We get to know Demi Chacón, a barista at Foundation Coffee in Tampa, Fla., and a competitor at the U.S. Brewers Cup in February.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo (Demi at left) by Ashley Day
Editor’s note: The 2020 U.S. Coffee Championships season is in full swing. In the next several weeks, we’ll interview some of the competitors who have already qualified for the national competitions taking place in February and April about their coffee careers, their approach to competition, and much more. First up is U.S. Brewers Cup competitor Demi Chacón.
Demi Chacón stumbled into coffee competition largely by accident. Excited to show off her developing latte art skills in a throwdown, Demi signed up with her best friend, Michael Wood, to take part in The Barista League U.S. Tour in 2018. While the competition was more involved than she bargained for, she found instant success, with her team taking first place at the Greenville, S.C., stop (as seen in the cover photo). From there, Demi has embraced coffee competition, earning a spot at the 2019-20 Glitter Cat Brewers Bootcamp and qualifying for the U.S. Brewers Cup in February.
Chris Ryan: First, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Demi Chacón: My name is Demi—that’s not short for anything. I’m 23. I’m a Leo. My life has kind of always revolved around coffee. I’m Cuban, so coffee was a pretty big deal in my household growing up. One of my very first jobs was at Starbucks, my freshman year of college. I wanted to work there just because the baristas looked like they were having fun. I worked for Starbucks for about two and a half years. Working there was great because it allowed me to move and still keep a job. It was in my last year and a half of employment with them, in Tallahassee, that I discovered specialty coffee.
I started going to a local café, Paper Fox, to do homework. I decided I wanted to work there because the connections the baristas had with their customers seemed more genuine, and also I thought latte art was cool. In December 2017, I got a job at Paper Fox and I dove headfirst into the world of specialty coffee, making my way from bar back to assistant manager/lead barista relatively quickly. I was obsessive—soaking in all the knowledge I could get my hands on and sharing it with anyone that would listen. I actually just moved to Tampa in September of last year, where I’ve been living with family. I’ve been working as a barista at Foundation Coffee.
How and when did you get interested in competition?
I’ve always been a very competitive person, but I didn’t really realize it until I competed in The Barista League in 2018.
Here’s the story of that: I was five or six months into my job at Paper Fox when I signed up. I was just barely starting to get good at latte art—good enough that I was a little cocky; I wanted to compete in a throwdown really badly. Some friends of mine traveled to Gainesville for a throwdown and didn’t invite me. I found out about it after they came back and I got major FOMO. I announced that no matter what, I’d be at the next competition that happened. A short while later, a poster for The Barista League in Greenville appeared on my shop’s community announcement board (turns out my manager had put it up). I kept my word and signed up with my best friend, Michael. It was only after we had signed up that we realized the scale of what we had just done. There was no going back, though, and so we trained our butts off!
We drove from Tallahassee to Greenville with the intention of just having fun and maybe making some friends—not winning. We tried our best, obviously, but fully thought we were going to place last. Turns out we did pretty well and got first place, second place nationally!
When we came back from Greenville, a friend of mine asked me if that qualified us for “nationals.” I had no idea what he meant so I Googled it and found the world of competition. Doing well in The Barista League helped me realize that this was something I could actually pursue. At that time it was already too late to sign up for qualifiers, so I vowed that I’d sign up next year. Then for the next year, I watched a ton of Barista routines and jokingly said, “Hello, judges,” almost every time I served a drink or finished up a pourover.
Why did you decide to pursue Brewers Cup this year, and how did your Glitter Cat experience help prepare you for that?
Simple: I like brewed coffee A LOT more than espresso. My first café was a multi-roaster, so I always had access to a ton of great coffees. My love for coffee stemmed from making pourovers and sharing them with others. That being said, I was actually on the fence about competing in Barista or in Brewers Cup for the longest time, but when the time came to sign up for prelims, the answer was pretty obvious. (Side note: I don’t do dairy, so until alternative milks are allowed, I’ll probably never even consider Barista.) I competed in the Atlanta Brewers prelims and was less than a quarter of a point from placing in the top four. Sara Frinak showed me how close I was, and if it wasn’t for her doing that, I probably wouldn’t have decided to pursue qualifiers.
I signed up for Glitter Cat after prelims on the drive from Atlanta to Tallahassee. It’s really hard for me to find the words to describe my experience with Glitter Cat because it’s so much more than I could ever even imagine. The bootcamp was three days of intense, rigorous training from some of the most talented coffee professionals. I can’t even begin to tell you all the things that I learned that weekend. Glitter Cat offered a lot more than education, though. It’s a support system—a family. We all clicked instantly and I talk to my Glitter Cat fam almost everyday now. I went home after the bootcamp feeling so empowered and cared for. I think one of the most important things I got from it all was a sense of confidence. They really just want to see us all do well and succeed.
What was the experience like of actually competing, and how did it feel to advance to nationals?
Thanks to Glitter Cat it didn’t feel like something completely foreign. I was more nervous in the time leading up to qualifiers and so I didn’t practice as much as I should have. Despite that, once I was actually in Sumner I was only really nervous for my open service. Everything else was just fun. I called time and it was just me and my judges. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I’m honestly still processing what it means to advance to nationals. We all talk about the lack of representation on the competitive level, but I don’t think I fully realized just how much of a real issue it was until I walked into the prep room and looked around. I’m really, really proud of myself. It’s given me a huge confidence boost, that’s for sure. I didn’t think I’d place so I’m just stoked to be moving on.