My Experience in Coffee Competitions
I’m totally a competitive person but I think that sometimes it can come off as needing to show others how great you are. There may be a sliver of truth in that but why I love competing so much is that it pushes you to learn more and advance your skills. This is why I’ve been involved in coffee competitions for over 10 years now.
Originally it started off as a way to push myself into understanding more about how coffee is brewed so I entered into the Brewers Cup competitions. In this competition you have 10 minutes to use 3 manual pour over brewers at the same time to make a cup of coffee for 3 judges. During this time you also need to give the judges a presentation to talk about your coffee and brewing techniques. I went down the rabbit hole of coffee extraction theory but I was lucky enough to also roast my own coffee so I would utilize this as well in my overall concepts.
I pushed myself so hard in that first year of competitions, spending hours a week reading, writing and practicing. All the hard work paid off and I was able to place 2nd at the qualifying competition and 3rd at the national competition. The coffee I roasted that year was also selected as 2nd place in the national roasting competition. I was a little taken aback by that successful year. I saw the reward of dedication and love for your craft. So I decided to continue entering into a variety of national competitions, each year advancing to the national level.
After a couple years of this I decided that I wanted to give back to the community that had helped me advance my career and knowledge. I was elected to join the US Coffee Roasters Guild Executive Council and the subsequent International Coffee Roasters Guild Leadership Council. My focus in this group was to organize, advance and judge roasting competitions. I was thrilled to be able to provide feedback to the coffee roasting community while watching others go through the same trajectory that I went through myself. At the same time it was an amazing learning experience that allowed me to hear roasting ideas from around the country and taste their results.
Following a few years of this, I decided that I would like to advance my tasting palate. There were a couple ways to do this. First was to take a week long exam to become a certified Q-Grader. This exam is akin to becoming a wine sommelier but for the coffee world. Currently there are around 5000 of these worldwide, 400 being in the United States. This was one of the hardest things I have done to push myself in coffee. As an example, I was the only person in my class of around 20 to pass this test. Around this time I also entered into the Cup Tasters competitions.
In this competition there are 6 to 8 sets of brewed coffee on a table in front of the competitor. Each set has 3 cups of coffee where 2 are the same and 1 is different. You are then given 6 to 8 minutes to properly identify the different cups. The person with the most correct in the fastest completion time then wins. For a couple of years I made it to the national stage and competed in the semifinal rounds. This was a humbling experience for me as I felt like I wasn’t as successful in these competitions as I wished I would have been. My opinion is that to really excel in Cup Tasters, you need to be tasting a lot of different coffee everyday. At the time of entering these competitions I was no longer working in the roasting side of the industry and had moved into the export and import side. Because of this I was no longer tasting coffee everyday and I think this was detrimental to my success in the Cup Tasters competition.
Then in 2021 I joined the Goshen team and quickly got back into roasting and doing quality assurance on these roasts everyday. Doing this can really fine tune your roasting knowledge and palate as you are tasting different roast batches of the same coffees right next to each other all the while spotting the tiny differences between each roast profile. If you are diligent and detailed about this process, you can learn a little more each day. I now was feeling more comfortable with getting back into the roasting and cup tasting competitions. I felt like it was a great opportunity to dust off the cobwebs all the while helping Goshen get our name out there more.
2023 was my first year back to the competition arena where I placed 3rd in the Roasting Qualifiers and 8th in the Cup Tasters Qualifiers. This allowed me to bring Goshen to the national competition stage. I ended up advancing to the quarter final round in US Cup Tasters Competition and semi final round of the US Roasters Competition. There’s always a lot of pressure at these national competitions as the audience is large and the competition is stiff. While I didn’t take home any trophies, it was still a great communal learning experience. We also showed so many people what Goshen can bring to the national table. All in all, I’d consider that a success on it’s own!