The Home Barista Challenge

Last week we were pleased to host the “brewed coffee” portion of the 3rd Annual Home Barista Homeroasters Competition here at Sweet Marias. This has become an annual event for, and provides craft roasters of all skill levels an opportunity to see how their
roasting technique measures up against fellow home-roasters. Aleco Chigounis and myself (Dan Wood) were this year’s judges. We were joined by Henry Cheng and Tom Chips who “silently” took part in the cupping – since they were contestants they didn’t share their thoughts until Aleco and I came to a consensus on how the coffees ranked.

There were two parts to the competition. First we judged “closed bag” entries, where nine participants picked coffees to roast from a predetermined list of coffees on the Sweet Marias website. These were either single origin or blended entries. Since all the coffees were
specialty grade, it was a challenge for the participants to hone a roast profile that enhanced the nuances and notes of each particular coffee.

The second part of the competition was “open bag”, where there was no limit to what kind of coffees participants could submit – anything goes. This made for a very interesting contest and we saw everything from grade 1 Ethiopian washed coffee to coffee from Kenya that had been frozen for several years. Eleven submissions in all, it was clear that an incredible amount of thought and creativity was poured into each entry in an effort to find that “perfect” roast.

We set up the cupping table following our standard protocol – two cups of each coffee containing 12.5 grams of ground coffee to 8.5 oz. water, with a small amount of the roasted beans next to each entry in order for us to consider the physical state of the beans while tasting
the final product. Coffees were judged by dry aromatics, wet grounds, and cup flavors, and instead of giving a numeric score, we chose to rank them in order of favorite to least favorite. The competition was tough, and in both categories several entries were neck-in-neck for the lead.

In judging these coffees, we took notes on characteristics of flavor and aroma, as well as levels of sweetness, acidity, cleanliness, age, and all that’s in between. That said, this wasn’t about who presented the sweetest and cleanest coffees, but rather, it was about the consideration each contestant put into deciding how to handle the coffees they’d chosen. This is why you see an aged coffee in the top 4, ahead of several current-crop washed coffees. It’s difficult to minimize “baggy” flavors associated with age through proper roast development. Some other coffees that were definitely the sweetest varietals ranked lower due to scorching, under or over development of roast, starches, etc.

This was a very tough competition to judge and we were blown away by all the different ways the coffees were handled and roasted. This variance speaks to the range of preference on the part of the roaster and to the broad spectrum of potential that is inherent to each
individual coffee. It’s safe to say that home-roasters are passionate about what they do, and it was exciting and inspiring for us to see this particular passion put into practice for this competition. We’re definitely looking forward to next year.

For more information about this year’s competition, including guidelines and final ranking, visit:

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