CoffeeWars 4: The Whole Story

After the chaos and rather dismal turnout for CoffeeWars last year (two entries and a half-hearted judging crew), we all vowed that this year would be Different. An actual mailing list was established, and then another one was established when the first one went belly- up, with the intention of keeping Coffee Warriors in touch, and facilitating "communication," which we hear is important.

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, our founder Rob contacted Dark Tangent and Black Beetle and asked if we could be an official event this year. Being official means there's less risk of being shut down because you're in the way, there might even be some help available, and (most importantly) there's some pressure not to screw up too mightily, because you'd look like more of an ass for failing to produce an official part of the con. Well, our wishes were granted, and with one swell foop, we found ourselves dubbed "official."

Then we sat around for a long time, basically doing nothing. Every once in a while, somebody would send out some agitational e-mail to the list, in an effort to stimulate a response and get an actual commitment from folks about who was bringing what, and so on. These rarely had much effect on their own, but eventually, the stream of them became more continuous, and certain duties began to stick with certain folks.

Of these tasks, the most daunting was Shrdlu's: the acquisition and safe transport of the coffee makers. Last year, Foofus had just run to Wal-Mart and grabbed up the cheapest ones he could find. This year would be different: we were all counting on Shrdlu, and she did not disappoint. Using the elite skills of "counting" and "multiplying," we reasoned that there might be as many as 12 entries this year. Based on the assumption that we'd start at 10:00AM, and finish roughly around 11:00AM, we reasoned that we'd need three pots brewing at a more-or-less reasonable pace in order to finish that amount in the time allotted.

Whoah. We were ever wrong.

On Friday morning, we got set up by around 9:00AM. We brewed and consumed the requisite pre-war cup of coffee (lest every judge rate the first entry highly simply because it was the first coffee of the day). By around 9:30AM, we had 16 entries, exhausting our supply of entry forms. We started brewing, knowing that we were behind, already. Even before 10:00AM, we couldn't accept any more coffee, and had to start turning people away. This was very sad for us: it was never our intention-- we just underestimated how drastically popular the event would become. We drew the line at 20 entries: no more, man... no more.

We tried, as much as we could, to be nice to the many people whom we had to turn away. There were some real disappointments (i.e., some entries that looked really delicious and interesting), both for the would-be contestants, and for those of us who were running the event. What can we say? Next year, we'll be better prepared to deal with the volume of entries.

Aside from this issue, CoffeeWars went really well. We were able to accept a total of 18 entries (well 20, but two were ultimately disqualified). As was mentioned above, we ran out of entry forms, but we cleverly subdivided the ones we had. One of the innovative factors in this year's war was the attempt at a somewhat blind test: coffees were tasted and judged by number, rather than name, so that a judge might not say "well I know I hate [bean/roast x], so I will rate it low." This was not a perfect system, as the coffees could still be recognized as they were sampled for aroma, but it's a start, and we'll refine it next year.

In addition to the shortage in entry forms, the unanticipated flood of entries caused us to run out of judging forms. When it was recognized that we were running low, Foofus made a run to the Alexis Park lobby, where a really nice person behind the desk quickly made some more photocopies. This was excellent customer service, and we really appreciate it. The bar staff were also very good sports about the way we crowded them and filled their trash can with coffee filters and grounds. Again: it was appreciated.

We had seven judges. We had support staff (Alice, MadHat, and Foofus) making sure things ran smoothly. Shrdlu was the brewer of all entries. We endeavored to give coffee to everyone who entered (though some left before it was brewed), and everyone who was turned away (though, again, some left before any was available). We were able to give some coffee to onlookers (like, for example, the very frustrated Eyebiter, who had forgotten his entry), but I am sure that many were overlooked. In a nutshell, we tried to share as best we could, but time and volume constraints prevented us from being as generous as we otherwise would have been.

By the end of the event, we had brewed and consumed three gallons of Coffee. One judge was heard to comment (about 2/3 of the way through the tasting), "my spine is tingling." I think it is safe to say that the judges were adequately caffeinated. The effects of the morning's festivities could also be observed in the handwriting of the judges: the order of entries could probably be determined forensically by looking at the ballots and seeing which were written with the most shaky hands.

All good things eventually end, and CoffeeWars IV was no exception. A little after 11:00AM, we shouted a mighty toast, in honor of those Coffee Warriors who could not be with us that day, and we dismantled our little table and left.

All that was left at this point was the tabulation of the scores, and the delivery of the excellent prize (a Cuisinart combination grinder- brewer-alarm-clock appliance, generously donated by Dr. Vann Harl) at the closing ceremony. This went well, and although our winner (Hook) wasn't really very verbose, he seemed satisfied with the outcome.

So endeth the saga of this, the fourth mighty CoffeeWar. We are already excited about next year, and we're going to do what we can to make it more interesting and better.

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