Whit Hagemann practices making the signature beverage he will be serving at the U.S. Coffee Championship qualifying event in Denver. Photo by Derek Prall.
Atlanta’s own Whit Hagemann, manager at East Pole Coffee Co., has been selected to compete to qualify in one of the world’s most prestigious coffee competitions, the 2019 U.S. Coffee Championship in Denver tomorrow.
It’s been a long journey to the top. Hagemann told Atlanta Loop he’s been working with artisan coffee for almost a decade, and has been striving to perfect his craft at various local and regional shops including Daily Grind, Taproom Coffee & Beer and Condesa Coffee – one of the nation’s best coffee shops.
He threw himself into this study with vigor. “Anything I put my mind to, I really try to take to the next level,” Hagemann said, “Anything I do I try and do it the best I can.”
Directing this drive and passion into learning more about the science and art of coffee creation, Hagemann’s skill as a barista grew, and after judging a past regional qualifier for the U.S. Coffee Championships, he’s now coming back to compete.
The competition is rigorous, he explains. Baristas are given just 10 minutes to prepare an espresso and signature drink for four sensory judges for a total of 8 drinks. They are judged not only on the quality of their beverages, but on their presentation, demeanor and skill.
“It’s an incredible opportunity, but there’s a lot of stress,” Hagemann laughs. “There are so many things that can go wrong – there are so many things they are watching.” Even the altitude has to be taken into account. Denver is about 5,000 feet above sea level, which changes boiling points and the chemistry dictating the coffee’s flavor profiles.
In this sense, great coffee is similar to a fine wine; however, Hagemann’s ultimate aim is to demystify high-end coffee and make it more accessible for casual drinkers, and this desire is expressed in his choices in crafting his signature drink – a southern-inspired refreshing peach iced-coffee mocktail.
“My theme is hospitality,” Hagemann explains. “Sometimes there are coffee shops with great coffee and talented baristas, but they lack that customer service element. I believe coffee is a high quality product that’s missing approachability.”
If Hagemann qualifies tomorrow, he’ll advance to the national competition in Kansas City in March. If you want to cheer him on from home, you can watch a livestream of his performance here.