PORTLAND, Maine — Julien Langevin drank coffee in high school. Now, he's an international coffee-tasting competitor.
“I was a big Tim Horton’s guy,” he says. “I loved flavored, like hazelnut coffee with cream in it.”
At the age of 18, he landed a job. His first gig in the coffee business was as a barista at Starbucks in downtown Portland. A shift leader gave him useful lessons by showing him how the taste of various brews changed when they were paired with different foods, such as a lemon pound cake.
“That was the first experience where I actually began to think about, 'OK, this is coffee, but it could taste like something else,'" he said.
Last fall, Langevin went to work for Coffee By Design in Portland, not as a barista but in production.
“I got the opportunity to start learning how to roast, and that was life-changing,” an experience he described as an epiphany. “How you roast coffee, how you develop the sweetness, the sugars, it all goes into what the coffee tastes like.”
“Life-changing?” “An epiphany?” A bit of hyperbole, right? Actually, no.
The roasting experience led Langevin to get really, really serious about tasting. In early April, to his astonishment, he beat 22 other contestants to win the national Cup Tasters Competition at the United States Coffee Championships in Boston.
In June he’ll fly to Milan, Italy, to go up against the ultra-discerning palates of competitors from around the globe at the World Coffee Championships. Think of it as the Olympics of coffee.
“What’s it going to be like if you win?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Langevin said, acutely aware that merely discussing the prospect might bring bad luck. “I don’t want to think about it.”