as essentially training for this competition,” said Cheon. “But there’s also a lot of off-the-counter training.”
He explained, “There would be days where I would just go in and practice my script, and of course there were days where I just kind of tasted coffee and pulled espresso shots over and over again to see how the coffee was tasting at each point, how many days after roasting we should be using the coffee, and what the roast profile tastes like.”
Taking inspiration from the tart-cherry quality of the Hacienda La Papaya Ecuadorian coffee he used, Cheon decided to serve a cherry-cola playoff for his signature drink. “Cherry cola has all of these different spices and sugar, and it’s very complex,” explained Cheon, “but it’s also just really refreshing and easy to drink,” which is exactly what he wanted his signature drink to be like. “I wanted to make it as complicated as it needs to be in execution but as simple as it needs to be in delivery,” said Cheon, who served the drink in Pepsi bottles, poured it into a short glass, and garnished it with a little cherry.
“There’s a lot of focus on the barista competitor themselves, and their name is the one that is thrown up on the screen … but I know that all of this happens within this community of support,” said Cheon, noting that working with French Press and Dune Coffee was “pretty much a dream scenario for a barista competitor.”
Additionally, he says, “I think a big part of the barista competition is kind of turning the spotlight away from us and showcasing the work of the [coffee] producers and farmers that largely go unnoticed.” Interestingly, both Cheon and the first-place winner of the competition, Cole McBride, happened to be using coffee from the same producer out of Ecuador, Juan Peña.
The French Press is located at 1101 State St.; 528 Anacapa St.; and 250 Storke Rd., Goleta. See dunecoffeeroasters.com.