The NZSCA reflects on Pat Russell’s path to championship glory and a newfound title after a long-awaited coffee career that proves nothing is too late, and anything is possible.
Pat Russell is a believer that success in the Cup Tasters competition, “starts with a little bit of talent and finishes with lots and lots of cupping”.
In preparation for the 2023 New Zealand Cup Tasters Championship on 6 August in Auckland, Pat’s regiment involved frequent and structured coffee cupping sessions, utilising the Specialty Coffee Association evaluation method. This methodical approach involved regular practice and a systematic approach in assisting Pat in his day job, and for the competition. Scoring 8/8 cups correctly in a time of 2.06 minutes, Pat narrowly beat 2023 and 2022 Runner-Up Han Jong Lee of Meebz Coffee Roasters by 10 seconds.
Pat’s journey into the world of coffee began in 1996 when he took up a part-time barista role at The Second Cup Coffee Co in Canada. Little did he know, this humble beginning would evolve into an almost two-decade affiliation with the company. Over the years, Pat’s responsibilities have expanded from crafting espressos and brewing copious amounts of filter coffee to overseeing cafés, regional operations, franchise training, beverage innovation, and spearheading a green coffee program. After his tenure with Second Cup, Pat assumed the role of Director of Coffee at Reunion Coffee Roasters.
Pat’s foray into coffee competitions began in 2011 when he made his debut in the Canadian Cup Tasters Championship. Pat emerged victorious and resplendent in lilac and a tie. This triumph fostered a significant connection with Stu Hargie, the 2011 New Zealand Cup Tasters Champion, and led to Pat’s eventual immersion in New Zealand’s coffee scene. Pat’s big move to Aotearoa kicked off at JDE Peet’s in Auckland. After five years there, Pat now works for coffee trader Sucafina NZ, facilitating the introduction of exceptional coffees from around the world to New Zealand’s roasting community.
As Pat gears up to represent New Zealand at the 2024 World Cup Tasters Championship in Chicago from 12 – 14 April 2024, I asked him about previous visits. He says Chicago’s dynamic ambiance combined with its sports events and deep- dish pizza left an enduring impression. But what Pat anticipates most, is “the chance to reconnect with friends and colleagues from the Canadian and American coffee community, and from further a field, after a hiatus of six years”.
Within the coffee sphere, Pat reserves his admiration for the innovators.
“I admire the individuals who challenge norms and revolutionise the industry. Be it at coffee origins, equipment manufacturing, or coffeehouses, these trailblazers redefine the essence of coffee,” he says.
For aspiring championship participants, Pat urges newbies to enjoy the experience and use the event to challenge themselves, and to forge connections within the broader coffee network.
Additionally, he encourages contenders to contribute to the industry by volunteering for coffee-related events and competitions, as the dedication of volunteers truly shapes the vibrant coffee community. This is an action the NZSCA wholeheartedly supports.
Pat extends his heartfelt gratitude to his whanau, Robyn and Megan, for their steadfast support, along with the enthusiastic and engaged NZ coffee community, sponsors and supporters, many of whom will be in Chicago next year.
For more information on the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association, or to join, visit www.nzsca.org
This article appears in the October 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.