Introducing U.S. AeroPress Champ Hugo Cano

The latest U.S. AeroPress Championship brought a longtime competitor to the stage; we chat with him about his winning recipe and coffee background.


Photos courtesy of Joshua Clements

After a round of pauses, cancellations, and rescheduled events, the World AeroPress Championship is back this year, with national competitors continuing to pursue glory until the 2022 Melbourne final. This past month, with help from a round of sponsors like Barista Magazine, Fellow, and Third Wave Water, Tinker Coffee welcomed U.S.-based competitors to face off in some friendly and spirited pressing—in classic AeroPress party format.

Using an extended fermentation washed Ethiopian coffee roasted by Tinker, competitors had to get creative to work with only 240 grams of water as the challenge restriction on recipes. For winner Hugo Cano, it was exciting, and already his favorite volume of coffee to drink anyway.

From left: Competitors Austin Bowers, Hugo Cano, and Kyle Sweetland playing around before the competition.

After living in between California and Mexico for several years, Hugo found himself in Indianapolis eventually, where he opened Amberson Coffee & Grocer for the community in the middle of the pandemic: May 2020. Little did he know when he moved that he would eventually become the AeroPress champ of the Midwest! We spoke with Hugo about preparing for the competition, his journey with AeroPress, and his winning recipe for you to try here.

This interview has been condensed for brevity.

Katrina Yentch: I’d love to hear about your experience with the AeroPress. How did you prepare for the competition?

Hugo Cano: So I have actually been in the U.S. Barista Champs before, five times actually. The last two years I made it to nationals, but all of this prep started with me trying to get SCA-certified as a barista, and that’s where it all started, because they go over all the brewing methods—the biggest ones at least at that time back in 2015. 

We played around with the AeroPress a bit and I never gave it much thought. Fast forward to when we opened at Amberson. We don’t do any drip coffee, we only do pourovers. My idea was that we go through every brewing method, so we started with Chemex just so we could keep learning about coffee. I wanted to try out a lot of different brewers and learn what I like the most, and learn (how) we could dial in coffees according to the brewer. Of all the baristas there, Luke [Speers] is a very big home brewer and AeroPress fan. He said why don’t we do AeroPress at the shop?

In December of last year we started AeroPress Sundays. Our way of thinking about AeroPress is that with more acidic coffees you can get more of that in the cup and have it be clean and interesting. We do a lot of naturals, carbonic macerations on the AeroPress. People want to try something different and unique; they can do that on Sundays. 

About a month and a half ago we knew that the championships were going to be in Indy, so we started offering AeroPress every day, trying new coffees, seeing what we liked the most from the previous year. During all this time we kept learning how to use the AeroPress, how can we make coffee shine more? We started noticing all the little different things you could do with the AeroPress, so that helps quite a bit. Me and Luke signed up and we just showed up, competed, and had a lot of fun. I’m still fairly new to brewing it but it’s definitely become my favorite brewer ever. There’s a lot of versatility with it.

On the note of versatility, what kind of variables were you working with and changing?

Definitely temperature is a big thing, like with most pourovers, but something that was very noticeable was that higher temperatures highlight the acidity and lower emphasizes sweetness. We found it pretty fascinating that the amount of swirling or using the inverted method, if you go over one or two swirls, will show quite a bit in a cup. We also TDS our brews, and it would result in over-extracted coffee.

How did it feel to return to competition but with a COVID kind of format? What kind of things were going on at the competition that may have affected how it all happened?

One thing I did notice, compared to other competitions like USBC, is that it’s way more laid back. You just show up, hang out, and make coffee, and that was it. 

Another thing that I think impacted the competition was just wearing masks and social distancing. It was cool to be in the community but keep precautions. Everyone had their own little area to practice beforehand, but I know in Brewers Cup, usually they’re side-by-side practicing.

The other thing I do know that changed a lot this year was traveling. I think that a lot of people didn’t travel just because they were uneasy with it or didn’t feel they’d be safe. So there were not a lot of people coming from around the country. There were a couple from New York, a couple from Virginia, the rest of it was from around the Midwest. I think that definitely had an influence on it. This was my first time at an AeroPress competition, but based on my previous experiences it seems like there would be more people from around the country.

Hugo served AeroPress coffee every day at his café leading up to the competition.

What kind of coffee was used at the competition?

It was an extended fermentation washed Ethiopia Sidamo roasted by Tinker Coffee. Personally I think it’s one of Tinker’s best coffees they’ve put out this year. It was very juicy, floral; we got a lot of mango notes and guava and sweetness. It’s easier to brew coffee that’s really good.

What was the most fun part about competing this year, and to have won?

For me always the best aspect about these competitions is the community part of it, just getting to make lots of connections you wouldn’t have. I like AeroPress too because there’s a lot of home brewers who don’t necessarily work in coffee and you get to meet all these people who have a really keen interest in coffee and a lot of knowledge although they’ve never been in coffee. That’s really cool to see. 

Also for people who come from out of state or out of the country. Our community is just so big, so it’s hard to get to know everyone but you can kind of do that at competitions and events. There’s also a huge social aspect when it comes to coffee, so participating in these kinds of events brings that into fruition, and that’s the most special part.

Honestly I just love being able to make coffee, people like it. I’m still kind of in awe because I wasn’t expecting to get past the first round at all. I was just there to build community and have some fun, and I had a lot of fun! But I still see the trophy and I’m like, whoa! It’s kind of crazy that it’s still there.

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.