This past weekend I had the honor and pleasure of judging the US Brewers Cup Competition, which was held at the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) Convention in Portland, Oregon. For those of you not familiar with the competition, it goes like this: there are two rounds in which competitors must make coffee using whichever manual brewing method they choose. The first round they are all given the same coffee, and with it they must brew 3 separate cups within 7 minutes. There are then 3 judges who evaluate the coffee and score it based on a form very similar to the SCAA cupping form. This first round comprises 50% of the competitor’s total score. The second round consists of an open competition where the competitor must, in under 10 minutes, present a coffee of their choosing to 3 new judges. The competitors are then judged on overall presentation, customer service skills, the accuracy of how they describe the coffee, and most importantly the flavor of the coffee itself.
I was lucky enough to judge the open portion, where I was able to taste all 43 of the competitors’ own coffees. I say this with some gratitude and excitement, as I really don’t think I could have endured judging the first round where you taste the exact same coffee over and over again for two days straight. During the judging I tasted a handful of mediocre coffees, but also a few outstanding cups. It seems that we as an industry are not operating at a very high level for both consistency and accuracy when it comes to manual brewing. This competition is fairly new still, with this being only its second year of existence. As the competition increases, though, I have no doubts that we will see some great transformation and innovation in the manual brewing world of coffee.