NZ exclusive: Chat with 2021 World AeroPress Champion Tuomas Merikanto
Finland's first coffee world champ
I want to start with a disclaimer - this isn’t an AeroPress blog. Not that being an AeroPress blog would be a bad thing, but this is the third one in a row, and I needed to make that clear.
That being said, the last month of AeroPress stories have bean (get it?) an absolute joy. It’s bean (like, get it?!) great to spend some time celebrating one of the most accessible coffee toys around, and soaking in the shear fun of it all.
This post is a little bit special. It’s the first time The Magic Roast has talked to a WORLD CHAMPION, and it’s the first time we’ve have had a New Zealand exclusive interview. That’s really cool.
Introducing the latest World Champion - Tuomas Merikanto
I’d like to introduce to The Magic Roast for the very first time, all the way from Finland, Tuomas Merikanto, the 2021 World AeroPress Champion.
Tuomas won the 2021 World AeroPress Championship that was held in Melbourne, Australia, at the beginning of March.
Tuomas took on 48 of the world’s best AeroPressers, including New Zealand’s own Alex Escobar and An Nguyen, vying for the title of the World’s best.
The twist on this year’s World AeroPress Championship was that instead of being all together brewing up a storm, thanks to COVID-19 competitors were sent the competition coffee and had to come up with their methods for surrogate baristas to brew on their behalf.
So the key to success this year was balancing a great tasting coffee, with easy to follow instructions! Not a feat for the faint hearted.
Tuomas was kind enough to share his thoughts with The Magic Roast, in a New Zealand exclusive interview.
Finland takes on the World
Tuomas, Mr. Merikanto, squire, sir, king, champion! Congratulations on winning the biggest prize in AeroPress. How does it feel to take the glory and be the World’s best AeroPresser?
Tuomas: Of course it feels amazing! I was at home with my girlfriend watching the live. When I found out I just started jumping and laughing from happiness.
It felt so unreal and in some ways funny to me that I won.
In an hour from winning I had to go to work because it was something around 9am in Finland. It was the worst day to be at work because I couldn’t concentrate at all... just feeling all the emotions!
TMR: I bet! Dedication! I can’t believe you to work! Wow. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at the Finnish AeroPress Champs.
Tuomas: Well, the funny thing is that I have been in the coffee scene less than a year now!
I started at my workplace, Kahiwa Coffee & Wine (Kahiwa Coffee Roasters first café) last May. Here I got to know my coaches Joonas Reinikainen (founder & CEO) and Joonas Markkanen (head roaster) who asked me if I want to compete at the Finnish AeroPress Championship (which was my first competition) in September 2021.
I wasn't in this "Third Wave Coffee" scene before I started to rehearse for the competition. But because I'm good at different kind of drinks (cocktails, wines, beers, etc.) and I like to delve into the details as well I'm good at flavours, I think these are the most reasons why I won!
What I have done before coffee... a lot. I have worked all my life mainly at the cafés and bars (clubs, pubs, etc. you name it) as a waiter/bartender. I also have been working at Alko which is state-owned alcoholic retailing monopoly.
I also graduated last year with a Bachelor of Hospitality Management where my enthusiasm for wines began.
So in my youth years I was all about cocktails, then I started my school where I got into wines and now I've just got into coffee. In addition to these I have started to make my own kombucha. I even might start my own kombucha brand because I enjoy making it that much!
So I'm just overall potions master even though I don't think that I master any of these like in expert level :D (just that humble Finnish guy here...).
TMR: I love how the AeroPress continues to bring people from all corners of the world together through its simplicity and accessibility.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Finnish coffee culture?
Tuomas: It could be worse! Even though I've thought that it is really bad, now I can see that people really are more interested at least.
It could be really much better and I think it will be! I can see that the coffee culture in Finland is at a turning point. There is also possibility that I'm just in a some kind of small bubble and can't see the reality...
Especially here in Lahti, where I'm from. I would say Lahti is a small city and I can say for sure that there are no more than 5 people here that are interested in the coffee scene! So, a really small group. But you can see that the scene is concentrated more in the capital, Helsinki where the vibe is whole another. Basically there are only few specialty cafés outside Helsinki.
TMR: Seems like Finland is defiantly starting to embrace the coffee culture - I see they managed to get Formula 1 Driver Valtteri Bottas to be a judge at the Finnish AeroPress Champs- that’s a big flipping deal.
TMR: Your recipe from the Finnish champs and your WAC entry looked quite different - from coffee used, temperature, agitation etc - what was the strategy behind these recipes, and how did the format of the WAC influence your winning method?
Tuomas: What comes to the recipes at the nationals I just tried few different and kinda just choose the one I liked the most!
And when I got to try the WAC coffee I found out that it doesn’t fit with the Finnish recipe at all. It had this not-so-good astringent feel what I wanted to get [rid] of.
I found out that to get astringency off of coffee, coarser grind, lower temperature and less agitation should do the job. That's why I went to the other end of extremity and found out that I like the recipe much more in overall!
But my main goal was to keep both of these recipes as easy and simple as possible.
And what comes to the water it was my first time using distilled water with Third Wave Water minerals (here at Lahti, where I'm from we have really good tap water!). I tried both 100% espresso and 100% classic and it just was clear that I didn't want to use that classic at all.
TMR: How did the virtual format impact your approach?
Tuomas: The format didn't actually affect me that much but instead I think it affected others.
We had this 10-step format to explain our recipes and it took my simple recipe 9 steps. So I thought how are everyone else going to explain if they have more complex recipe. And is this format thing going to be reason everyone is going to make recipes simple so the coffees don’t differ that much and judging them is more harder. Never the less it was fine by me.
Also choosing the grind size was pain in the ass! They had this sponsor grinder and pictured what grind size you get with what level (0-9). You kinda had to guess from the picture did it look like the same size grind you have in your hand... luckily I think I chose the correct one!
TMR: Sounds like communication was the absolute key to winning this competition, and you nailed it!
What does the win mean to you? Are you looking to use the win to launch into new projects, different areas of coffee, or to keep inspiring you to push the coffee boundaries?
Tuomas: The win does mean a lot to me! Maybe not that much in a personal way but most certainly because I am the very first Finnish person to win any coffee related world championships! So this is kind of a big deal for Finnish coffee culture even though we Finns are known to be biggest coffee consumers per capita in the world.
I find that there is a lot of work to do in Finnish coffee culture. Coffee is just fuel for us although it could be one of the cheapest luxury product if you buy some really nice quality coffee and make it with a thought.
I'd like that if the win could give me more experience and opportunities! Because I'm new in this scene and as said I like to delve into things I hope I could get into some projects or even judging!
I'd also love to inspire others! But as I'm new so I don't have connections yet. I have this Instagram account (@drinkswiththomas) I'm trying to bring more alive so I could connect and inspire more of you! If somebody wants to give me more of these opportunities, please contact me!
TMR: People will be contacting you left and right now! And I’m sure you’ll be inspiring a whole new generation of coffee pros in Finland, and beyond.
Tuomas: I have done now three interviews for different coffee magazines all in different countries. Funniest thing is that there hasn't been ANY Finnish publisher that has been interested in this championship and we have contacted every relevant station.
Even though this was the first coffee related world championship which Finnish person has won. I think that is a headline in itself!
TMR: Well I made it a headline! When you’re not pulling shots at Kahiwa and are chilling at home, what’s your go to brew?
Tuomas: Funny thing is that I pretty much don't drink coffee at home!
I do have an AeroPress (of course) and Chemex at home but I work at the cafe where in the same space is roastery as well so I get the all the caffeine I need from there. I actually have never been that big coffee consumer. There even are times I consume more tea than coffee.
But coffee (like actually every form of beverage) for me is more like wine you want to enjoy little by little than just get drunk of it. This is kinda minimalistic approach for drinking - less is more when you enjoy it!
But when I drink coffee, it must be Gesha! (joking).
TMR: Don’t even joke about Gesha - it’s all time! Get in me!
I’ve taken a bunch of your time, so finally, out of all the amazing coffee times you’ve had, what has been your most favorite experience?
Tuomas: I think the most finest cup I have sipped was this Kahiwa’s Gesha Village - Oma Lot. Unfortunately I am too new in this scene I have had only few really special coffees.
I would say my girlfriend is the most amazing company to have coffee but she doesn't drink coffee at all... not even the world’s best.
When I get her into drinking coffee, then I can consider myself real winner!
THEREFORE I need to answer to this that best company to share Gesha Village must be my bosses and co-workers! We have really amazing group at Kahiwa and I just love them!
TMR: That’s a great answer. Congratulations on the amazing win, and enjoy the ride of being the World Champion!
What a legend
Tuomas was super generous with his time and I am very grateful for that!
He had no reason to respond when a coffee/running blog from the ass end of the World slipped into his DMs.
Thanks for your time Tuomas! I hope you enjoy your holiday in Lapland (great name).
The winning recipe
In all it’s glory, here is Tuomas’ winning recipe.
Filters: 2x paper
Water 200g @ 80c - Third Wave Water if you have it - 100% espresso
Grind: Impossible to recreate at home without the same grinder! 27 clicks on the Comandante or 7.0 on the Macap Labo 70D [ED’s note - This appears to be a reasonably fine grind from what the interwebs say.]
Add coffee: add 18g coffee in the inverted AeroPress
0:00 - 0.10 - pour Water: add 50g of water and start the timer when the water hits the coffee.
0:10 - 0:15 - stir: stir very gently 3 times back and forth.
0:15 - 0:30 - pour water: from 50g to 200g.
0:30 - 0:50 - brew and stir: allow to brew at 0:50 stir very gently 3 more times.
0:50 - 1:40 - allow to brew: at 1:00 push excess air out, attach the filter cap and let it brew.
At 1:35 put the pitcher on and at 1:40 flip the brewer so coffee doesn’t spill
1:40 - 2:00 - press: when flipped press right away
2:00 - 2:30 - swirl: swirl to cool and in the end pour from altitude to another pitcher
2:30 - serve: Enjoy! [ED note - I sure did!]