Tasting is an essential part of running a quality-focused coffee roastery. Of course, we drink a lot of our own coffee, but we also set aside time each week to critically analyze each coffee that we roast. Our quality control team is led by our lead roaster Houston Miller and our director of operations Luke Daugherty. Luke happens to be competing in the US Cup Tasting Championship this week in Long Beach, California. We asked Luke a few questions about the competition and why he wants to compete.
What is the US Cup Tasters Competition?
Cup Taster's is sort of the coffee equivalent to a skills competition for a wine somalier. It is a chance for those who are often behind the scenes in the industry making critical judgments about coffee quality to showcase the skills that are important to their jobs. Each competitor has eight minutes to taste eight sets of three coffees. In each set two coffees are identical, one is different. The competitors must identify the odd cups as quickly as possible.
How have you prepared for the competition?
In one sense, my job for the last several years has been a large portion of the preparation. I cup a full table of coffees at least once a week, and do lots of sampling and other brewing in between. This has developed my palette in a way that no short-term training could. The only way to get a fine-tuned palette is to taste coffee (and other things!) all the time, and to do it with others who notice things that you don't. In the short-term, I have ramped up the amount of tasting I have been doing over the last month, I have brought in a lot broader variety of coffees, and have been brewing them in different ways in order to work on my ability to notice much finer differences in a broader spectrum of coffees than I am typically used to tasting.
How does this relate to your job at Quills?
This relates to my job very well, actually. One main area of responsibility for me at Quills is quality control, from making the final call about coffees we decide to bring in to assisting with the details of roast profiles for those coffees. It's a job that is heavily dependent on having a palate that is fine-tuned for noticing small details. Quills has grown a great reputation for sourcing, roasting and serving only high quality coffees. We can only do this by being able to notice positive and negative qualities in the coffees we sample, and in the profiles we're using to roast them. Training for this competition is helping me to be able to notice even more minute details, so that's only going to benefit Quills' ability to continue to source and profile great coffees. I would also hope that my presence at the competition would just reinforce to the broader coffee community that Quills is a company that's serious about coffee quality.