Becca Woodard of George Howell Coffee Company in Boston, Massachusetts is your 2018 US Brewers Cup Champion! Woodard won it all in Seattle at the 2018 US Coffee Championships national event in April of 2018, and today we’re celebrating that win with the interview below. Next up: Woodard competes to represent the United States at the 2018 World Brewers Cup Championship in Belo Horizonte, Brazil on the 7th-9th of November.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Becca Woodard! First off, a huge congrats on all of us at Sprudge for your Brewers Cup win! Can you describe the moment your name was called? How did it feel?
Thank you so much! It was completely surreal (and still is). My goal when I decided to start competing was just to make it to nationals, I never thought I would win. Going into that weekend I felt under prepared, unsure of myself, and content with taking 25th place. When they announced I was in the top six and moving on to the finals was when my determination really took over. I remember thinking in that moment, “I made it this far. I’m going to do everything I can to win tomorrow.” Hearing my name being called as the US Brewers Cup Champion for 2018 was a dream and it is a true honor to hold that title.
How many years of competition did it take you to win it all?
This year was actually my first time competing. When I say I really was not expecting to win, I mean I REALLY was not expecting to win! Brewers cup was technically not my first competition though as I competed in the Cup Tasters qualifier in Reno before doing Brewers Cup in New Orleans. I wanted to get my feet wet and watch some other competitors before diving head first into the Brewers Cup.
What coffee did you compete with at the 2018 US Brewers Cup Championship? Why did you pick this coffee? What did it taste like, and who roasted it?
The coffee I competed with was Lot #236 from the Ninety Plus Gesha Estate in Panama. I can’t even fully put into words how interesting this coffee tasted and smelled. We picked it for the insane aroma and super complex tasting notes, which included orange liqueur, dark chocolate, lilac, passion fruit, and sangria, among many other things. Robert Rodriguez, the head roaster for George Howell and one of my coaches, roasted it to absolute perfection!
You used a pretty unique brewing method to win the US Brewers Cup—talk to us more about your technique and stage set-up.
Well, to be completely honest, I was having a bit of a hard time finding a brew method that fully highlighted the intense aromatics of the coffee. When cupped, the break provided the most intense and complex aroma I’ve ever experienced in a coffee, but that aroma was lost when I brewed it through all of the methods I was familiar with. I was about ready to concede to the fact that the aroma would be a bit muted when Rachel Apple, George Howell’s quality control manager, suggested trying the Walkure. I started out a bit skeptical but it turned out to have the perfect combination of the clarity of a filter brew with the body of a full immersion while holding on to that aroma I was so hell bent on getting in the final cup.
The next challenge came when I tried brewing three of them in a row; each brew took so long that I was just barely able to get all three done in 10 minutes, and that didn’t include actually serving the coffee to the judges. The George Howell team started brainstorming ideas on how to pour all three at once and eventually came up with the metal stand and kettle tray you saw on stage. By locking the three kettles together and using the metal stand to support the weight, I was able to pour three kettles at the same time brewing all three cups at once.
How is the prep process coming along for the World Brewers Cup event in Brazil?
It’s actually starting to kick into high gear! I’ve got so many ideas about my open service kicking around so it’s just a matter of narrowing it down. I’m also definitely focusing more heavily on my compulsory than I did for nationals.
I have mixed feelings about all of it. In the end, I’m very glad the event got moved to Brazil. When the SCA first announced they were holding competitions in Dubai I had a long talk with George about whether or not we wanted to follow through with competing at all and ultimately we decided to go to competition and be vocal about not agreeing with the decision to put the competition in Dubai. After winning, the reality of how dangerous it could potentially be for me to travel to Dubai was unnerving to say the least. I had a lot of very long discussions with my family, friends, and co-workers about what the risks-versus-rewards would be. Though I hadn’t quite made my decision by the time they announced the change to Brazil, I was strongly considering deferring. There were way too many unanswered questions about what would happen if I did defer and way too many risks if I didn’t. Ultimately it worked out for the best!
If you could give any advice to a new Brewers Cup competitor, what would you tell them?
Some of the things that helped me the most were writing my script in the same way I talk as well as watching other competitors. I studied videos of WBrC winners and runners-up to see what it was that set them apart from the others. I’d say a lot has to do with smiling and keeping eye contact with the judges.
What is your current role in coffee at George Howell?
I am currently the wholesale account manager and head trainer at George Howell. I drive around getting over caffeinated and teaching new baristas on the daily!
Is there anyone special that you’d like to thank? Any person or persons on your team that you’d like to shout out?
Oh so many! On top of Rob and Rachel who I mentioned earlier, I’d like to thank Jenny Howell who was my other coach for qualifiers and nationals, Joseph Brodsky and Jose Alfredo who grew and processed the winning coffee, and George who of course, none of this would be possible without. I also have to give a huge shout out and thank you to Erika Vonie who helped me tremendously with my script for nationals and is coaching me for worlds!
Thank you again for interviewing me! I never in a million years thought Sprudge would want to talk to me of all people! It really is an honor and hopefully we will be doing this again in a few months after I take Worlds 😉.
It is truly our pleasure. Thank you, Becca!
Photos by Jake Olson, used with permission courtesy Specialty Coffee Association.