In the world of coffee, where the aroma of freshly ground beans can tell a story of passion and dedication, Catherine Gu, known affectionately as Empress Gu in the coffee community in China, stands out not just as a connoisseur but as a beacon for all who cherish the humble coffee bean. Her story is not just about coffee; it’s about a journey of love, discernment, and the pursuit of excellence.
Catherine Gu’s tale begins in the vibrant lanes of China‘s bustling city of Nanjing, where the rush of life often overlooks the subtle notes of a well-brewed cup. Unlike the coffee giants that dominate the urban skyline, Catherine always found her muse in the quaint, charming coffee shops and roasters of small towns. These are the places where owners put coffee before commerce, where every cup served is a reflection of a lifestyle, a choice to prioritize quality and personal satisfaction over expansion and profit.
Judging coffee, for Catherine, was a role she performed with a quiet strength. Unlike the champions she helped crown, her presence was less about the spotlight and more about the silent observation, the discernment of subtleties, and the fair evaluation of every contender. This invisible cloak of responsibility was her contribution to the integrity of the coffee community.
“It was initially just a hobby for me to become a judge, as I always wanted to understand what’s behind the coffee and what comes after. That’s why I started attending competitions, to observe how baristas perform and what coffees they choose for their presentations. This is why I’m so passionate about it.”
Catherine Gu’s role in the coffee industry is an embodiment of quiet influence and understated power. In the world of coffee, where the limelight often shines on the baristas, the champions with their precise pours and charismatic presentations, Catherine stands as a sentinel of quality, fairness, and progress. Her perspective is not from the dais but from the periphery where judgment is silent yet impactful.
In the quiet corners of competitions, away from the buzz and the frothing steam, Catherine observes. She’s the watchful eye, the discerning palate, and the steady hand that scores the hopefuls who stand before her. Each competitor presents their story in a cup, their technique on display, their dreams foaming at the brim. And Catherine, with a practiced calmness, takes it all in. Her role is not to be the star but to find one, to shine a light on talent from the shadows where she works.
To be a judge like Catherine is to accept that glory is not the goal but the journey and the commitment to excellence. It is to appreciate that while the winners take their bows, there are stories like hers that are often untold. These are tales of dedication without the dazzle, influence without the acclaim, and service without the spotlight. They are reminders that for every first place, there is a team of judges who saw their spark first, in the dark, and nudged them toward the light.
As Catherine tastes a new batch of competing brews, her mind travels back to the origins — to the farms in Ecuador, Ethiopia, and the misty hills of Yunnan.
“I’ve always loved to explore Ethiopia; it feels like I’m a treasure hunter walking through Ethiopia.”
She knows that for every contestant, there’s a chain of hands: farmers, roasters, and communities whose livelihoods depend on the beans that are now artfully presented before her. With each sip, she honors them, ensuring their efforts are not in vain.
The world through Catherine’s eyes is a blend of shadow and substance. She dwells where the applause is faint but where authenticity and quality speak loudly. In a role devoid of pomp, her legacy is the fairness of the game and the elevation of the coffee community’s standards. And though her name may not echo through the halls of fame, her fingerprints are on the trophies, her spirit in the champions’ cheers.
However, amidst this fulfilling role, a part of Catherine harbored a single regret: not stepping into the arena as a competitor. The intricacies of roasting, the camaraderie of a supporting team, the limelight — all were experiences she pondered on wistfully. Yet, she often wondered, with her extensive knowledge and connections, would competing now compromise the fairness she so dearly upheld?
In her entrepreneurial spirit, Catherine started the trading company Ecofarm, and launched ‘Lili’, a brand born out of necessity and innovation. Each product, from the Lili flat bottom dripper to the 6g cupping bowls, and the latest portable drip bag mug, was a solution to a problem she had faced personally.
“I was thinking about how I could make a cupping bowl that wouldn’t need so much coffee when I do cupping. That’s why I invented the Lili cupping bowl; it only needs six grams of coffee to make a cupping. You know, most of the time, when we use bigger cupping bowls…”
These creations weren’t just for the market; they were crafted from the very essence of her experiences as a traveler, a brewer, and a lover of coffee.
Catherine Gu is a multifaceted gem in the world of coffee; not only is she the entrepreneurial force behind Ecofarm and the innovative Lili brand, but she also serves as a revered judge in international competitions. Beyond these roles, she extends her influence as the organizer of the Innovate Coffee Forum in Shanghai, creating a vital bridge between the Chinese coffee industry and the global community. Her efforts have not only placed her at the vanguard of coffee culture in China but have also forged connections that bring the rich diversity of global coffee traditions to the rapidly growing Chinese market, fostering a mutual exchange of knowledge, tastes, and inspiration.
Her advice to those embarking on this silent path of judgment is simple yet profound: Love coffee with passion, approach your role without expectation of fame, and the satisfaction of your contribution to the industry will be reward enough. For Catherine Gu, the world of coffee isn’t just about the bright stars that everyone admires; it’s about the entire cosmos that allows those stars to shine, a cosmos she helps to uphold with every quiet decision she makes.