Thanks again to everyone who participated in this year's home barista competition. As always, it's not only a blast for us to judge, but also a reminder of why folks take on the challenging hobby of home coffee roasting in the first place. Home roasting isn't plug-and-play and requires a great deal of physical and sensory attention, as well as TONS of trial and error. But there's no substitute for freshly roasted coffee, period, and I believe this a major driving force behind the enthusiasm and dedication you've all put into your craft.
We handled this year's judging the same as last year. First, Henry Chang assigned all the entries with a number, then filled tubs with a sample of each coffee, marking them with the corresponding number. This way we were able to set up a 'blind' table, without any information about the entrants or roasting approaches. Amanda and I were the cuppers this year, and Henry participate as well, but couldn't give his comments until after Amanda and I made our final selections.
We judged each coffee on dry fragrance, wet aroma, and then the resulting cup. Aromatics are important and give us clues as to how the coffee was roasted, but ultimately we look to the cup for our final evaluation of roast proficiency. The ratio we use for cupping is 12.5 grams of coffee to 9 ounces water. We taste the coffees throughout the cooling phase from hot, to coolish. Profiles change quite a bit as the liquor cools, and your mouth perceives flavor best at around 100 degrees F.
We didn't give coffees numeric scores, per se, but wrote down notes on flavors attributed to roast technique. So for example, writing "low acidity" or "baked" can be attributed to stretching out different legs of the roast too long, resulting in a loss of volatile compounds related to sweetness and acidity. Similarly, "sparkling acidity" and "juicy fruits" allude to roast profiles that highlight this particular coffee's inherent potential. Whenever there's a full table of coffees, the notes are super helpful for narrowing down our final decision. And when transcribing my notes I looked over the roasted coffee, did my best to determine roast level, and looked for signs of roast development that might help explain the cup characteristics we tasted - I've included these in my notes below.
I hope this information is useful to you. It's tricky business trying your hand (or rather, palate) at "judging" other people's work. In this case, I know the coffee well and have a good sense of what is attainable in the cup profile, so in some way I'm able to judge if a roast has capitalized or suppressed the potential cup profile. But even still, it's my opinion that if you enjoy drinking the coffee you roast, then you're doing it 100% correctly. And in the end, I'd much rather drink any one of these roasts than 90% of the coffee served in local cafes.
But on to the results. The initial cupping took a total of 2.5 hours and several hundred 'slurps' to reach our conclusions, and here they are:
1. Rama Roberts "ramma" - Full City, great example of a well-developed, darker roast that doesn't compromise complexity; juicy stone fruits, developed sugar sweetness, pomegranate-like acidity.
Henry Chang "chang00" - City+ roast with nice sugar development, nectarine, citrus acidity,
brown sugar. This coffee showed lots of balance in cup profile.
Hank Levine "hankua" - City/City+ roast, graham cracker, honeyed, citrus acidity, complex fruits - all the characteristics you want to taste in this Gatomboya.
3. Cammie Hill "cammie" - City roast, very sweet, black tea, simple syrup sweetness, tartness to acidity but well defined, great mouthfeel and pristine finish.
4. Mark Hansen "MSH" - Full City roast, nice darker roast with plenty of jammy fruits - berry,
plum, etc, orange marmalade, very sweet and a great example of darker roasts with well-defined cup qualities.
Here are comments on the rest of the entries in no particular order:
• Jim Schulman - verging on Full City+, roast looks nicely controlled - i.e. dark roast without
explosive bean fracturing, very sweet, juicy fruits, flat acidity - may have stretched the final leg too long before drop?
• Jonathan Williams "JWILLIAMS" - ½ FC ½ FC+, deep sweetness up front that disappears in the finish, some charcoal notes, flattened acidity, would love to try as espresso!
• Ed Bourgeois "farmroast" - City, the beans looked like a City roast from the outside, but I don't think the internal temperature of the bean got high enough to properly develop starches into sugars; black tea notes, green/raw coffee flavors.
• "dynamiteid" - Full City, very sweet up front, some fruit notes but muted by roast development, lots of chocolate roast flavors, abrupt finish. I really liked this coffee, and with the muted acidity/wild fruit flavors, think it would be fantastic as espresso.
• Tom Chips - Full City+/Vienna, full-bodied, chocolate roast tones, low acidity, heavy roast flavor; I think this went a little long in the final stages of roasting, muting origin flavors inherent to this particular Kenya.
• Andy Thomas - outer edge of Full City+, toasted sugars, some chocolate roast flavor, ashy. Kenyas can be tricky in the roaster and it doesn't take much to wind up going over the proverbial 'edge' of the roast spectrum. The beans expanded quite a bit with some fairly
wide fracturing, leading me to believe the charge built too fast going into 1st crack, causing some physical damage to the bean structure.
• Mountain Air - City+, I realize we technically picked the top 5 coffees - but since two people tied for 2nd place, I would like to add this as my 5th position! Very sweet and complex, stone fruits, tropical fruit punch, juicy acidity. All in all, a very nice roast.
• Dave Borton "BoldJava" - Full City+, plum, fruit pectin sweetness, pine tar note, charcoal in the finish, Very nice dark roast, but with a touch too much roast development in the final stretch giving it a slight acrid flavor in the finish.