Coffee News: from Seed to Cup

Interview with World Brewers Cup Champion, Tetsu Kasuya

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This June, Tetsu Kasuya shocked the coffee world as he won the World Brewers Cup with a method that broke all the rules. He stopped pouring multiple times, letting the water drip through completely before continuing, in what he calls “the four-six method”. Doing so, he said, increases the sweetness, cleanliness, brightness, and strength of the coffee. Doing so was unheard of.

And I got to spend eight days travelling around Brazil with him, as part of Ally Coffee’s origin trip for the Champions. He was fun, kind, and quick to crack a joke: the type of person that you’re sad to hear is leaving the trip a day early – but when you learn that it’s to lead a seminar about brewing, you’re not surprised.

I couldn’t wait to ask him about his method, Japanese coffee culture, and his plans for competing next year.

Spanish Version: Entrevista con El Campeón del World Brewers Cup, Tetsu Kasuya

Tetsu Kasuya and Todd Goldsworthy making AeroPress coffee on the top of Pica de Bandeira

Tetsu and Todd Goldsworthy, USBrC Champion, make AeroPress coffee on Brazil’s third-highest mountain, Pica da Bandeira.

An Unusual Route Into Coffee

As we stopped at a farm in the Caparaó region, Sitio Colina do Alto, he quietly said, “Sometimes, I cannot believe this is happening to me.”

He looked back at the view: a recently stumped hill gave way to Red Catuai. It was the farmers’ – two brothers – first harvest, and the farm’s first specialty one. “Four years ago,” Tetsu continued, “I didn’t drink coffee.”

And so a couple of days later, on Fazenda Primavera in Minas Gerais, I sat down next to him on a bench and asked about how he got into coffee. But I didn’t expect the reply to be: “Four years ago, I got sick.”

“Yeah, I got diabetes,” he continued. “It’s not a sad thing for me. I loved Coca Cola, Sprite, and so on, but because of my diabetes I couldn’t drink them. I had to change what I drink. So, okay, I decided to drink coffee because the colour is the same as Coca Cola. There was no more reason.”

We both started laughing. But although the decision was made light-heartedly enough, Tetsu took the change seriously.

Tetsu Kasuya smells drying coffee at Sitio Retiro do Ipê

Tetsu at Sitio Retiro do Ipê, where they produce pulped natural coffee, 10% of which is 85+.

Passion for Coffee Sparks in Hospital

He wasted no time in immersing himself into the world of coffee – but he had some lessons to learn first. “While in hospital, I went to the coffee shop and I bought all the equipment you need to brew. And in hospital, for the first time, I brewed coffee. But that coffee was so bad! It was a really fine grind, like for espresso. But I didn’t know why my coffee wasn’t good.”

His hospital coffee wasn’t just a funny story, however. It was also what sparked his curiosity about what made coffee good – and that turned into a passion and, eventually, a career.

“When I got sick, I thought, ‘I have to live for my favourite things… not live to work, but work to live!’” he told me. “So I quit being an IT Consultant and I dived into coffee. And three years ago, Coffee Factory, the café I work for, advertised for a new employee. I applied.”

I wondered what it was like, having his life change so dramatically and so suddenly. He laughed, and told me the biggest surprise was earning so little in wages. “Consultants earn so much money,” he told me. “But money is not so important for me. Joy is most important.”

Tetsu brews with a Kalita at Fazenda Primavera

Tetsu makes coffee for Governor Fernando Pimental of Minas Gerais on Fazenda Primavera.

The Brewers Cup: A Way to Reach People

Although Tetsu is quick to laugh, he’s also passionate about coffee. This is evident when he starts talking about the Brewers Cup. I ask him why he competed, and he says, “One reason is I just love to brew coffee. And the reason why I want to be a Champion is I want people to know about coffee. People don’t know about coffee precisely. People only know the coffee that comes in the cup. But behind that cup of coffee there are many people and…” He trailed off.

“You’re like an ambassador for coffee to them,” I suggested.

He agreed, before explaining why he chose to compete in the Brewers Cup rather than the Barista Championship: “Brew coffee is nearer to people. Espresso is so professional. But brewing is easy. It’s easy to start it at home. I want customers to start to brew coffee at home.”

SEE ALSO: 5 Winning World Brewers Cup Performances

Preparing for the Brewers Cup

It was difficult for him to choose which coffee to compete with, but in the end he chose a natural Panama Geisha called Sylvia from Ninety Plus. “The reason I chose Ninety Plus Coffee was Joseph, the owner,” he said. “He’s really passionate. I was so impressed by him. He has real passion and he has love for coffee and workers, pickers. Joseph is really great. I respect him. So I chose Ninety Plus coffee not only because of the quality but also his passion.”

I asked him about his brewing technique.

“Mm, it was really difficult,” he said. “I created the four six method. I created it after so many times of extraction. Every time I would extract coffee and write down the result of the cup. I would extract coffee, and first pour and then move the dripper along, and then a second, third, fourth, fifth time.” He mimes moving the dripper along over different cups. “Every coffee, I tasted it. And I found that after 40%, the rest doesn’t have a clear taste.”

I told him he took coffee seriously; he told me he likes studying. “I think coffee is like science,” he adds.

Tetsu Kasuya competing in the World Brewers Cup final.

Tetsu Kasuya in the World Brewers Cup final. Credit: Dennis Hicks for World Coffee Events

Appreciating Coffee’s Complexity

He struggles to explain his love for coffee. After thinking, he says, “There are so many reasons. One is that it’s difficult to make coffee. That’s the most important reason for me.”

At first, I didn’t get it. “It’s difficult? So like it’s satisfying when you make it well because it’s difficult?”

He screws up his mouth in a no-not-at-all expression, before saying, “Maybe if brewing coffee was easy, I wouldn’t appreciate it. Even now, after becoming the World Brewers Cup Champion, I think it’s difficult to brew coffee. So I’m not satisfied. I will keep trying and trying.”

But that’s not the only reason he loves coffee. “There are so many people involved in coffee. The farmer, pickers, exporters, importers, and roasters, of course baristas. And consumers. It’s really interesting. And coffee unites people.”

Tetsu Kasuya, the other coffee champions, and members of Ally Coffee in front of Pedra Azul

People united in coffee: the Ally Coffee Champions Origin Trip 2016 group.

The Underestimated Aftertaste of a Coffee

Yet it’s not just the complexity of the industry that Tetsu loves; it’s also the complexity of the taste. I ask about his favourite cup profile. He says, “Clean like water and sweet like fruit, with the right acidity, and an aftertaste that is so long. I think aftertaste is very important. Like a person.”

He’s silent. Intrigued, I say, “Like when you say goodbye to a friend, but you’re still happy and smiling?”

“Yes, and then you think, I want to see them again! That’s the same as coffee. You drink coffee and think, oh, I want more.” He mimes taking another sip. “That’s the aftertaste.”

The Importance of Visiting Origin

His love for coffee was only cemented by visiting origin. He tells me that he thinks it’s important for baristas. “It’s important to know about how hard the workers’ job is. If I didn’t know, maybe I couldn’t brew coffee well.”

“We have to respect the farmers and pickers. Two or three years ago, I went to Honduras and Guatemala. That was a turning point for me. From then, I really respect the farmers.”

I thought back to him brewing for local producers, in Espírito Santo, in Caparaó, and on Fazenda Primavera. He tells me, “It was really an honour.”

Tetsu makes coffee at Fazenda Ninho da Águia.

Tetsu makes coffee for producers and the other coffee Champions at Fazenda Ninho da Águia.

Rethinking Brazil

It wasn’t the only experience that made an impression on Tetsu this week. He tells me, “Brazil is really great country and has nicer coffees than I expected! In Japan, for Japanese people, Brazilian coffee isn’t specialty. It’s very common. So I want to tell Japanese people that Brazilian coffee is mmm, Brazilian coffee is really nice coffee. I told my boss, Brazilian coffee is very nice, I want to buy it.”

“Every farm I loved.” He pauses for a second, before continuing. “I like Fazenda Tres Barras. It’s very small, but they work so hard. And for me, I thought every Brazilian farm was very large, but that farm is so small. I was shocked. But maybe that coffee is really great coffee.”

I thought back to the farm. The producer, Sandrinho, and his mother work together to produce only 30-50 bags of coffee a year – but it’s completely organic, shade-dried, late harvest coffee. The cherries lie on the raised beds for 15-20 days, covered only at night. The last coffee they produced had a cupping score of 88. I nodded. I too was impressed.

“And the people!” Tetsu continues. “The people are so nice. Yes, I love them! They’re always funny, and they never stop talking!” He laughs. “They are very nice.”

Tetsu picking out green cherries on Sandrinho’s farm, Tres Barras.

Tetsu picking out green cherries on Sandrinho’s farm, Tres Barras.

Japan’s Tea Culture: Lessons for Coffee?

I move the conversation on to a very different coffee culture: Japan’s. Tetsu tells me, “The market is widening quickly. It’s growing. But the roasters, they roast coffee a little too dark. So I’m planning to hold a seminar to tell them that.”

Coffee isn’t the only drink that Japanese people love. Tetsu says, “I respect people involved in green tea because they are really familiar with water. Water is so important for green tea so, before the World Brewers Cup, I studied about water.”

I tell him that I think the ritual of coffee, and the ritual of the Japanese tea ceremony, have a lot in common. He nods. Then I ask if he thinks Japanese people will have as much respect for coffee as they do for tea in the future.

“I hope so,” he said. “And that is my job – my work.”

“They don’t understand now. But Japanese can understand. They are persistent! In the future, I hope coffee will be normal, not special. It’s now maybe special for Japanese to drink coffee in café. In America or other places, it’s not special. I hope for Japanese it will become normal. A way of life.”

Tetsu, Todd Goldsworthy, and James Tooill use a Kalita to brew coffee on Matilde farm

Tetsu with USBrC Champion Todd Goldsworthy (left) and US Runner-Up James Tooill (right) on Matilde Farm, Minas Gerais.

A Hunger to Improve

Tetsu is driven; he has so many ambitions and goals. For that reason, he admires the other Champions we were travelling with. He told me, “I think they also aren’t satisfied with themselves. They keep learning about coffee. I was impressed by them. I learned from them about their attitudes for coffees. And I hope they learned from me!”

I ask about his next steps, and whether he will compete next year. He tells me that he will, but in the 2017 Barista Championship. It was something that he only decided on during the trip.

But his goals don’t end there. “I want to be a coffee master,” he says. “Not just one time, but keep being one… The coffee scene is changing every year, and so maybe next year my method is not popular. The method changes also. So I’ll keep trying.”

Tetsu Kasuya pulling espresso shots on a Black Eagle

World Barista Champion 2017? Tetsu pulls espressos for producers in Espírito Santo.

Watch Tetsu’s winning performance here:

Written by T. Newton, with thanks to Tetsu Kasuya, Ally Coffee, and the producers who hosted us in Espírito Santo, Caparaó, and around Fazenda Primavera.

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