A Chat With World Cup Tasters Champ Kyoungha Charlie Chu

The Korean coffee pro speaks about the love of competition and his experience tasting this year’s coffees.


Photos courtesy of World Coffee Events

When making a career change to coffee, many aspiring professionals instinctively check out their local café to see if there are any openings. For World Cup Tasters Champ Kyoungha Charlie Chu, however, his transition to coffee would be a full commitment—one that required traveling to an entirely different continent to do so.

Several years ago, Charlie served as a professional soldier while studying security service at university for four and a half years in South Korea. He fully immersed himself in the world of coffee by moving to the coffee capital of Melbourne, Australia, to do this.

As the newly crowned World Cup Tasters Champ, Charlie spoke to us about his journey from starting as a coffee novice to eventually becoming a coffee sensory mastermind, who currently offers special classes for others to also hone in on their tasting skills.

Kyoungha is the winner of this year’s World Cup Tasters Championship.

Katrina Yentch: Most of your experience is with Cup Tasters. What attracted you to this competition and what do you like most about it?

Kyoungha Chu: I’ve worked as barista for the last six years. When It had been over two years, I gradually started feeling (the need) to look at myself at the time as a barista, and I had realized that I needed to improve my sensory skills in the second half of 2018. 

While I was trying to look up methods for sensory training, I found that there is a Cup Tasters Championship in coffee competitions. Once I found that, I started looking it up, and eventually watched the Australian National Cup Tasters competition in person at MICE in February of 2019. It was the trigger to make my will stronger and more motivated to challenge for it.

(This is) because it was the most objective competition among all the competitions in my eyes, as there are only objective answers in the cups with no judgment or evaluation from other people. That was pretty attractive and intuitive to myself, who had no competition experience. 

There have been multiple rounds of quarantine and time away from competing. I hear that a lot of Cup Tasters competitors will cut out extra spicy or flavorful foods to prepare for competition, but what did you do to prepare and how far in advance given the circumstances?

I used to have a time for food dieting for the previous competitions in Australia. However, I didn’t have any food diet before and during the world competition because I knew that It would be difficult to keep it in Italy, which is overseas where I hadn’t been before. 

So, I just tried to avoid very strong or spicy foods at least before and during the competition period.  

Kyoungha Charlie Chu moved from South Korea to Melbourne to pursue coffee.

What was your first coffee job and what do you currently do?

My coffee career began in Melbourne, Australia. 

I went to Australia in April of 2016 to experience working as a barista first because I hadn’t have any experience in the coffee industry before going to Australia—except studying coffee itself for two and a half years in Korea. 

Literally, I went to Australia to work as a barista. 

Meanwhile, while I was working as barista, I also started teaching many students, from how to make coffee to how to taste coffee during the time that I was “growing up“ as a barista. 

I was working in the bar at ONA Melbourne until before the world competition this time. Currently, I’m back to South Korea, where I’m originally from, because the Australian border is closed at the moment, preparing for my next steps.  

What are some of the most challenging coffees you tasted during Cup Tasters?

There were some coffees very similar, and they didn’t have enough distinct characteristics as specialty coffee, such as Brazilian coffees, which could be commonly used for espresso blends. (Or some of them might’ve been Asian-origin coffees.)

Those were pretty challenging sets in every round that I spent a longer time with than other sets, with coffee having more distinct characteristics.  

What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning their journey to compete in Cup Tasters?

I would like to give advice in a wider perspective, not just regarding only Cup Tasters competitions. 

I’ve learned so many things during this world coffee event. 

Meeting many different kinds of people who work in different sections in the coffee industry, finding the stories such as how they work, what they do, what they want, and so on. Those things made me able to get wider perspectives on the coffee industry and coffee itself. 

Also, it was greatly impressive to be able to watch performances of other competitors, and I could feel how much effort they put on for the stage and what meaning it would be for them. Therefore, I can confidently say that taking part in any of the competitions could be very meaningful to anyone who wants to take it in the future, and it’s really worth it to try out. 

Outside of coffee, Charlie enjoys basketball and singing.

When you’re not competing, what are some hobbies you enjoy outside of coffee?

I have two obvious hobbies outside of coffee. One is basketball and the other is singing. I’ve played basketball since I was 16, and it contributes giving more energy to my life, and I’ve learned vocals for the last year. It’s pretty hard, but fun as well. 

I just want to try them as much as I can, and enjoy them more than before. Learning something I’m interested in is a very joyful thing for me. 

About Katrina Yentch 221 Articles
Katrina Yentch (she/her) is a freelance writer and Barista Magazine's Online Editor. When she's not writing, you can find her napping, cooking, and drinking whatever's on drip.