We talk to the new U.S. AeroPress champ, Towa Ikawa of Kona Coffee Purveyors, about approaching competition, representing Hawaii, and more.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Featured photo by Evan Gilman
Towa Ikawa doesn’t love speaking in front of crowds. While coffee competitions typically require competitors to address the judges, some—such as the AeroPress Championship—do not. Towa, who works as a retail manager at Kona Coffee Purveyors in Waikiki, Hawaii, discovered the AeroPress Championship two years ago, and immediately took to it.
After competing in the first two Honolulu AeroPress Championships and finishing in second and third, Towa broke through this year to win the regional competition, then followed it up 10 days later by winning the U.S. AeroPress Championship. Towa will now represent the country at the World AeroPress Championship, taking place in London in November. We talked to the new champ about discovering the AeroPress, how the recent winning streak felt, and much more.
Chris Ryan: How did you come to work in the specialty-coffee world, and what do you do in it now?
Towa Ikawa: I am originally from Japan. I moved to Hawaii almost three years ago, and then fortunately I got a chance to work for a specialty-coffee shop for the first time in my life. I always loved coffee; I went to visit many specialty-coffee shops in Tokyo before I moved to Hawaii.
Currently I am working for Kona Coffee Purveyors, located on the first floor of the International Market Place in Waikiki. I’ve been here over a year and my role is retail manager; I’m introducing our beautiful 100% Kona coffee to guests from all over the world.
How did you start competing in the AeroPress Championship, and what appeals to you about it?
I competed in the Honolulu AeroPress Championship in 2017—it was our very first AeroPress Championship in Hawaii. I had just started my coffee career two months before that competition. The organizer, Patrick (who currently works for Olympia Coffee in Tacoma), came to the coffee shop I worked for at the time as a trainer. He told me about the AeroPress and encouraged me to compete; it seemed like he was having a hard time finding people to compete, so I just wanted to help him out by participating. I practiced AeroPress for less than two weeks and won third place!
This experience really got me into the AeroPress. The more I pressed, the more I learned. There are thousands of recipes we can make for AeroPress. It’s fun! The good thing about the AeroPress Championship for me is I don’t need to talk—I just make a cup of coffee and serve it. Judges only judge coffee by cupping; it’s simple, and I like that.
Have you done other competitions as well?
I have taken part in the Hawaii Brewers Cup the last two years—2018 was our very first Brewers Cup in Hawaii. I didn’t do great because I had to talk! (laughs). But according to the judges I brewed a great cup of coffee by AeroPress at Brewers Cup last year, even though I didn’t win. It encouraged me to compete again. This year I did perform better; however, I was just not good enough.
The Honolulu AeroPress competition was just before the national competition in Oakland. That must have been a whirlwind for you … can you describe the experience of winning the regional and then suddenly having to go to nationals?
Yes, it was 10 days before. I was so excited to win the regional, and then Juli, the organizer from Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, told me the national championship would be in 10 days! My shift schedule for a coming week was already set, so I had to request my days off from work right away and also find people to cover my shifts. I didn’t have much time to savor my winning (laughs).
What was the experience like for you at nationals? What was your mindset heading into Oakland, and how did it go for you?
Since the Honolulu competition was so close to nationals, I couldn’t bring anyone with me. I flew out to Oakland alone. I was very nervous. I was communicating with Jessica (Caisse) from Fellow Products beforehand. She sent the information about the competition beans on email and gave us time slots for our practice time if we wanted to practice. I took advantage of the practice time just to find out which grind size I should go with and which filter I should use. I brewed coffee three times during the practice time and it really helped me out.
Can you tell us a bit about your recipe?
I use the inverted method, which most of the competitors do. I have looked up all the championship recipes online, learned a lot of brewing methods, and got some ideas. I am here thanks to the previous world and regional champions. I really liked the recipe I used at last year’s Honolulu AeroPress Championship, though I didn’t win first last year. I basically used that recipe with some adjustments.
Finally, how did it feel for you to win?! And what’s your mindset as you prepare to represent the U.S. in London?
Winning the U.S. AeroPress Championship was a lot to take. It was beyond my expectation. I’m sure my jaw was dropping. Of course I wanted to win, but I wasn’t sure I could because I was competing with the regional champions. After the competition judges gave me a compliment about the coffee I brewed. I was so happy to know that I made a great cup of coffee and had made it this far!
Now I am going to London to compete! Winning the U.S. AeroPress Championship means a lot to Hawaii as well. I feel more responsible to represent Hawaii than the U.S. since Hawaii is the place to grow coffee on the islands in the United States. I would get more opportunities to speak out for Hawaiian coffee if I win the World AeroPress Championship. It will be a big deal. I will study more, try out new recipes as much as I can, and find a solid recipe beyond the current U.S. champion’s recipe.