Karl Lee of KL Specialty Coffee Lab wins 2022 ASCA Northern Region Cup Tasters Championship

Karl Lee of KL Specialty Coffee Lab has won the 2022 Northern Region Cup Tasters Champion for the second time.

While speed and accuracy are normally the name of the Cup Taster’s game, this year, Karl took a slow and steady approach.

Upon learning of Minas Hill’s appointment as this year’s official Australian Green Bean partner for the competition, Karl strategically ordered as much Brazil coffee as he could and started tasting Brazilian coffees as part of his preparation.

“It was not an easy competition. Perhaps even harder than my last experience at nationals but I did my best considering I had hay fever and wasn’t in 100 per cent top condition on the day,” Karl says.

“I was prepared to taste only Brazilian origin coffees, but I found it really hard to decipher the differences. When I tasted the first set of coffees, I knew I was in trouble. I stuck to my plan to slow down, focus, and dig deep to figure out the differences in each coffee. I didn’t even think about time.

“Sometimes you can easily identify coffees by flavour, but the coffees were almost identical, so I had to allow them to cool a bit and come back to them for a second and third time. By that time, I could use other tools for assessment, not just flavour, such as tactile, acidity, and looking at body thickness.”

In the end, Karl took more than six minutes to correctly identify all eight out of eight triangulation sets of coffees correctly, proving on this occasion, accuracy was key.

Dihn Van placed second and Michael Pollock placed third, with most of the competitors scoring five out of eight cups correctly and below, but in quicker times.

“When the last cup was raised there was such electric energy in the room,” Karl says.

Karl Lee of KL Specialty Coffee Lab scored 8/8 in a time of more than six minutes.

Karl was the 2020 Northern Cup Tasters Champion, which saw him place fifth in the National Cup Tasters Championship. He is also an Australian Specialty Coffee Association Brewers Cup Judge.

When he competed at the 2020 competition, Karl juggled both judging and competing commitments, but says this year, he may take a different approach.

“I’m obsessed with all things sensory which is why I love judging so much, but I might have to focus on my national preparation to ensure I don’t tire my palate, which is what happened at my last national competition. Judging is so much fun but I tasted a lot of intense, rich coffees, which I think numbed my palate a little,” Karl says.

The other factor Karl is more aware of coming to Melbourne for the National Championships is the city’s cooler climate, which he says can impact his preparation and palate sensitivity coming from the warmer climate of Brisbane.

Karl became a Q Grader in 2019 before launching his own business, focused on consulting with local roasters, and educating Brisbane baristas on sensory, brewing and barista techniques.

“Brisbane has a really healthy coffee industry. It’s young, passionate, and energised,” Karl says. “I first lived in Sydney after coming from South Korea in 1996. I then moved to Brisbane in 2016 and I immediately thought it was a great city to develop a coffee mecca, and it really is. Everyone is so eager to learn. I think there’s a good chance Brisbane may become Australia’s next coffee destination.”

Karl celebrated his second Northern Region Cup Tasters win with a night in Brisbane enjoying flavoursome food and the sensory attributes of another love of his – wine.

The next regional competition will be the Central Region Coffee Championship, taking place from 21 to 22 May at Grinders in Leichhardt, New South Wales.

Read more comp news: Amy Zhang of Archer Specialty Coffee wins Northern Region Latte Art Championship

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