Kelly’s Next Step: Coffee Competition


The first of the two Preliminaries I signed up for was in Portland, Oregon. I arrived at Buckman Coffee Factory (a shared roasting space) early on a Friday morning. Sarah Frinak (who would also be my stage manager in Tulsa- she is a rock star), from Counter Culture Coffee, introduced herself as the stage manager for the event. We all piled into a room set up with three mystery coffees for us to taste labeled ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’. We had 60 minutes to spend with the coffees once they started brewing. I took as many notes as possible on the fragrance, aroma, flavors, and finish while the coffees were hot, warm, and cool. I ended up choosing the first coffee (which ended up being from Guatemala) mostly because it had really distinct qualities that were easy to describe.

Once I made my final decision, I was assigned a time to come back and practice brewing the coffee with my brewing device. I shared the room with eight other competitors. We were each given a section of a long table marked with masking tape. We had just one hour to practice. Looking around I saw competitors with organized bins of equipment and coaches to help fetch them water and clean their devices between brews. I got my coffee dialed in and took as many notes as possible to add into my presentation. I scrambled to clean up my station in time. It was an intense hour that went by way too quickly! When I was finished, I immediately went to get an ice cream cone (naturally) while I finalized my presentation to include the details of my coffee and how I decided to brew it.

My competition slot was 24 hours later. I had only 20 minutes for a final practice brew, though most of that was honestly kind of a blur. Then I had 7 minutes to set my stage, 7 minutes to perform, and 7 minutes to clean. Once it was over, all I was certain of was that I said everything I wanted to say, I made eye contact, and I didn’t spill anything. I got to taste the coffees after the judges were finished and they turned out great! I was feeling really confident. Too confident. By the next day, I was convinced that I probably scored terribly and all of my confidence from the day before was gone.

Announcements would begin in the late afternoon once everyone had competed and scores had been tallied. Until then, I tried to stay positive and hope that I had at least placed in the top ten. I had some ice cream (I really like ice cream), took some deep breaths, and waited patiently.
The event hosts first announced all of the sponsors and thanked them for their support. Then the mystery coffees were revealed. The top four would be announced soon! The prizes were sitting on a table. Everyone was eyeballing the medals made out of grinder burrs. All of the competitors lined up at the front of the room for photos and a final round of applause for their efforts. Nathanial May, head judge, took the microphone to announce the top four…

“In 4th place from Temple Coffee Roasters in Sacramento, CA, Kelly Hill!”

I was so excited! Part of me knew I had done really well and even when self-doubt crept in, my instincts were right! I placed! I got a small copper grinder burr medal and a place in the Qualifier! Cruz Conrad from Pachamama Coffee Cooperative in Sacramento also placed, which was especially cool as two Sacramento baristas came out on top!

There were lots of photos taken. We received our official score sheets and had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with our judges. My scores were really good so my feedback was minimal. This was as much of a curse as it was a blessing, but more on that later.