Get to Know:

Ply Pasarj

Co-founder of Rogue Wave Coffee

Interview with Ply Pasarj, co-founder of Rogue Wave Coffee

Ply Pasarj, co-owner of Rogue Wave, has competed in many coffee competitions across Canada, and even went international for the World Brewers Cup in 2021 where he placed fifth overall. We sat down with Ply to learn more about his experience with coffee competitions.
How did you get into specialty coffee?
I actually used to teach people how to taste olive oil! We slurp olive oil when we taste it just like we do in coffee cupping. With olive oil, there’s no processing specification like there is with coffees, but there are early harvest, middle harvest, late harvest, filtered and unfiltered, and single variety or single farm olive oils. Very similar to coffee.
As to how I first became interested in coffee, it happened at a local sandwich shop that happened to also offer pour-overs. I was really curious about them, and as the barista walked me through details about the roasters and origin, I immediately thought “this is very similar to olive oil!.” So, I tried a cup, and noticed that there were a lot of flavours that didn’t taste like regular coffee. An experience similar to this was exactly how I got into olive oil, so it was only natural that coffee would pique my curiosity. What eventually really sent me down the rabbit hole of specialty coffee was when I had my first Gesha. That really opened my eyes. 
I used to be a customer at Rogue Wave! At the time, it was really small. The two Daves were always there and so happy to talk about coffee. They shared their interests and knowledge with me, and I found myself going to Rogue Wave before going to my olive oil job as a regular! Eventually, they offered me a position on the team which brings me here today.
How does your biochemistry background influence your approach to coffee and competing?
As a biochemist, I did a lot of research on small molecule purification for the purpose of pharmaceutical discovery, and as I was first getting into coffee, I chose to view coffee in that lens. I saw that coffee was simply a type of extraction with water being the solvent and coffee being the solute. So, brewing coffee was just a matter of adjusting your solvent and how you would agitate it to bring forth the flavour molecules that you desire. 
Going into competitions, however, I don’t think my biochem background had as much of an effect on my approach as it initially did when I was getting into coffee. I mean, there is obviously some knowledge that was helpful, like water chemistry and solubility, but I find that competitions are so much more than talking about the science of coffee;  you are also actively serving the judges, so chemistry played a crucial, but ultimately small role in terms of my competition approach.
It seems like competitions are a ton of hard work to prepare for both mentally and physically. What do you find is the value of participating in coffee competitions?
Well, if you ask anyone who knows the competitors well, you will probably hear them say “Ply is the worst at preparing for a competition”, because I only start preparing a week or two in advance. When I coach someone else, I definitely make them prepare much further in advance, but with myself, it always just happens that I don’t have much time to prepare.

Preparing for competitions has helped me in the sense that it’s also helped the Rogue Wave team, as they get to see all the different approaches to brewing in the style of competition that is hard to apply in a regular cafe setting. The team getting to experience my competition preparation has really elevated overall team knowledge, and gives them the opportunity to compare shots and brews, and see how the small changes I make in water, for example, can affect the end result. 
Despite little preparation, you hold so many amazing titles, and most recently placed 2nd in SCA’s Canadian Brewers Cup. Do you have any pre-competition routines or rituals that help you prepare for success?!
I usually eat ramen before every competition! Even when I was in Milan in 2021 for the World’s Brewers Cup, I took the team with me to eat ramen.

Want to brew like a champion?
Make sure to check out Ply's award-winning AeroPress recipe here!