Following his win at this year’s World Cup Tasters Championship in Berlin, we caught up with Daniel to learn more about roasts, tasting and his favourite coffee.
Daniel Horbat’s love of coffee began 15 years ago when he worked in a restaurant that served the beverage but discovering speciality coffee some years later really sealed the deal. “That’s when I found out about origins and how every bean is different in taste and aroma from one another, depending on numerous factors,” he says. “From that moment on, I've became fascinated by coffee and its delicious complexity.”
The Irish coffee scene
He moved to Ireland six years ago, and has seen the coffee culture change much in that time. “Back [when I first arrived] the coffee scene was dominated by the big chains and dark roasts. People didn’t know much about speciality coffee and not many were drinking filter coffee. Everything was focused on the good looks of the cup, like latte art, rather than the taste and quality of it. Much has changed since then, customers are more educated. They want to know were and how the cup of coffee is coming from.”
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Today, he says, coffee is not seen as a necessity but more like a luxury drink and, as such, it’s all about the experience. “This experience is a combination of education, knowledge, and hospitality. It’s about the customer service and making the consumer feel important,” he explains. Coffee shops are more focused on coffee quality now too, and the origin of what they serve with direct trade bridging the gap between producer and consumer. “Thanks to direct trade we are able to tell the story behind the beans,” Daniels says. “From sustainability and lighter roast profiles to innovative brew methods that give us sweetness, complexity, and distinctiveness in our cups. So next time you step into a coffee shop don’t be afraid to ask your barista about your drink – we love that.”
Daniel has been taking part in competitions for a number of years. His first was Latte Art in 2015. “Back then I didn't even know how to properly hold a jug in my hands; none of all this knowledge about sensory and cupping either,” he says, “But something must have ignited inside me, because year after year I was challenging myself to get better and better, to compete more and more.”
His dedication paid off, with wins in the Irish Cup Taster Championship in 2016, 2018 and 2019 (the latter with a perfect score in every round) and this year, he represented Ireland and took the trophy at the World Cup Tasters Championship 2019 in Berlin. “Nothing beats being able to be on the same stage with all these amazing coffee professionals, building up new friendships and share all types of tricks and coffee secrets,” he says. “Yes, it is hard but I love challenging myself. You have to train to test and exceed your boundaries every time. Hard work and motivation will help you get there eventually.”
As for his own favourite coffee, he says it has to be Panama Geisha. “There is no perfect coffee but this one comes pretty close for me. The smooth, fruity, silky tea-like coffee is unlike any other you will ever try. It has a good sweetness, clarity and sparkling flavour that may range from berry, citrus, mango, papaya and peach to pineapple, guava, and jasmine. It also lacks sour and bitter notes. Quite a bouquet for some palates.”
Daniel’s Top Coffee Tips
What mistakes do people make with coffee?
“There’s nothing wrong with taking sugar and milk but I think that most people only add these to make up for having bad coffee in the first place. However, if you're going to a speciality coffee shop, trust your barista - just taste it before you put these two things and you might be surprised.”
“Another wrong thing that I see is buying the coffee for your homebrew from the supermarket. Coffee isn’t really a long-life product – you want your coffee to be fresh. Think of it like bread or vegetables. Next time you are in a coffee shop just buy a bag from there and ask the barista to grind it for you for the specific coffee maker that you have home.
What are your top tips for tasting and brewing?
"Diet is a key factor when tasting coffee. There are few factors that can negatively influence your palate like salt, spices, strongly flavoured food, sweets, alcohol and smoking. Especially when you’re preparing for a cup taster competition try to avoid all this and incorporate vegetables, fruits and nuts - flavours that you will naturally find into the coffees - into your diet. And get your taste buds comfortable with all types of coffee profiles."
"As for brewing coffee this is such a vast subject. There are many factors that influence the final result into the cup, from the right grinding size and water temperature to the pouring technique and many many other things. My best tip is just to play around with the recipe until you are happy. Also, in my opinion, great coffee starts with great beans. There can be a world of difference between roasts. Just have fun trying and enjoying different combinations."