This year’s Golden Bean brought in the largest number of submissions and attendees since the Australian competition came ashore in 2015, and I was lucky enough to both roast Groundwork’s submissions and toss my hat in the ring as a judge for the first time. I mean, an opportunity to dangerously overload my nervous system by slurping hundreds of brews from some of the best coffee roasters in North America? Yes, please!
The competition took place over three days in gorgeous Portland, Oregon, home to three of our newest cafes. Against a backdrop of the Willamette and our local roastery down the street, close to 70 judges and five head judges blindly tasted coffees submitted in ten different categories ranging from Pour-Over Filter to Organic Espresso to Decaf Milk-Based. The keyword here is blind. In order to preserve the integrity of the competition, each coffee was labeled with only a number. Judges must rely on tasting skills alone to determine the best quality cup.
While the recent wave of North American specialty coffee has drifted increasingly toward lighter roasting styles — with some blends we being tasted so light, you would think they were ground green — there were some roasters exploring the other end of the spectrum as well, with roasts so dark it was like drinking a forest fire. Most, however, were comfortably in the middle. As the Golden Bean is, first and foremost, a roasting competition, judges were tasked with paying close attention to the roast and how it had allowed the chosen bean to express itself in the cup and on the tongue.
Saturday morning gave us a break from espressos, and we spent the morning hobnobbing with importers and tasting coffee offerings from across the globe — everywhere from Mexico to Malawi. The natural romanticism and wanderlust that accompanies our global community means we, as coffee professionals, are constantly on the hunt for the next stunning cup.The judges at each table steadily went through espressos, filter coffees, and lattes, laughing alongside more and more new friends as the buzz progressed, cleansing our palates with sparkling water and bread between sips and spits. Obligatory industry seminars filled in gaps between cuppings and, by the afternoon of Day Three, the coffees had been narrowed down to the top contenders, with the quality consistency jumping significantly across the table. After that weekend, I know Heaven truly must be a perpetual afternoon of tasting top-notch coffees, each of them prepared with the utmost care and precision by Barista Champions.
That evening, everyone donned their best pirate digs (or suit, in my case), and got ready for the awards ceremony. As the first category was announced (Chain/Franchise, Filter Pour-Over), I was thrilled to hear our name ring out for the Gold! The next categories fared just as well, with Groundwork pulling in two Silvers and Bronze to round out our winnings.
National competitions like the Golden Bean allow us, as coffee pros, to get a peek into the cups of fellow roasters from around the globe, providing us a place to learn from one another just as we learn from you, our customer. Together, we push the standard continuously higher in our specialty community, with the ultimate goal of bringing these wonderful coffees right back to your cup.
Cheers to all the winners at the 2017 Golden Bean North America, and keep your eyes peeled for the next post, where I’ll break down the process that went into choosing and roasting our award-winning coffees.