2018 US Cup Tasters Champion, Ken Selby, takes us through his amazing journey to the top - including, how he used the Sifter in a novel way to train his taste buds. A great lesson in how science, creativity, and passion can set you in the right direction.
At The 2018 US Cup Tasters Championship
How does one practice for a Cup Tasters Competition? More importantly, how does someone practice for a World Championship against the best tasters each country has to offer? If you’re anything like me, this question would bother you, especially since a tasting competition all boils down to one’s personal palate.
Ken Selby's Brewing Setup
There’s only so much you can do to train. In fact, I might sum up my training advice as: ‘taste everything you can, as much as you can’. Cup Tasters is possibly the only purely subjective scoring competition in the world of coffee competitions. That is, your cup is either chosen or not based on the judges opinion. The competition format does not provide competitors many different ways of training beyond drinking more and more coffee so it takes a little creativity to train and refine your palate in increasingly sophisticated ways.
A little about me
Ken Selby up close and personal
My name is Ken Selby and I am the 2018 US Cup Tasters Champion. This year was the first time I ever competed in a coffee competition. Not only do I not have a handy Q Certification to authoritatively state my tasting chops, but also it was not until after the competition did I finally work inside a coffee roasting company. Needless to say, I was not expecting to win against such a strong and reputable field of competitors this year. Winning inevitably led me to evaluate what I was doing prior to competition that led me to a win.
How to Win
2018 US Cup Tasters Championship Winners
I attribute my win to my insatiable appetite to try any pleasure life has to offer, including, but not limited to beer, wine, cheese, spices, etc. But now that I was set to compete on the world stage, this led me to try to figure out new training techniques to help me stand out and perform to the best of my ability.
In comes the KRUVE Sifter
Ken Selby at the 2018 US Cup Tasters Championship
The KRUVE Sifter is an incredible tool that nearly every Brewer's Cup competitor has at his or her disposal to achieve near perfect particle size distribution. However, as per my note above on ‘creative thinking’, I decided to use the Sifter in a less intuitive manner. I was using the Sifter to achieve imperfect particle distribution. I would sift the coffees and take the imperfect grinds of the same coffee and brew them to achieve disparate extractions...on purpose.
I am attempting to refine my palate by being able to reliably discriminate the ‘wrong’ cup. In other words, I am using a form of triangulation, by realizing disparate extractions of the same two coffees.
I was using the Sifter to achieve imperfect particle distribution. I would sift the coffees and take the imperfect grinds of the same coffee and brew them to achieve disparate extractions...on purpose.
Imagine you have a set of cups where Cup A and C are both the same Guatemalan coffees brewed at different extractions and then Cup B is a different Guatemalan. You now have to taste all three and know how Cup A and C are the same coffee just different extractions, either over or under extracted, but nonetheless the same. The Sifter made this idea of training easily achievable. I simply sift each coffee and portion out each cup to have different levels of fines (really small particles) or boulders (larger than your mean particle size).
Obviously, during this training I will not be in charge of any of the preparations nor will I know what region the coffees come from. Instead I set general parameters:
Parameter 1 (P1): Coffee used can only be wash processed.
Parameter 2 (P2): All coffee used in the triangulation had to be selected from a broad though specific region. For example, all the coffees being used needed to be from Central America or Central Africa.
Parameter 3 (P3): Each set of cups needs to have one cup that has a different proportion of fines or boulders added into the cup. There can be more than one, but at least one is needed to ensure there was an over or under extracted cup.
I know there will always be methodological criticisms for the experiments we set up, so I tried my hardest to offset clear failures of the experiment. One in particular with regards to P3, since if you can simply taste the two cups that are similar then the one offset cup is clearly the wrong one. To offset that simplicity cup I wrote P1 and P2 to be taken together to offset obvious flavor distinctions (more or less). Consider you have two washed El Salvador coffees from the same farm but different varieties and growing conditions. Now consider in this experiment one of them was slightly over extracted and the other two were not. I suspect you’d get ‘in your head’ about their flavors and exactly what two were the same coffees since they will all be eerily similar.
I’m very pleased to have competed and even more honored to have won the 2018 US Cup Tasters Champion. My sincere thanks to the KRUVE team. The sifter was instrumental in understanding taste. Looking forward to the launch of the next product, guys!
About Ken Selby
Ken Selby is a 29 year old coffee professional based in Seattle, Washington. He works primarily with Vashon Coffee Company behind the scenes doing everything from wholesale management to roast profiling. Ken has been in the coffee industry now for 5 years and within that time he has been able to accrue a few notable awards and accolades. To name a few, Ken is the 2018 US Cup Tasters champion and is expecting to compete in the World Championship come early November. He has also placed 2nd in America’s Best Espresso this year with the only decaf coffee in competition. Ken and his team won the initial La Marzocco Crush the Rush competition and, to this day, still hold the fastest timed round.
For the upcoming 2019 year, Ken will be competing again in Cup Tasters as well as the Brewers Competition. He will also be training another barista for the Barista Championships. Check out Ken Selby on Instagram @calumnious.human
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