The search for a winner
Becoming a Good Food Awards Coffee Finalist is something that I’ve worked at for four of the last five years, getting a few points closer each time I’ve submitted. Finally this year we made it, although not with the coffee I had expected.
Every year for the last few years, in March I start thinking about the GFAs by keeping my eyes, ears, and palate open to exemplary coffees. Mid-year 2020 we had some amazing honey processed coffees coming out of Costa Rica, a processing method that is one of my favorites. Mid-summer, the really great competition level coffees arrived from East Africa. It was a mad dash of sampling and buying my favorites (because the REALLY good ones almost sell out almost immediately) and getting to work. By the time the buying process was complete, there were only a few weeks left until the coffee submission due date. I had half a dozen coffees, hadn’t made any decisions about what to submit, and I hadn’t even started creating the roast profiles for any of these coffees.
Try and try again
Over the next two weeks, I whittled my favorite coffees down to the two I felt I could create the most with, two Ethiopian natural coffees. Excited and hopeful with my selections, with the deadline looming, I realized a rule I had somehow missed — that we could only submit one coffee per country this year. On hand, I had just one non-Ethiopian coffee that would meet the criteria for a GFA coffee; a delicious black honey processed coffee that we had purchased for future release. We thought it was lovely, but I had my heart set on the Ethiopian coffee. I didn’t know if I could pull off a winning roast with this Costa Rican.
Next I set to work creating a profile that I thought could be a competitor but I just couldn’t quite get the balance of fruitiness that I wanted. I racked my brain, looked through old notes from years past, did a bit of internet research, and then the idea for the right tweak hit me. By manipulating air flow in a way I had never done before I was able to draw out the fruity aroma I was looking for. After a few more versions, making micro adjustment each time, I finally had both coffees solidly profiled. My favorites were Version 4 of an Ethiopian natural and Version 7 of the black honey Costa. I truly thought we had a great chance with the Ethiopian, especially due to the popularity of Ethiopians in past years. Then the Costa Rican made it through to as a GFA Finalist, much to my delight and surprise.
Always be learning
The process this year has been interesting and humbling. We’ve had Costa Rican coffees from Familia Monge in the past. They grow amazing coffee that is always a hit with our customers, so I shouldn’t be surprised that this coffee made us a GFA finalist. Although I was convinced, and still think, that in some ways our Ethiopian submission tasted more interesting . That said, the contending Costa was technically very difficult to roast and it pushed me to learn to roast in ways that I had never done before. It took seven attempts to create a profile that I was confident to submit. We did a mystery bag sale where we sold versions of all the coffees we were testing for GFA and the overwhelming fan favorite was the Costa Rican coffee. Yet I preferred the Ethiopian. My takeaway is that it is important to always remember just how subjective the coffee drinking experience is and that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone can only help me be a better roaster. I’m grateful that I can share my craft and that it brings others a little bit of joy.