Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been asking readers to put their coffee-related questions to 2019 World Cup Tasters Champion and founder of Sumo Coffee Roasters in Dublin, Daniel Horbat.
As an MTPak Brand Ambassador, Daniel provides regular insight for our Education Centre on everything from cupping to brand marketing.
Here, he answers all your questions, including how he prepares for world cup tasters championships, what inspired him to start his own roastery, and his top tips for creating a brand that resonates.
Who am I?
My name is Daniel Horbat, I’m originally from Romania, and I first started working in coffee when I was 18 years old. Although I used to work as a mixologist, it wasn’t until I moved to Santorini in Greece that I started focusing more on coffee.
In 2012, I moved to Dublin, Ireland to escape the 40-degree heat in Santorini and experience some rain – it’s nice to have that heat when you’re on the beach relaxing, but working all day under the sun wasn’t as fun!
When I arrived in Dublin, I got a job as a barista (despite an interview involving a dodgy milk steamer) and, before I knew it, I was competing in latte art competitions after someone entered me into an event without me knowing.
In 2016, I met Elvis Matiejunas, then Cup Tasters Champion of Ireland, who convinced me to start training for cup tasters competitions. That same year, I went on to win the Ireland Cup Tasters Championship and became truly obsessed with coffee.
Three years later, I won the World Championships in Berlin after months of training. Then, during Covid, I decided to open my own roastery in Dublin, called Sumo Coffee Roasters.
I think about coffee all the time, reading books about it, researching it – the only time I don’t think about coffee is when I’m sleeping. I’m not joking! It’s obsessive but it’s fun, and it’s something I really want to do.
How did you prepare for the World Cup Tasters Championship?
For my first World [Cup Tasters] Championship in Shanghai, I did it completely wrong. I was training for four or five hours each weekend with a former cup tasters champion and was drinking way too much coffee. I would be sick, wash my face, and go again – I could barely taste the coffee after a while.
The next year I changed my tactic and started training between three and five days a week, replicating the three rounds they use in the competition. I implemented a special diet one month before the event, but when it came down to the championship, I changed my mind about one cup at the last minute and it meant I missed out on a place in the semi final. I realised then that I should be more confident, trust my instincts, and never change my mind.
The year I won, I trained almost everyday and I had a really strict diet – I didn’t have alcohol, cigarettes, salt, pepper, spices, or fizzy drinks. I found a way that worked for my body.
I also realised that I performed better when I had a bit of caffeine in my system. So I would drink a filter coffee before cupping, plus lots of water and snacks – such as bananas and crackers – to clean my palette.
Would you like to ask our experts a question? Next up is 2018 German Barista Champion and Female Barista Society founder, Nicole Battefeld.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own roastery?
First of all, you need to understand what you’re getting into. I started Sumo during the pandemic, when I was looking for work and I realised that coffee roasting was all about tasting. Because I was unemployed, it meant I had the time to do my research, from roasting and sourcing, to essential equipment and finding the best machine.
My advice is to get experience working in a roastery before opening one of your own, even if it’s just for six months. This will help you gain a huge understanding of the whole process. You’ll burn the coffee, and then you’ll learn. You’ll under-develop the coffee, and then you’ll learn. You’ll learn from your mistakes when you roast.
My other advice is to sign up to a great class. There are loads of classes available with people who are super knowledgeable and will help you operate at your best. I attended a lot of SCA classes.
What was your inspiration behind the Sumo Coffee Roasters branding?
When I was younger back in Romania, we had a black and white TV that only had one or two channels. After the [Romanian] revolution, my mum went abroad and brought back a colour TV and I remember being the first one among my friends to have one.
On one channel, they were showing wrestling shows and I saw Akebono. Akebono was a big guy who dressed like a sumo. He was a champion and I became a big fan.
After doing some research, I found out that being a sumo isn’t just about being big or having strength – it’s about discipline, sacrifice, intelligence. To prepare for competitions, they have to follow a strict diet, show discipline, and respect the tradition of the sport.
I found a connection with this and the way I prepared for the cup tasters championship, the determination I had to succeed, the diet, the discipline. I also like the fact that it celebrates another culture, because coffee connects lots of cultures, traditions, and people in one cup.
So when it came to thinking of a name for my brand and to find something that had meaning for me, Sumo (which I also like because it’s short) was what I came up with.
In your experience, what’s been the most successful way of marketing your brand?
The way I market my brand is simple: by engaging with people. Basically, our brand is built on rewarding the farmer, such as through paying them a fair price, putting them on the map, and encouraging other farmers to aim for quality. We look for long-term relationships with coffee farmers and work very closely with them.
The way your packaging looks is very important as well. You can make your life a lot easier in terms of marketing when you have a bag that stands out. Telling the story of the coffee, for example, becomes more pronounced. We’ve noticed that on the shelves alongside the top roasters in Europe, our coffee always sells faster.
There’s a sense of mystery around our brand that attracts customers. They’re thinking: why is there a sumo wrestler on a bag of Rwandan coffee made by a Romanian guy in Ireland? It’s confusing, but it attracts attention at the same time!
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