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December 24, 2006

The secret world of the coffee judge

screen-shot of barista judges instructions

We all know about the years of dedication and training needed to become a top competitor, but how often do we think about the dedication and training needed to become a competition judge?

I just discovered that not only is there a whole world of barista competition, there's a whole sub-world of barista judges. And the qualifications can be a real killer.

For instance, potential judges with the Speciality Coffee Association of America face a surprisingly difficult taste test. The test has nothing to do with identifying different flavors of coffee, it's much more basic, and more challenging. You're given a series of clear solutions with different concentrations of sweet, sour, and bitter. All you have to do is sort them and put them in order.

But, man, it's a killer! Read one judge's account of the test, and another judge's hints for passing.

If you're interested in why taste tests are so hard, there's a great chapter on just that topic (complete with a great profile of, of all things, a mayonnaise taster), check out Malcolm Gladwell's Blink.


Posted by Chris Spurgeon at December 24, 2006 07:54 AM