Archive for February, 2011


Posted in Uncategorized on February 23, 2011 by whyyoushouldhatecoffee

This past weekend, I attended the 2011 NCRBC.  I spent my time there as a Sensory Judge, making my second year of judging, and putting myself in both judges shoes. Last year I judged the GLRBC as a Technical Judge.

Having thought about competition for some time now, I’ve thought one of the most difficult things for the competitor is that you don’t know the judges and unless you have judged, you don’t know what they talk about in  calibration, and certainly don’t know what a 4.5 per/con on espresso crema looks like.

To start, I certainly don’t find myself as any sort of authority. I have not competed, so therefore can only imagine the mindset of the competitors. I’m hoping to put down my opinion, and band together my impressions of the opinions of other judges with hope that it helps someone (judge, competitor,  the competition format). I’m trying not to write it like I’m coaching, but rather expressing what I personally think could do well, I most certainly could be wrong.  As objective as the score sheets try to be, there’s obviously still opinion.  I’m trying to write this without giving specific examples of low point scoring decisions/mistakes, because that’s clearly not okay.  my examples are going to be theoretical.

I think it’s important to note, that the judges are likely nervous as well.  maybe not as nervous as the competitor, but they are being evaluated by the same crowd (both literally and online) as you are.  they’ve also possibly had significant amounts of caffeine.  Saturday I judged 6 competitors, and I’ll be honest, by the 6th I had to really focus on sitting up in my chair.  It’s maybe bad to say this,  but I was quite literally intoxicated on caffeine, past the point of shaky hands.  I had to lay down afterwords.


Competitors have clearly spent there time with the competition setup and routine.  they’ve at least spent the past 15 minutes setting up their station.  I think it’s important to note, that when the judges walk out onto the floor, they don’t know your setup, they don’t know your routine, they don’t know why they have three spoons rather than two, or why they have three glasses already in front of them, some simple assumptions can be made, but typically aren’t.  This is an excellent chance to welcome them and make sure they know what, more importantly why they have these things, if they’re different from other competitors. a glass for spoons is awesome.  I really don’t want to dirty your linens.

The intro speech is huge. but doesn’t need to be everything. making a connection to the farm, or the intensity of your personal experiences with the coffee, or roasting = awesome.   the judges are looking to learn something.  they’re looking to go on a journey with you. there are plenty of other times throughout the presentation to give information. “judges are post-it notes” they just record information. Simple, accurate, to the point information.  Making a connection with a judge is super cool. likely wins them over, and has them subconsciously rooting for you in calibration.  attention to detail.

Taste Evaluation of Espresso

Color of Crema (hazelnut, dark brown, reddish reflection)

To me, I think it’s important to focus on what protocols the judges are required to follow and what they are going to focus on.  Judges are told they can only use your crema descriptors before the shots are extracting (so they know that is your intention. rather than accidentally pouring really short shots and saying they’ll be awful. duh.)  It’s really tough to score really high on this.  accurate descriptors certainly helped. having a color palette to compare to would be a really cool touch.

Persistency & consistency of crema (per con)

analyzed by tilting the espresso towards the judge, once.  If the cream falls apart/breaks that’s bad. If it’s thick and resilient, that’s good.  If the bubbles are all the same micro size, that’s great. if there are even slight variations or bigger bubbles, not so great.

Taste balance/Tactile balance (BIG points)

Judges are told they can only use your flavor/body descriptors before the espresso is extracted.   they’re looking for specific flavors/characteristics. ambiguous characteristics are almost ignored. chocolate, nutty, fruit, silky, creamy, velvety, syrupy = almost obvious.  toasted pecan, clementine juice = really good if they’re actually true. taste and tactile balance in espresso are HUGE points. Honestly, I think flavor is more weighted.  It’s the first box on the score sheet, so has to be filled out first, so looking back, I judged it first.  then body was somewhat of an afterthought.  specific information about these categories when accurate gets great points. when they don’t match, in my experience it’s lost points, or the judges just go back to what a “calibrated” shot should be like.  Simple, elegant, well presented descriptors seem like the way to go.  pausing to allow the judges to write things down was super helpful.

Presentation/Professionalism + Attention to Detail

The moment you set down the beverage, and break eye contact, the judge is analyzing it, and that’s good.  the crema is strongest and looks the best.  this seems like a really bad time to tell them things they’ll have to write down.  they need a little time. rushing their decision might be risky.

Taste Evaluation of Cappuccino

Visually Correct Cappuccino

Latte art isn’t a big deal. I’m pouring hearts. don’t whiteout.  don’t over texturize. symmetry is important. simple.

Persistency & Consistency of foam

It needs to be 1cm. that’s easy. The foam should be nice, sheeny, and consistent.  Big bubbles are probably going to be everyone’s problem in this category.

Evaluation of Signature Drink

Well explained, introduced and presented.

Please set time aside to explain your sig drink, or be able to speak clearly and loud enough for me to hear it when your back is turned and you’re prepping your drink.  I totally would understand being scared to stand facing the judges with nothing in your hands.  I’m a terrible public speaker.  but the judges need to know.

Look and Functionality

This is basically just your glassware/spoon. does it look right/ is it functional and attractive.  is it an aromatic drink? should it be in a snifter style glass?

Creativity and Synergy with coffee.

Knowing the ingredients for the sig drink is clearly important, but knowing why you used them is huge.  sure you used a citrus fruit with your coffee from Kenya because a lot of Kenyan coffees are citrusy, but you have to make that connection for the judges.  To me this seemed more about pairing flavors and ingredients with flavors in the coffee.

Taste Balance (according to content, taste of espresso)

This was a tough one. based on the fact that the ingredients need to be factored in, both taste and tactility.  basically just make a drink that has balance overall.  I really don’t have any advice on what to use/make other than please don’t use spicy/hot things and be hesitant to use fruit/cream/espresso, it almost always tastes curdled.

Tech scores are easy points.  Be confident.

If you mess up, don’t point it out. go with it. it’s possible the judges didn’t notice. very possible.

simplicity in dosing and distributing & tamp is almost always going to get better consistency points.

I think I’ve heard some controversy on the spouts of the portafilters. whether placing them on a tamp mat or clean towel is good enough for cleaning them or not.  I would play it safe and just wipe off the basket, the wings and the spouts every time.