US Coffee Champs NOLA-2018

 Connor James, Coma's Roaster

Connor James, Coma's Roaster


This February, head roaster Connor James will be competing in the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) regional roasting competition located in New Orleans on behalf of Coma Coffee Roasters. The SCAA sponsored competitions remain the specialty coffee industry’s highest and most professionally developed contests to determine the very most elite. Within this competition, formally recognized as U.S. Coffee Championships, exists four different categories: Barista, Cup Tasters, Brewer’s Cup and the Roasters.

The roasting competition is designed to highlight the art and craft of coffee roasting. Each of the 30 participants are sent 50 lbs. of the same green coffee, graciously provided by Genuine Origin Importers. From there it is their job to carefully and meticulously roast the coffee to the best of their ability. This means finding an optimal balance of acidity, sweetness, body, and aroma within the coffee. Accentuating too much of any one of these categories can result in a reduction of points by the judges.

As much of the green coffee sample can be used during this ‘trial and error’ process as needed, as long as the necessary 2 lbs. of coffee remains for the participant to bring with them for competition day. It is then that the roaster will use their roasted coffee for two contest stages: a blind tasting conducted by professional judges and then a presentation of the coffee to test the roaster’s knowledge of green coffee and the roasting process performed to judges and
attendees alike. From these two portions, a joint score will be given to the participant and depending on placement there is the potential to advance to the national competition
held annually in Seattle, WA.



Unfolding the secrets of a given green coffee starts and ends with textbook application of the scientific method; controlling variables, creating theories, testing those theories, observing/noting the results of those tests and then adjusting variables accordingly based on results of the tests. The goal is to accentuate the most appealing qualities of the coffee within categories such as sweetness, acidity, cleanliness, mouthfeel, uniformity, aroma and aftertaste.
These can be highlighted and manipulated throughout different stages of the roasting process.

Understanding the intricacies of the roasting craft is a never-ending journey that our roaster Connor James has been tirelessly studying and practicing. Literature in form of books and online journals are limited, though some of his personal favorites in the industry have released extremely helpful guides and data on how to better understand roasting including, Scott Rao and Rob Hoos.

Also, keeping an open-mind while roasting a new coffee is of significant importance. Of course, certain rules exist that can be applied to specific coffees, but there are always exceptions to these rules. For example, African coffees are typically of higher acidity and density then Latin American coffees, though this doesn’t mean that there can’t be a Guatemalan coffee that possesses a higher acidity then an Ethiopian coffee. That being said, guidelines are helpful but absolutes should be avoided which is important to remember while roasting and brewing alike.

Competition Coffee

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The green coffee we were sent to compete with is a fully-washed process Colombia from the Nariño region. This Nariño crop was harvested during Colombia’s primary harvest in May of 2017 from a community lot known as Alto San Diego, nestled in the steep hills of Dona Juana volcano at roughly 1,750-1,900 MASL. Alto San Diego is comprised of 18 separate farms, all around a hectare in size. Genuine Origin Importers works very closely with this community, aiding with trainings in sustainable farming as well as small-business practices. Once harvested the coffee was transported to the central coffee mill where it was placed in fermentation tanks for 16-18 hours, washed thoroughly and then dried on patios and a mechanical silo. All said and done the coffee was dried and sorted, ready for shipment Sept. 1st . This coffee, scoring at an impressive 85 boasts an exceptional amount of sweetness with tasting notes of caramel, orange and cane sugar. The aroma is reminiscent of savory almonds and the body is appealingly juicy and creamy. It is a classically clean, sweet and balanced Latin American coffee.

The importance that this competition holds to the entire Coma Coffee team is immeasurable. Not only is it a fantastic opportunity to network and find fresh inspiration from a multitude of other coffee professionals from around the country, but it is also a chance to step up onto a huge stage and publicly demonstrate the dedication and love we have for this craft. Its an opportunity for us to represent St. Louis and the talent that has been shaped by a city that
identifies deeply in food and drink culture. We are certainly aiming to achieve success in this competition, but participation is extremely humbling in and of itself.

Macy Holtzman