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CQI Community Chat: Young Baek

February 16, 2024
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The CQI community is a vast, diverse, and impactful group of individuals – all with a similar goal or interest of improving and identifying coffee quality to the benefit of the livelihood of those directly involved. In this community chat we had the opportunity to speak with Q Arabica Grader, Young Baek – who took the title of 2023 World Cup Tasters Champion at World of Coffee Athens. When he isn’t traveling, he resides in Sydney, Australia.  

Young began his coffee journey about 4.5 years ago as a barista at a chocolate café, which led to curiosity about specialty coffee. One morning he tried an Ethiopian espresso from Mecca coffee and has been hooked ever since. From then on, he started to learn more about different brewing methods and even started working for some specialty coffee roasters in his area. Working for roasters naturally led to cupping coffees and he enjoyed tasting different selections from around the world.  

As he immersed himself in the specialty coffee industry, Young came across the regional Cup Tasters competition in Sydney. He trained for about two months before his first competition and sought guidance from Nuno Park, a three-time national finalist. In the regional competition, Young qualified to the top 12, which granted an entry to nationals. There he ramped up from training once every two days to training every day and scored 8/8 for the preliminary and Semi-Finals followed by 7/8 in the finals. Young is extremely proud of Australia’s representation in the Cup Tasters championship – noting previous world champions, Yama Kim (2018) and Charlie Chu (2021) as inspiration. The coffee community in Australia takes much pride in these events and they always come together, pooling resources, and exchanging knowledge to practice for the competition season.  

As a competitor and avid coffee taster – Young decided to register for the Q Grader course. Initially he thought the course was mostly about understanding how and why we perceive flavors – but as he read more about the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), he quickly noticed that CQI does so much more to improve coffee quality around the world. He realized how vast the industry truly is and he was eager to continue his education and become a Q Grader and to master the discipline of coffee tasting.  

Although the Cup Tasters championship was one way to learn more about coffee tasting – he holds the Q standards in high regards “The Q Grader course really helped me solidify my sensory foundation. Not only that, but you get to be a part of the world where your decisions can have a real impact for the producers around the world.” During competitions, there are often cups that are slightly different and it’s important to note the subtle differences in characteristics. He could easily apply the knowledge and put into practice what he gained from the Q Grader course on the world stage.  

“Becoming familiar with all the aroma kits plus the flavor and acid solutions really laid the groundwork for all the things I was tasting during practice for the world stage.”

Is there anything else you want to share with the CQI community?

"I would love to ask the CQI community to keep loving coffee for what it is and can be. The industry has come so far in the last few decades to really push the levels of quality with sustainability in mind. I hope more tasters and Q graders can see Cup Tasters as a platform to share their voice and I cannot wait to see what the next generation of champions will do with that."

As his coffee journey continues, Young would love to create a platform for all coffee lovers regardless of level of expertise – and connect the next generation of young professionals with legends and champions from the past and present. He imagines a space where people from all over the world can seek guidance and helpful information to move forward with their goals. At times, he admits that competitions might seem scary or intimidating for someone starting out in the industry – but he thinks there is a way to make this experience more accessible and approachable by engaging the coffee community and making it a fun experience for all.  

Young and his team already started a circuit of smackdown events in Sydney, and they plan to take these to Melbourne and Asia next. He hopes to one day have his own space where he can host these events, roast coffee, and educate more people!