A look back at the 2011 GFA gala, with both of your Sprudge editors reporting from inside the posh Ferry Building in San Francisco…

“Coffee! Congratulations! This is really awesome because they say we represent the best of our industries and that’s lucky for us because I think we are the best industry. So, sorry everybody else. [Laughter, Boos, Hisses] There’s one thing you need to know about coffee people and that’s that coffee people really love coffee people.” – Colleen Anunu, Gimme! Coffee

More than 3 years on from Slow Food Nation, an event whose retrospective acclaim and estimation shows no signs of slowing, the San Francisco Organic Dining High-Low Society scene is still a real trip. In the 19th century, you would have needed the bluest of blue blood to be anywhere near an event like this, and it would be thrown not in celebration of tasty things, but rather to honor the holy nuptials of some anemic royalty. In the 20th century perhaps sheer money could buy your way in (or at the very least, a notable art collection). But here in 21st, it is the organic apples you’ve sourced for your line of heirloom preserves – this is what clips your ticket into high society. The result is something like the Royal Court at Versailles getting down with the 4-H Club, both low and high society at the same time; a place where where no one quiets down for the key note speech and Alice Waters is referred to only as “Alice”, making her the mononymous Brazillian soccer hunk of California cuisine.

For the sake of archival purposes, props and perhaps to get your hands on some of the coffees that were selected, here is the complete list of 2012 coffee finalists and winners. One things certain, it was a banner year for Yirgacheffe.

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Broadway Café and Roasting Company, Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Missouri * Winner
Counter Culture Coffee, Buna Ababa – Haru North Carolina * Winner
Equator Coffees & Teas, Ethiopia Watadera FTO California * Winner
Flying Goat Coffee, Ethiopia Sidamo Moredocofe California
George Howell Coffee Company, Konga Yirgacheffe Massachusetts
Gimme! Coffee, Colombia Finca San Luis New York * Winner
Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co., Organic Ethiopia Koke Missouri
Kickapoo Coffee, Organic Biloya Yirgacheffe Wisconsin * Winner
Klatch Coffee Inc., Ethiopia Worka California * Winner
Noble Coffee RoastingColombia Finca San Luis Oregon * Winner
Sightglass Coffee, Ethiopia Shakiso California

EXC Ethiopian coffees cleaned up at the GFA’s for a variety of reasons. We asked Good Food Awards judge and Counter Culture Coffee head buyer Peter Giuliano for his opinion on why Ethiopian coffees were so resoundingly honored:

The jasmine-citrus-honey flavor of coffees from the Sidama region near the town of Yirgacheffe- where all the Ethiopian Good Food Awards winners were from- is unique in all of coffee. This mouthwatering flavor- instantly identifiable to any student of coffee- is probably the most cherished coffee flavor on the planet. Every coffee expert I have ever known grows wistful and romantic when they speak of Sidama and Yirgacheffe coffees.

It’s not at all surprising that the coffees of Southern Ethiopia would essentially sweep the Good Food Awards. The coffees of Ethiopia are monumental, and are the granddaddy of all the coffees of the world anyhow.

We also think it had something to do with the rules, whose wording may have unintentionally given advantage to countries with nationalized coffee programs, like those run in Ethiopia by the ECX, or semi-nationalized who-can-really-tell programs like those run in Colombia by the FNC.

Somehow amidst the crash and din of the downstairs after party, we had an opportunity to pour V60s for attendees of the post-gala eat-and-drink-a-thon. It was hard to juggle the brisket, the coleslaw, the aspic, and the booze jars flying past, so as to truly step back to to taste the coffee. Here’s a short list of things consumers kept asking at the GFA coffee booth:

  • Why are there so many Ethiopian coffees?
  • Where’s the decaf?
  • Do you have cream and sugar?
  • What’s the darkest roast?
  • How many grams of coffee do you use for a cup?
  • Where’s the bathroom?

In all, the GFA left us with lingering questions. Who is the Good Food Award ultimately for? Is it for the farmers? Certainly there were farmers in attendance: organic raspberry farmers from Oregon; fig farmers from North Carolina; apricot farmers from California. But nary an attendee from Colombia or Ethiopia. Is it instead for honoring the roasters? Are they more like the whiskey distillers, crafting alchemy from raw material they did not themselves grow, albeit with fewer cowboy hats?

Steve McCarthy of Clear Creek Distillery, whose remarkable eau de vie poire was honored in the GFA’s “Spirits” category, had some wise words to share with the assembled winners, journalists, and courtly hangers-on, and it’s a nice place to leave our 2011 GFA coverage:

“Americans are obsessed with building brands. But never forget that you aren’t building brands, you’re creating products. The brand will take care of itself.”

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