We talk to Zach Perkins, winner of two September coffee competitions: the 2017 U.S. AeroPress Championship and the Brewers Cup regional event in Portland, Ore.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Jen Downer
Just two years ago, Zach Perkins was a home coffee enthusiast with a deep love of the beverage but no professional experience. Flash forward to the present, and Zach is a decorated coffee competitor: Last month he took home the top prize at the U.S. AeroPress Championship, and days later he finished first at the U.S. CoffeeChamps Brewers Cup qualifying event in Portland. Amid this whirlwind competition success, Zach also embarked on a job change: Though he represented Water Avenue Coffee in Portland at the two competitions, he’s now working with Portland’s Roseline Coffee. We talked to Zach about how he got interested in coffee, his approach to competitions, and his interests outside of coffee.
Chris Ryan: What drew you to coffee? What made you geek out about it before you started working in it professionally?
Zach Perkins: It was about 2009; I was working in San Francisco and Blue Bottle was the rage. I had the luxury of working within a block of one of their locations so I was a frequent visitor. After a few months of visiting their café multiple times a day, I decided to give my bank account a break and figure out how to do a proper pourover at home. Once I started brewing at home, I was hooked and wanted to learn more about all of the variables that play a part in creating the “perfect cup.” From there I quickly started acquiring all of the brew methods and trying coffees from a ton of different roasters from all over the world. Once I felt like I could brew that proper cup, I quickly started looking for opportunities to brew my newfound recipe for my wife, friends, and co-workers. I loved the amount of happiness that such a simple cup of good coffee could bring someone, including myself. I was hooked on coffee, and sharing that experience with everyone that would let me.
CR: What was your recipe and approach for the AeroPress competition, and why do you think it helped you succeed in the competition?
ZP: I’m keeping my recipe to myself for now—I’m going to be using it in South Korea in a few months and plan to continue to use something very similar for future competitions. I really like concentrated beverages, so my recipe was based on that. This allowed me to utilize a bypass to really create a nice and balanced cup while maintaining the complexity typically found in an African coffee. I believe that only messing with the grind size and the amount of water used for the bypass within a concentrated recipe really allowed me to hone in on a great recipe.
The beauty about the new Brewers Cup format is that we had the luxury of all using the same coffee, and had three options to choose from. Since I just came off of the AeroPress competition, I didn’t have a lot of time to focus on a routine/presentation, so I planned on continuing to use the AeroPress as my brew method. Out of the three coffees I had to choose from, I picked a Rwandan because I really thought I could create an incredibly balanced cup while highlighting the fruit/tea-like notes that the coffee had. Just like my AeroPress competition recipe, I altered grind size and the amount used in the bypass. I thought the cup tasted great, so I was excited to share it with the judges.
CR: What’s worthwhile for you about taking part in coffee competitions?
ZP: I participate in these competitions because it allows me to be more embedded in the coffee community. Prior to coffee, I was a design executive working in high-tech, and the high-tech community sucked. Everyone was always about trying to shine brighter than everyone else, and in the end it was one big showdown. Within the coffee community, all of the events are an opportunity to hang out with your colleagues, friends, etc., and there’s zero judgments. Everyone is there for one reason: to have a great time … and probably to make some sort of beverage.
CR: Finally, what do you enjoy doing outside of coffee?
ZP: I’m a dad, and I love it! My wife and I have two beautiful girls, so I really enjoy my “family time.” We spend a lot of time outside hiking with our dogs, camping, and road tripping to various places that have some form of water (river, lake, ocean, etc.). I also love woodworking! One of my more recent projects was building a tabletop from recycled green bean pallets (see above photo) for a small little coffee pop-up that my wife and I have called Transplant Coffee in West Linn, Ore. In any remaining time after all of that, I follow Supercross and motocross racing and participate in a bit of trail riding on my dirt bike.