All photos c/o Julien Langevin. Second photo by: Taylor Gonzales. Third photo by: Matthew Temple
In April, Julien Langevin won the U.S. Cup Tasters Championships in Boston—a timed competition that tests your sensory skills by discerning taste differences in a triangulation. This month, Portland, Maine-based Langevin will be flying to Milan to represent the U.S. at the World Coffee Championships.
We're excited to catch up with Langevin before he heads to Milan, as he shares with us what he has learned through competition, things about cupping coffee that might surprise people, and how his most recent work in roasting and production has changed his perspective on coffee.
Brewista: Tell us about your most memorable moments in your coffee journey, and what ignited your love of coffee.
Langevin: I’ve had a lot of memorable moments throughout my coffee career. I’ve made a lot of friends through working in coffee that have stayed with me for years, some of the most memorable moments would be meeting those people.
I remember serving my first manual shot of espresso and that didn’t go very well. I didn’t align the portafilter correctly so the water spewed over the top, and I think I served it anyway— I didn’t know any better. Steaming milk was the first thing that caught my interest I think, as well as barflow and teamwork, and talking to customers who were interested in trying new beverages and coffees. All of these things contributed to my continuation in the industry, as well as developing a very valuable skillset as a barista, a coffee worker, and a person beyond that. Tasting is now my passion, and the science and social impact of coffee is what keeps me engaged these days.
You currently work at Coffee By Design in production, and are learning how to roast. Has that experience changed your perspective on coffee?
Roasting and working production has completely changed the way I look at our industry. Being a part of the chain that is not necessarily visible to the consumer has been interesting. A lot of people think I mean I’m a barista when I say I work in coffee, just because I don’t think many people know how many hands our supply chain involves.
I’m a nerd when it comes to coffee and am constantly trying to learn more. Roasting has become kind of a gateway to the knowledge and research of the science of coffee, and has helped me with tasting exponentially. Being able to taste differences in roast profiles, and learning that roast development has a huge impact on flavor and mouthfeel blows my mind every day.
What do you love most about your work?
I love showing up to work knowing that I have an opportunity to learn something new every day. I love being able to engage with other coffee professionals nationally and internationally to get to know these little beans, the people who are involved with them, and their journey through the world. Coffee is an extremely important part of so many people's lives, and I’m incredibly grateful to be part of the chain that makes this possible. It is humbling and I feel honored every time I get to get on a roaster or teach someone something about coffee. I love that I’ll never know everything about coffee, it will always challenge me, and it will always surprise me.
You won the 2022 U.S. Cup Tasters Championship and are now preparing for the World Championship in Milan - congratulations! What are some of the biggest lessons you learned, personally or professionally, while competing in the U.S. Cup Tasters Championship?
Thank you! I definitely learned that I am capable of a lot more than I thought I was. I really was not expecting to actually win the competition. Moving on to each round gave me a lot of confidence, even just qualifying two years ago did.
Professionally, I learned that having a palate for coffee is something anyone can develop given the resources and education. Oftentimes even without these things, how you use your palate is entirely up to you. It opened my mind to what aspects of our industry put people into categories of achievement or how our positions define us, and how those achievements are viewed and utilized. I hope to push the message that you don’t have to have a job in quality control or something like it where you are tasting coffee analytically every day to win a tasting competition. I think I found it more so about tasting intentionally.
Personally, I learned that just because I have a mental disability does not mean I can’t ground myself long enough to achieve what I want. I’ve struggled with anxiety and mood fluctuations all of my life, but it was cool to see it go away for those moments on stage, long enough to do what I had to do to win it.
Are there aspects of cupping coffee that might surprise people, or that people don’t know about?
I think a lot of people think that there’s a specific formula to tasting and cupping, and even slurping. While there are helpful standards set by the SCA and Coffee Quality Institute, these standards are more set for the consistent evaluation of coffee to my limited knowledge, which is an objective process meant to ensure consistency in scoring.
Something I have learned that has really helped me is that tasting flavor is almost completely subjective. Every person has their own internal sensory lexicon, which can be accessed through learning how to separate what you think you’re supposed to taste versus what actual sensory experience is happening in your mouth. I think people find cupping really intimidating because there is a stigma and ego associated with it, but in actuality it can be one of the most fun experiences a lot of people have in coffee. I think ultimately and sometimes unfortunately it has to do a lot with how you are introduced to it, which varies from context to context.
If you had a magic wand and could make one change about the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
If such a thing existed, I would make it so that producers see much more money for their product than they do currently. Most of the work happens at origin, which is not something many everyday coffee consumers (barring potentially those who work in coffee professionally) recognize or understand currently, I think. I would not have had an opportunity for a career in this industry if it were not for those producing the product that I get to enjoy every day, and that also puts food on my table. As coffee professionals and consumers, we owe so much to coffee producers all over the world. If there was such an easy fix— although there is a lot that could change in our industry— I think that’s what I would choose to affect first.
What does your morning coffee ritual look like?
I get up around 5:00 AM or so every day. I then go downstairs and get my cat, Chef, his breakfast from the fridge. Then I go back to my room and make my coffee while he eats his breakfast, as he won’t eat if I’m not in the room with him. I have a little setup and make a 9.6 oz pour over coffee to start my day. Usually I’ll eat a light breakfast while I make my coffee. Sometimes if I’m feeling like it, I will bring my pour over to the beach with me on my morning walk.
What music do you listen to while you work to get hyped or to help you focus? Do you have a playlist you would like to share with our community?
I listen to a conglomeration of genres ranging from rap to glitchcore. I also listen to a lot of pop punk, and other things. I have a playlist on Spotify called “songs for writing poetry (the gay ones)” which I feel is the most accessible of the weird and sometimes jarring playlists I make for myself. Anyone is welcome to listen to that one!
Our readers are really serious about coffee. For aspiring coffee pros, what is one single advice you would like to give them as they navigate the coffee industry?
Don’t ever give up. Even if you feel stagnant, this industry is so massive. There is definitely a place for you in it. If there’s an aspect of the industry you’re passionate about or see yourself in, pursue it. Even if you don’t get there in the timeline you want, always have it in the back of your mind. That’s what’s helped me the most.You can follow Julien's journey on Instagram at @julientheperson.