Meet the U.S. Regional Champs: NW Brewers Cup—Honor Forte

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In the days leading up to the United States Barista Championship and the U.S. Brewer’s Cup, we at Barista Magazine are proud to share with you exclusive interviews with the six regional champions in each competition. We will feature the Southwestern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the Northwestern Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Southeast Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; the Northeastern Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions; the South Central Barista and Brewers Cup Champions; and the North Central Regional Barista and Brewer’s Cup Champions on Tuesday. And stay tuned right here on Barista Magazine’s blog all next week for more of our preview coverage of all the exciting events and parties happening in Seattle in conjunction with the SCAA, and reports and photos of all the action every day through the end of this epic week in coffee.

Honor Forte
Sales, Wholesale Support, Barista
Olympia Coffee Roasting Co.
Olympia, Washington

When did you first get into coffee? First coffee job?

I first got interested in coffee by stopping in to the wonderful Gryphon Cafe in Wayne, Pennsylvania, during high school. I lived in West Virginia but I had several friends studying around Philly, and they were all drawn to this great place that had a La Marzocco and recommended a straight espresso—this was the first place I had seen that. This is also the first place where I saw people who cared a lot about coffee and put energy into making it well. Then in college, I was recruited by Rich Johnson at the Daily Grind in Morgantown, West Virginia, to come work under him and learn the trade. Looking back, I don’t know how he even knew I was interested in coffee, but from day one I knew I loved the job.

Honor has competed in three regional brewers cup events and one national. The 2014 U.S. Brewers Cup will be his second national appearance.

Honor has competed in three regional brewers cup events and one national. The 2014 U.S. Brewers Cup will be his second national appearance.

What was your first amazing experience with coffee?

I remember a distinct event at the Daily Grind after about six months of working where I tried espresso that was really fresh—like, two days off roast. Our coffee was roasted in Seattle and shipped to northern West Virginia, so I had never seen coffee that was that fresh. I probably wouldn’t prefer this flavor now, but at the time it was the most elegant and complex coffee I had ever tried. This was the first time I had the thought that coffee could actually be the thing we seek out, not just the coffee shop. It was enlightening. I remember thinking that I wanted to give that experience to customers, too. I had a similar experience with one of the first versions of Apollo by Counter Culture, I think it was called “Espresso X” at the time, and it led me to applying at Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia, where I worked until 2011.

Honor has made coffee all over the country, from West Virginia to Pennsylvania. He hangs his hat in Olympia, Wash., now, where he worked for Olympia Coffee Roasters.

Honor has made coffee all over the country, from West Virginia to Pennsylvania. He hangs his hat in Olympia, Wash., now, where he worked for Olympia Coffee Roasters.

Competition history?

Competed in Northwest Regional Brewers Cup 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Competed in United States Brewers Cup 2o12

Honor with his dog, Pablo, enjoying some of the epic views in the Pacific Northwest.

Honor with his dog, Pablo, enjoying some of the epic views in the Pacific Northwest.

How did you prepare for this year’s Northwest Brewers Cup? How did you choose your coffee, train, etc.?

Olympia Coffee has had a really fun tradition of showing up for these events in big numbers; we always have four or more people competing in a regional because we’ve seen it truly make us a better company over the years. If we have half of our staff all taking time to question perfection at the competition level, that trickles down to the retail level. We’ve seen it improve both our baristas’ understanding of coffee and our customers’ experiences at the same time, so we make it a priority to show up if we can. That being said, we throw these evening and Sunday get-togethers in our training lab leading up to competitions where everyone shows up for run-throughs, and if we have judges-in-training, they participate, too, by scoring the competitors. This is where we get lots of feedback on our coffees and presentations and ultimately make decisions as to what we’re taking to the judges. There’s always stressful moments, but overall this is something we look forward to as a company.

Honor used Olympia Coffee's Kenya Gatomboya to win the Northwest Regional Brewers Cup.

Honor used Olympia Coffee’s Kenya Gatomboya to win the Northwest Regional Brewers Cup.

Please describe your coffee and why you love it so much.

I brewed with the Kenya Gotomboya this year. I think Kenyan coffees are why I really first fell in love with brewed coffee, but it can be risky to take a high-intensity coffee to competition. This version of Gatomboya, though, has a few variables in line that make it stand out on the Brewers Cup score sheet. It’s from the most recent fly-crop, which makes it both fresh this time of year and a bit softer in the acidity, but it’s also a 100% SL-28 day-lot that we had the opportunity to source directly from the Barichu Co-op last summer. We chose our lot among all the day-lots for its super particular sweetness and acidity balance. This is ideal since balance is one of the only things that has a double value on the Brewers Cup scoresheet. I think it really is the ideal competition coffee—I just hope I do it justice at the U.S. Brewers Cup!

Besides making coffee, Honor is super into randonneuring, a kind of cycling competition.

Besides making coffee, Honor is super into randonneuring, a kind of cycling competition.

Honor, what do you do when you’re not doing coffee?

I try and travel as much as I can with my wife, Kristina. We plan our year around trips and adventures. Even if it’s just a weekend trip, we try and see Mt. Rainier and the Olympic National Forest as often as we can, but right now our plans are focused on Hawaii and Alaska both later this year. My biggest hobby though is long-distance cycling. I actually do it as a part of a traditional sport called randonneuring, which is a little like the SCAA or WBC but for non-competitive long-distance cycling. The sport and the club that supports it is over 100 years old and is gaining a lot of popularity outside of France where it started. Mostly, randonneuring is what gets me out meeting people that are all in different industries that come together for cycling. I also have a Flat-Coated Retriever named Pablo and a cat named Hulk that are a huge part of my life!

Honor and his wife, Kristina, love traveling and exploring the natural world.

Honor and his wife, Kristina, love traveling and exploring the natural world.

Olympia had an awesome showing at the Northwest Brewers Cup, with three of the six hailing from Oly! Why does your town have such a great coffee community?

It really is amazing that such a tiny town has Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., Batdorf and Bronson, and Espresso Parts, not to mention Bar Francis and Method Coffee that serve Four Barrel, Verve, Handsome, Coava, and others. For having less than 50,000 people, this really is one of the most dynamic and high quality coffee communities in the world. I think I can say that because I’m still relatively new out here, and in awe of what these people have built. I would encourage anybody to make Olympia part of their coffee tour in April during the SCAA Event.

Honor really loves the community vibe among the coffee people in Olympia, Washington.

Honor really loves the community vibe among the coffee people in Olympia, Washington.

Anything else to add?

Yeah! I wanted to pass on a huge thanks to Olympia Coffee for providing a way to do these events and encouraging their staff to try new things, and to Jared Gum of Method Coffee for making me think more critically about brewed coffee over the last few years. I couldn’t have done it without those guys.

 

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.