Chocolate Fish wins silver medal at Golden Bean North America coffee competition

Illustration by Mark Stivers

Silver star: In September, Andy Baker went to the Golden Bean North America competition in Portland mainly as a judge. But the co-owner and head roaster at Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters ended up winning big at the largest coffee roasting showdown on the continent.

At the award ceremony, he went up to the stage five times to pick up medals for his espresso, pour-over and single-source blends.

“You start jingling a little bit like a gangster with all your medals,” he joked. “And I was just sitting, talking to the guy next to me when they announced second place overall. And it was us. I was literally stunned.”

For his roasts, Baker seeks to pull out the natural, fruity flavors from the coffee cherry that are in a bean. As soon as roasters start applying heat, the sucrose inside the bean caramelizes, which turns it from green to brown and “degrades its quality,” he said. So, Baker “cooks” his beans just enough to unearth their flavor while minimizing darker, roasty notes.

“Our goal is to remove as little quality as possible,” he said. “We want to stop the process when it’s at its sweetest.”

Andy and his wife/co-owner, Edie, go to Guatemala yearly to check in with the farmers that supply their coffee. Andy said the trips give him an appreciation of the immense labor—picking, sorting, depulping, fermenting, washing and sorting again—that takes place for each bag. He said a cup of coffee should be about double the price it is, but these farmers earn a fraction of American workers. And so, the Bakers have given back from the success of their business to build a school, a rainwater collection system and latrines for the villages.

Starting October 15, Chocolate Fish hosted several Coffee Specialty Week events that included a talk on October 17 by coffee farmers Juan Luis Barrios from Guatemala and Jose Maria de Olivera from Brazil. On October 19, there will be a $100 pop-up dinner at the cafe (4749 Folsom Boulevard) catered by Mike Fagnoni of Hawks Public House, who will incorporate coffee into each of the four courses. The dinner’s proceeds will benefit the Guatemalan village school.

Coffee Specialty Week features brewing competitions, educational seminars and guided tastings to enhance the knowledge of Sacramentans and the quality of coffee they brew at home because, as Andy said, “If you don’t know what good coffee tastes like, you can’t make good coffee.”