As part of our Australian Champion Series, we talked to 2012 Cup Tasting Champion Fred Lullfitz about the importance of great teachers and believing in yourself.

What inspired you to join the coffee industry?
I fell into the coffee industry during the global financial crisis in 2008. I had just finished school, and attempted an apprenticeship in carpentry, however it turned out it wasn’t for me. The only job I could find at the time was at the Brisbane Airport as a barista, and after a brief stint there a good friend of mine Daylan Isai got me a job at Di Bella Coffee as a Junior Roaster where my interest in coffee began.

How did you become involved in ASCA competitions?
My manager at the time, the lovely Anne Cooper, dragged me by the ear into the coffee lab, put a spoon in my hand and taught me to cup – and I am so very glad she did! She would set up practice triangulations for the roasting team once or twice a week and then enrolled us into the QLD Cup Tasters Championship [now the Northern Region Championship]. The first year I competed, I took the QLD title and although the general consensus was that it was a fluke, I placed around 6th at the nationals in 2011. The following year, I took the QLD title again and headed down to Melbourne where I shocked everyone including myself and won! I was then sent to Vienna for the worlds, which changed my life.

What advice would you give to someone looking to start competing, or to improve their routine?
Don’t underestimate yourself. If it wasn’t for the support of the people I worked with and the QLD coffee community I would never have entered the competitions or persisted because I thought I was “just another coffee enthusiast“. I also believed that being from Brisbane had some disadvantage as I wasn’t exposed to the variety of coffees that the other competitors were – very wrong! To me the cup tasters requires a good set of taste buds, but also it’s a persons ability to focus and perform under pressure. Make the most of what you have available. I remember when I would practice on Saturday mornings, I would sample roast coffee, (pretty horribly from what I can remember) on a hot top, grind the coffee on an old Nuova Simonelli MDX (with a dosing chamber) and run pots of boiling water to the back deck with the help of my poor parents.To train for the finals this year, I used batch brews of the same coffee but different roast batches, and also tried adding 7ml of water to the odd cup of the three to make it really difficult. Make sure to cup coffees when they are warm too. I tend to cup when the coffees have cooled, but that isn’t always going to be the case in competitions.

How has becoming an ASCA Australian Coffee Champion impacted on your career?
After I competed in Vienna at the World Cup Tasters, It opened my eyes to what was out there and what was going on in the industry. I quickly realised that I had an interest in cupping, beyond competitions and wanted to work at origin purchasing and this was a possibility. The only hurdle was getting to South America and learning Spanish. Because I had won the Cup Tasters that year, it gave me the confidence to apply for a job with an exporter overseas. I left Australia, shortly after I had returned from the worlds and purchased a one way ticket to Bogota, Colombia and immediately started work with Caravela Coffee in their lab cupping coffees from all over the country and eventually exploring into Latin America. As a result I was immersed in coffee, working on farms and learning about purchasing, milling, agronomy, exporting and importing specialty coffee. It turned my interest in specialty coffee into a career and introduced me to a lot of cool people, and amazing coffee producers. I then moved into a sourcing/quality control position at Sightglass in San Francisco, and that role sent me around the world sourcing a couple of times to new origins which was incredible. I now call Melbourne home and the experience and skills I’ve gained over the past few years has prepared me to start my own business – Birdsnake Chocolate. Quite the change from burning milk at the Brisbane Domestic Airport!

How has your competition journey changed over the years?
I was unable to compete for about 6 years, not having residency in Colombia or the US. I was itching to get back up there and compete again as you can imagine. I competed in Queensland last year and as a result, landed me at 1st place in the ASCA Top12 which I was very happy about. Just recently at MICE I had another shot at the title and embarrassingly burnt my tongue on the first cup. I think that was a sign from the universe to take the back seat and let someone else have the amazing opportunity I did. I would like to thank ASCA, it’s sponsors and the volunteers for running these events. Also, I wish MJ the best of luck at the worlds! Do us all proud.