Just say ‘Good Food Awards” to most specialty coffee folks, and you’ll elicit a range of responses from frustration to yearning. That’s because these prestigious awards constitute a rigorous and exacting process that narrowed down the 2022 competition’s 2000-plus coffee entries to 15 finalists in the coffee category, (three for each of five regions nationwide). As folks are gearing up for the 2023 competition -- Folks, we’d like to take this opportunity to celebrate Jill Killen, owner and roaster at Cloud City Coffee, one of 2022’s three GFA winners in the coffee category for 8-state North region!
When the news went public that Cloud City Coffee won a 2022 Good Food Award and that Jill’s winning coffee just happens to be our Ethiopia Lecho Torka Fully Washed, we at Catalyst Trade gave a collective cheer (yes, that was that strange noise you might have heard coming from our headquarters in Portland, OR) and promptly reached out to Jill to learn a bit about who she is and get the inside scoop on her GFA journey to the top.
It turns out that outside of coffee roasting, job one for Jill is parenting. If there’s time after that, you might find her working on her latest art project, listening to live music (at least she did before COVID put the kibosh on that), or enjoying her long-time love of photography. With southern roots (but no southern accent), Jill has called the Pacific Northwest home for 24 years now. Her coffee shop, Cloud City, is located in the heart of Seattle’s historic Maple Leaf district, where a welcoming “small town vibe” thrives in the middle of the metropolis.
Now for some insider info on Jill’s Good Food Awards Journey!
INTERVIEW WITH JILL KILLEN OF CLOUD CITY, SEATTLE, WA
Catalyst Trade: Hi Jill! We’re so stoked about your win! Was this your first time to enter the GFA competition?
Catalyst Trade: So how long have you been roasting coffee?
Jill: I've only been roasting for 3 years, so I partly entered to prove to myself I understood what I was doing.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT COFFEE
Catalyst Trade: That’s impressive! How did you choose which coffee to submit?
Jill: I had planned early in the year to enter the Good Food Awards, hoping to at least get to the finals for two coffees (that was my goal). I was on the lookout for a traceable coffee that knocked my socks off. I originally wanted to use a lesser known origin just to lend variety to the awards, but after I tasted the Lecho Torka sample, I knew that was what I wanted to submit.
On rare occasions I taste a coffee that I want to drink their entire cupping bowl and has so many flavor notes that I run out of space. Lecho Torka was one such coffee. I entered the required two pounds of Lecho Torka, and had also planned an El Salvadoran, but the shipping crises prevented me from obtaining that coffee in time.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
Catalyst Trade: What was the GFA application process like for you?
Jill: The submission time was very limited so I had to roast on an off day so I could ship it and it could arrive in the bay area during their two day window (very harrowing considering the issues with mailing anything on time). However, I really had no doubts that Lecho Torka would make it to the next round, which it did.
The Good Food Foundation requested another pound of the Lecho Torka which I roasted on yet another off day on a very hot roaster (I had to make a lot of adjustments on the fly as the machine was so hot I couldn't follow my profile). I nailed my agtron and flavor goals and mailed that to arrive in another very limited two day time span. They announced shortly thereafter we were picked as finalists. The Good Food Foundation then asked me to fill out a form detailing the proven traceability of the coffee, along with our company profile and commitments to sustainability. They then picked the winners based on the coffee score and these responses.
It was a harrowing few weeks but I just knew we had done well. Why? First, Catalyst is such a great partner to work with because of their ownership structure, transparency and traceability. Second, the coffee was so well grown and processed, which is an ode to the farmers, the washing station and the connection that Catalyst made. Third, I really knew I had roasted it well. I had the easiest job of the entire chain, but I also knew that roasting it too lightly would not bring out the inherent sweetness in this delicate coffee. I roasted it very light but with enough development to allow the natural sugars to shine.
Catalyst Trade: Ah, thanks for those kind words about our Lecho Torka. It is definitely a stand out coffee, and we love what you’ve done with it! What were the biggest challenges you faced in the GFA competition?
Jill: The biggest challenge was running out of this coffee! We had had some large orders of it just prior to the Good Food entries.
DIALING IN THE ROAST
Catalyst Trade: I remember that! And thanks to the generosity of another customer, we were able to find you a few more bags! I’m curious—how did you settle on the roast profile you used, and how early in the process did you lock that in?
Jill: I first measured density and moisture and verified that while the moisture was within the desired range (but closer to 10% which tends to lead to a smooth first crack), the density was high. The high density told me that at some point the heat transfer to the inside of the bean would happen quickly. So I started off matching earlier profiles of washed high grown Ethiopian coffees which have a lower charge temp and a gentle curve. I then tasted the coffee at different endpoints. I measure via Agtron: low 80's, medium 80's, high 80's, and low 90's. The high 80's version had the most complexity and sweetness. The mid 80's was slightly sweeter and less complex and the the 90's was lacking complexity and sweetness.
Catalyst Trade: What was your initial reaction when you heard you'd won?
Jill: I was of course very pleased, but my first thought was that I had the easiest job on the entire supply chain. I'm grateful to the farmers and to Catalyst.
Catalyst Trade: Aww, thank you! This will be such fun news to bring to our farmer producers in Ethiopia. So often, they never know what happens to their coffee once they deliver the cherries to the washing station. Learning that it has won this award will help them know that their efforts to produce excellent coffee does make a difference. And speaking of making a difference, how will this GFA win impact Cloud City?
Jill: I hope other companies will see that we know what we're doing and that we value traceability and a sustainable living for farmers. We also hope to expand into more grocery stores and wholesale customers. We will continue to look for partners who's ethos matches ours so that we can source tasty and responsible coffee.
Catalyst Trade: Thanks so much for sharing about your Good Food Awards journey, Jill! We wish you all the best in your journey and a great time at the GFA celebration event! Also, we’ve just ordered a bag of your award-winning Lecho Torka roast and are looking forward to sipping your winning brew in our Portland lab. Here’s to Jill Killen and Cloud City Coffee!
THE TASTE OF AWARD-WINNING COFFEE
Want to go on your own GFA journey in 2023 and are looking for that special coffee? The Catalyst Trade team will be glad to chat new crop coffees with you any time! You can find us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through our contact page.