What got you interested in coffee? How old were you?
Honestly, I was kind of a late bloomer. I didn’t even drink coffee until I was 20 years old. That was in 2006 when I started studying law and working for Vapiano at a – by that time – well-equipped bar. We had a Mazzer Super Jolly and a La Cimbali M32 with three group heads which we treated really well so it still ran smoothly when it was replaced with an M39 after more than one million shots. I started enjoying a coffee when I was able to make my own cappuccino.
What inspired you to be a Barista?
That probably was about half a year after I started working at the bar when I was introduced to latte art. I have always been a creative person (and still am) so it came as no surprise that I was immediately fascinated by the opportunity to create my own little art with just espresso and milk. (by the way: did you know that these Illy-cups designed by Matteo Thun are just perfectly shaped for tulips?) So I started watching the few latte art videos that were available on YouTube since there was no Instagram or whatever. It was a lot of trial and error but I improved my skills constantly and got really good at it after a while, pouring hundreds of teddy bears, chiefs, swans, and patterns like that. Getting a cappuccino with a heart or rosetta on top was something really special back then. So this was quite impressive for our guests and I got amazing feedback which encouraged me to learn more and more about not only latte art but coffee in general.
How were you exposed to Aeropress and the different coffee-making methods? And which one is your favorite and why?
Well, this was a development with many little steps. The biggest ones probably were the first Berlin Coffee Festival ever in 2015 and competing in my first German Latte Art Championship in the same year. This was when I heard about specialty coffee, the third wave, and tried light roasts for the first time. With my curiosity for coffee, it was a logical next step to buy different brewing devices one after another, time after time. My first and the one I use more often than any other is probably the classic V60. Another one I do like a lot is the pretty new Origami dripper which does not only let me brew delicious cups of coffee but looks really beautiful at the same time. But long before that I already got my first Aeropress and since I am a competitive person it took me only until 2017 – also at Five Elephant in Berlin – that I competed in the German Aeropress Championship for the first time and even made it into the semifinals. Preparing for this competition taught me a lot about brewing in general, about how to play with different parameters for example, and about how flexible the Aeropress is as a brewing device which makes it pretty unique.
How did you find the learning experience becoming a professional?
That’s sort of a tough question which I think goes closely with the question: “Who should really call themselves baristas?” Since there is no state-approved apprenticeship in Germany everyone who serves coffee for money can call themselves a professional barista. But honestly, I think that misses one important point: professionalism is also about gaining knowledge, about keeping yourself updated, and so on. And for this, the coffee scene is both – one of the most difficult branches to start and one of the easiest to grow. Difficult because usually after finishing school one starts their apprenticeship or goes to university. But there is no such official institution for coffee in Germany. So making coffee is often seen as a typical side job but not as something to earn a living with. That means it takes a lot of courage to make this decision and work as a full-time barista – which I guess is the point where most coffee professionals started someday even if they are having other jobs in the industry by now. So did I. On the other hand, it’s one of the easiest ways to grow once you took this first step. Because the coffee industry is full of people that just love what they do and they love to share their passion and knowledge with you so you can start loving what you do in right the same way. The only thing you’ve got to do is – be open-minded, talk to as many people as possible, listen to them carefully and give them a smile every once in a while.
What do you like and not like about being a barista?
Like all jobs in the service sector being a barista is very likely to be a badly paid job. The exception of course proves the rule. And the reputation is often quite low outside the coffee industry. But apart from that I love being a barista and even more being a roaster by now. I love working with people and making their day a little better by serving them something delicious. I love the fact that working with coffee is multisensorial and never gets boring. There is always something more to learn even after many years. Christian Ullrich, a former World Latte Art Champion, once told me after my first Latte Art Championship where I came in third: “Do not leave it to being a great latte artist if you want to be taken seriously in the coffee industry. There is so much more.” And he was absolutely right.
How many championships have you participated in? How long did you train?
Oh, this is a long list. I participated in the German Latte Art Championships five times and won them in 2018. So I went to the World Championships in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in the same year. One of the greatest experiences in my life. I participated in the unofficial European Latte Art Championships, called “Internationale & Tiroler Latte Art Meisterschaften” in Innsbruck, Austria, several times and won them also in 2018. One year before I won the Espresso Italiano Championship in Germany and participated in the World Finals in Milan, Italy. And then there were two national Aeropress Championships. My first participation was in 2017 when I missed the finals by one vote. And four years late I tried again and – honestly, I still cannot really believe it – won the golden Aeropress in a really tough field of competitors. The cool thing about Aeropress Championships is that it does not require too much time for training since every competitor only gets 250 grams of the competition roast to experiment with. When they are gone after ten to fifteen brews you’re done – no matter what results you have achieved by then. You don’t have to invest an insane amount of your free time (or money) to have a realistic chance to win the competition. Which makes it way more accessible to everyone than any SCA championship. For example for the latte art Championship in 2018 I trained several days a week for months with an insane amount of wasted milk. Having two kids already back then this was almost impossible. I only could make it thanks to my incredible wife who always supports me and my career in the coffee business, no matter what.
What’s the most challenging part?
That probably depends on what type of person you are and what championship you’re competing in. I guess for many people it is most challenging to compete on a stage with everyone looking at you brewing coffee. Not for me personally, because honestly, I love the stage. But for many people, that’s definitely a big hurdle. But again, Aeropress Championships are great, even for people who fear the stage because one does not have to present anything to the judges except for a cup of brewed coffee. And even this is served anonymously. For me personally, the most challenging part in competitions was in latte art national championships: keeping it all being fun while taking it really seriously and investing too much time and money.
What is your most pleasurable part?
The most pleasurable part about competing definitely is meeting so many other very different people from various backgrounds that nevertheless all share the same passion and love for coffee. And it doesn’t matter if someone has won multiple championships, if one’s a rookie, or maybe even just volunteering at the event, helping to make it a success. Everyone has easy access to the community and is welcomed with arms wide open. It feels like meeting the family of your choice very often. This is why I am really sad about the decision to make the upcoming World Aeropress Championships an online event. Although there are good reasons for this decision of course. But it definitely would have been a dream come true to meet people with the same passion from dozens of countries from all around the world in what is said to be the capital of specialty coffee, Melbourne. I really hope to make it there anyway when the pandemic is over.
What was your experience competing in the championship? Tell us anything that stuck out to you.
What definitely stuck out to me about the German Aeropress Championship 2021 was the fact that it was only the second big coffee event (after Frankfurt Coffee Festival) that took place after almost everything was shut down for one and a half years. It just felt so good meeting people again – and feeling safe since it was an event for people who were vaccinated or had recovered from Corona already. I really hope we will be able to get back to some sort of normal in the near future when a vaccine mandate will be introduced.
What are some things you want people to know about coffee?
That’s really a question I cannot answer in a few sentences. Of course, I love to share my coffee knowledge with people and I love it when people share their knowledge with me. But the whole topic is so complex, it probably goes beyond the scope of this interview. Maybe just one thing: please don’t look at labels like “fair trade” or “organic” but try to get as much information as possible about the coffee you buy from the bag or the roaster who’s selling you the coffee. Be skeptical if it’s just “100% Arabica” and the country of origin. You deserve more transparency as a consumer and good coffees almost always offer you a lot more information. Jackpot if you even get to know the price the farmers were paid for the green coffee.
What are some things you want people to know about you?
There is really nothing that special about me that everyone needs to know. But maybe I can inspire a few people when telling them I have already been the father of a little girl when I was a first-time competitor and by now I do have three children – one boy and two girls. It is possible to not only focus on one goal at a time. Coffee is amazing and worth all effort but doesn’t let it stop you from fulfilling your other dreams as well. You don’t necessarily have to decide between the one and the other. And talking about my girls: there are several important initiatives concerning gender equality right now and almost all of them are led by amazing women in the coffee industry. But it’s definitely also up to us men to push that issue forward. Let’s think about our (future) daughters. Wouldn’t we want them to be treated fairly and equally in all matters? I definitely do!