US Coffee Champs Results & Thoughts

Honeybee, represented by Aaron, our Head Roaster, recently competed in the US Coffee Championships in Nashville. The championship has various events to compete in including the barista, brewing, tasting, and roasting competitions. We chose to only compete in the roasting category, and out of 32 competitors we placed 19th, which we are quite proud of.

For Aaron, the most important part of the competition was the work that went into preparing for it. Each competitor was sent 20lbs of green coffee from Myanmar. With 20lbs it might seem like we had plenty to experiment with, but a normal production roast at Honeybee is 17lbs. This meant that Aaron only got one shot at roasting the coffee, forcing him to develop a well thought out roasting plan that accounted for as many variables as possible.

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Aaron chose to roast the Myanmar as the third roast of the day, allowing the roaster to adequately warm up. Our roaster, a Probat P/2 series, is a large machine with many parts; it takes several roasts for the heat to permeate all the way through. On a normal roast, this wouldn't have much noticeable impact, but for a competition roast we need to eliminate as many random variables as possible. We roasted 17.5lbs of the Myanmar at once, which is 66% of our roasting capacity, and began the roast 1.5 minutes after the second batch of the day was finished. The beans were loaded into the hopper once the drum reached 373°F. The total roast time was 11:50 and finished at 404°F. All of this information likely seems overly technical, but the point is that a lot of forethought and careful calculating goes into roasting. Aaron's biggest takeaway was that "when approaching a coffee, you need to have a large understanding of the entire roasting process." Only in this way could Aaron carefully plan to roast a coffee he had never worked with before.

Once the coffee had been roasted, Aaron sent it to the judges in Nashville and began preparing a presentation on his process. This was another valuable step of the competition for Aaron. He knew ahead of time that he would have to explain why he made the decisions he did, so he had to have a reason for everything. He needed to be able to articulate why he roasted the coffee at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time. This made him consider variables such as the coffee's origin, its growing altitude, moisture content, density, drying process etc.

The judges in Nashville used a standardized scoring sheet to compare all of the competition roasts. At the bottom of this post you'll find a link to the Evaluation Scoresheet which contains all of the categories our roast was graded on. These categories are also extremely useful for the everyday coffee drinker, as it can help you better understand what types of coffees you like so our baristas can point you in the right direction. They're also useful for giving you the vocabulary to evaluate coffee on your own. The more words and categories you have at your disposal, the more accurate you can be in discovering what you like.

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The research that went into this roast accompanied by the presentation Aaron had to give expanded his expertise and confidence in roasting, which translates into a better cup of coffee for everyone at Honeybee. When you order something at our shop, it is important to us that you know how much effort was put into it tasting great every time. These types of competitions are just one way in which we try to accomplish this.

Looking forward, we are excited to continue competing, especially now that we've done it a few times and understand the expectations.

The Weeks’ Links:

Authors: Aaron Hill & Alex Wuethrich