The Maine-based roaster will move on to the World Cup Tasters Championship in Milan this summer.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Matthew Temple
More than two years ago, Julien Langevin (he/him) lost his shot at the national stage. The coffee veteran had just taken part in his first coffee competition, the 2020 Nashville qualifier, and had qualified for the U.S. Cup Tasters Championship scheduled for April 2020. Then COVID took over, and the competition was off. The pandemic hit Julien hard, as it did many coffee professionals, and he left the industry.
Last fall, he re-entered the coffee world with a production and roasting job at Portland, Maine-based Coffee By Design (CBD). The team there rekindled his coffee love, and with their support, he finally made it to the stage at the 2022 U.S. Cup Tasters Championship in Boston. The rest is history: Julien won the competition, advancing to the 2022 World Cup Tasters Championship, taking place June 23-25 at the World of Coffee in Milan.
We talked to Julien about his early days in specialty coffee and overcoming internal pressure in the competition.
Note: This interview has been condensed for brevity.
Chris Ryan: Can you please describe a bit about how you started working in specialty coffee?
Julien Langevin: I needed to pay for my first apartment at 18, so I got a job at a local Starbucks and worked there for about three or four months over the summer after my freshman year of college. Starbucks had a Reserve line and I never really knew what it meant—just that they were really expensive coffees—and I guess that was my first thought about speciality in relation to non-specialty …
After Starbucks I worked in various shops as a barista around Portland (Maine) at various levels of “speciality” or third-wave association, on and off up until fall of 2020 …
I then left coffee for a year due to COVID and the stress of serving the public during this time. I was out as nonbinary and then came out as a trans man in spring 2019, beginning hormones and using he/him pronouns. Transitioning so publicly at a busy shop was really hard for me mentally; this coupled with COVID stress just pushed me out of the industry. I had been set up to work in quality control at the company I was with and started training for my Q Graders certification up until lockdown. When the city shut down, that plan kind of fell apart. I was put back in a barista position after being unemployed for about two months, and shortly after that I made the difficult decision to leave the coffee industry.
How did you find your way back to coffee, and working with Coffee By Design?
I did electrical work for a little over a year, then I eventually found my way back to coffee at Coffee By Design. I’ve only been there since the end of November 2021. When I interviewed I was offered a production role with the opportunity to move to roasting potentially. I did only production for about two months but got to cup once every week or so with our director of coffee and Q Grader, Jeremy Rävar, and head roaster, Travis Spear. They both knew I had interest and experience with cupping and I was grateful to be able to nerd out with them, even if the experiences were far between sometimes.
Travis then showed me how to use our sample roaster around mid-January of this year. I guess you could say that’s when I started roasting …
On to Cup Tasters: You competed at the 2020 qualifier in Nashville, qualified for nationals, and would have competed at the 2020 U.S. Cup Tasters if it wasn’t canceled due to COVID. How did you prepare for Cup Tasters this time, and how did you feel during the comp itself?
To prepare for competition I ate a bland diet and did eight sets of triangulations before work every day, increasing difficulty every morning.
I felt really good the whole weekend of the Boston competition. I didn’t really feel nervous or much pressure at all, plus I got to see a lot of old friends and make new ones as well. I didn’t really intentionally use much strategy and made it a point not to watch many of the other heats. I just went up there and did my best and felt OK with where I was every time I moved on. I guess that worked to my favor.
Finally … you won! How has it felt for you as that has sunk in? And what are your initial thoughts about representing the U.S. at World Cup Tasters in Milan?
Honestly it was unbelievable at first, literally and truly. I remember in the hours before (Cup Tasters) finals that Sunday I sat alone in one of the skywalks of the convention center, looking across the competition floor. I think in that moment when I was in first place going into finals I realized I might actually win it. I did not really consider how I felt about it, just that it could happen to me. Subsequently it did actually happen, and that blew my mind.
The following week was really difficult, honestly. I have bipolar disorder, and so stress, even positive stress, has a very specific chemical effect on my brain that can be difficult to navigate. I didn’t get much sleep that week and still had to go back to work in production that Monday afterward. There were nights I was so tired I could not talk and days I could barely move. I think I’m starting to feel normal again now and learning how to navigate it.
I feel ready for Milan in the way I still feel as though I don’t really have much to lose. I’m just going to over-prepare like I did for the U.S. Cup Tasters Championship and do my best when I get up there. Luckily I have a solid team behind me at Coffee By Design who are going to help me get there, so I don’t have to feel like I’m going through it alone. I’m looking forward to trying it out on the world stage and will feel proud of myself for getting there no matter what happens.