Through Emm’s Lenses: The Road to US Brewer’s Cup

I can remember the first day I started drinking coffee as a daily ritual; performing the balancing act of being in two college sports at the varsity level while excelling in classes, I absolutely needed something that was going to assist in keeping me awake throughout the daily grind (hehe, see what I did there, literally AND figuratively). It was a little over six years ago that I started sipping on this brown, warm liquid that adults would religiously say “was the livelihood to their mornings.”

A Film About Coffee  *Image Credits: Sprudge

A Film About Coffee *Image Credits: Sprudge

In 2014, when I watched A Film About Coffee, that was the introduction for me to coffee competition. While finishing up college, I obsessively researched facts about coffee while fan-girling over some of the many specialty coffee industry leaders like Kevin Bohlin and Katie Carguilo, just to name a few. I exhausted a chunk of my savings (because, you know, broke college student) to invest into my first pour over coffee set. I attended free cuppings and tastings around the Bay Area to learn about this craft and delve into how people working in the industry talked amongst each other about coffee.

Cupping at Intelligentsia, San Francisco Roasting Works

Cupping at Intelligentsia, San Francisco Roasting Works

Fast forward to 2016 post-graduation, I finally decided that I wanted to begin working in coffee instead of going down the popularized path of “going to school and landing on a handsome paying job at a large Silicon Valley tech-based company.”

My career started at Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, California, a place I will always hold dear to my heart. Next was Saint Frank Coffee at Facebook. While working there, founder, owner, and someone I highly regard as my mentor, Kevin Bohlin, planted the idea for me to enter the Brewer’s Cup Competition. Saint Frank Coffee was the place where I ultimately “finessed my ‘crude passion and energy’ into skill and acumen,” quoted from my Brewer’s Cup Qualifier coach, Cris Mendoza.

Working at Blue Bottle Coffee, with Founder, James Freeman

Working at Blue Bottle Coffee, with Founder, James Freeman

Working at Saint Frank Coffee at Facebook *Photo Credits: Maykel Loomans

Working at Saint Frank Coffee at Facebook *Photo Credits: Maykel Loomans

In the fall of 2017, I placed 5th in the Brewer’s Cup Qualifier at Reno, Nevada, ultimately granting me a spot to compete at the 2018 United States Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) Brewer’s Cup Nationals held in Seattle, Washington.

2017 Brewer's Cup Qualifiers in Reno, Nevada *Photo Credits: Cris Mendoza

2017 Brewer's Cup Qualifiers in Reno, Nevada *Photo Credits: Cris Mendoza

To give you a quick perspective, there are two qualifying competitions individuals can enter into, in order to try and gain a spot to compete on the national stage. In each qualifying competition, up to thirty-six people can register. In the qualifying competitions held in two different locations in the US, only twelve from each get to advance to nationals. Soooo, let’s do the math here: sixty-four people enter into each qualifier, and only twenty-four get to advance to nationals. Due to special circumstances, twenty-seven were able to advance and represent in Seattle this year. Once at nationals, these twenty-seven individuals compete for a chance to advance into the finals, which only six will move on to. Finally, the number one competitor will move on to compete at the World Brewer's Cup.

What I will confidently say is that any single person who decides to enter into competition has absolutely laid everything on the line. The type of practice and preparation that goes into routine formulation to brewing the finest coffees to aim for perfection comes far from easy; in fact, many will say that it oftentimes leads to insanity. Every single person has taken the extra time from their everyday job to practice their craft leading up to the national stage, no doubt about it.

Most days for me ended around 7pm to about 9pm depending on how heavy the average workday was. The physical fatigue and frustration was real at times and the idea of being a normal human becomes an estranged concept, but the reward and humbling opportunity to be a part of something much greater than myself is truly a gratifying personal experience.

Finca Sophia was a coffee that I knew I wanted to use in the competition, from my start of working at Equator Coffees & Teas. A coffee that is the epitome of a labor of love from all ends was one that I had the blessing to work with. From personal interactions with the producers of the farm, to working directly with my head roaster, Nate Breckenridge, to having discussions and feedback directly with the owners of the farm, Helen Russell, Brooke McDonell, and Willem Boot, to receiving feedback from my coaches, Akaash Saini, Tovara Salley and our baristas working in the cafes, this coffee completely enraptured my heart; it basically “brought me all of the feels.”

US Brewer's Cup Competition Coffee, Finca Sophia

US Brewer's Cup Competition Coffee, Finca Sophia

Heading into nationals, all I deeply wanted to do was to provide justice at its best to the coffee itself and everyone who’s helped me along the way. I pressed to present to the industry the emphasized importance of “providing a delightful quality of life for everyone along the supply chain, as collaboration is essential to producing amazing coffee.” If I had successfully done just that, I would walk away a happy person.

US Brewer's Cup in Seattle, Washington *Photo Credits: Cris Mendoza

US Brewer's Cup in Seattle, Washington *Photo Credits: Cris Mendoza

On Saturday evening in front of a mass crowd on the national floor, standing alongside twenty-six fellow competitors in the Brewer’s Cup, I knew I gave everything I had. From the process it took to be standing on that floor, leading up to finding out which six individuals would be advancing into the finals, I had the genuine feeling of gratitude for the work I put out. My heart was beating at what felt like a thousand miles an hour, and when the announcers reached the second to last person, I heard my name being called. The type of happiness, relief, and everything combined could not be described in words.

US Brewer's Cup Top 6 Finalists *Photo Credits: http://www.baristamagazine.com/

US Brewer's Cup Top 6 Finalists *Photo Credits: http://www.baristamagazine.com/

Sunday rolls around, and at this point, my body began short-circuiting, and I was giving every ounce of adrenaline and energy I had left in me. Though I placed sixth in the finals, I cannot be more happy with the work I put in while gaining further wisdom and insight on to how to succeed in the next Brewer's Cup. I am inspired and invigorated to come back stronger and smarter in the next season of competition. I cannot be more happy to find out that my fellow competitor and now friend, Becca Woodard of George Howell Coffee will be representing our country in the World Brewer’s Cup. I am so proud and happy for her and know she will do a flawless job representing the United States, competing in Amsterdam. I will surely be cheering her on!

I hope from this blog, I can inspire you to follow your heart and embrace the process it takes to get to wherever it is you want to go. In the end, if there ever is one, you will be so damn proud of yourself. I know I am, and I will see everyone again in the next season, vying for the opportunity to represent as an ambassador of the United States in the World Brewer’s Cup.

 

Until then, with 💙+☕️,

EmmMeetsCoffee 🙆☕️