The Swedish Speciality Coffee Fest 2016 was held about a month ago. At the last minute, I was asked if I could judge the semi finals, which was a blessing.
To be a judge in a competition is a huge responsibility, but also a great honor. I think everyone who has at one point been in a competition, and then in a judges position, appreciates the effort of the competitor regardless of the results.
Many years ago, I worked as a hypnotherapist. There is a very strong force in the aspect of competition, and that is the power of suggestion. Suggestions, in the hypnotherapeutic sense, are prejudicial opinions based on prior information that we build our new experience from. Let’s say for instance that Volvo is a very secure car to drive your children in, you will feel safer in a Volvo with your children than in any other car. This is what advertising pushes and uses in order for you to buy their product. It happens on a subconscious level, so it’s not necessarily so that you understand why you have strong opinions about something or someone, that might stem from previous experiences.
It became very clear to me in the judges room, that the suggestions from some people competing were very strong, regardless of what they produced in the cup, both positive and negative. One clear example was a competitor that had printed a card with information regarding the coffee, that stated it was picked in 2014. Once that information was out there, everyone detected past crop defects.
From a therapist point of view, I understand this kind of mentality. But as a judge, and competitor, it made me think of the value of competing. How can competition step outside its mental bubble of excluding a certain kind of style? How can obviously unbalanced acidic espresso gain strong points in one country, but be a number 35 in the World Championships? Is the World Championships less biased? Or are their criteria in the judges room of a different context?
A part of me wants to leave the judges room and hit that competition floor again. But another part of me says, Why? When the coffee I might want to present won’t please the climate of judges in this part of the world? In 2011, when I last competed in the Barista category, the taste descriptor was “Fishermans Friend”. It was two El Salvador coffees in a blend. The coffee was brilliant. I finished last of 6 in the finals. If I would compete with the same coffees today, would I even make it to the finals with this kind of coffee? Or would I finish first just because I know most of the judges? This question needs to be answered by judges all over the world in all judges rooms, and in honesty.
NP: Bathory – A Fine Day To Die