Coffee roasting competitions have grown in popularity over the years. They offer roasters the opportunity to experiment with their coffee, showcase their skills, and learn from others in the industry.
They also provide a platform on which roasters can further their careers, with finalists often going on to become consultants, ambassadors, or even launch their own brands. In a wider context, competitions help to promote different varieties and coffee origins by bringing them onto the international stage.
Almost every country hosts its own roasting championship, while there are also global events held every year to determine the best roasters in the world. The most famous among them is the World Coffee Roasting Championship, which launched in 2013.
Learn about competitions and pick up some insider tips from WBC-certified judge and World Coffee Events representative, Danilo Lodi.
See also: Can You Freeze Roasted Coffee?
What Are Roasting Competitions & How Do They Work?
Competitions are important dates in the diaries of thousands of coffee professionals around the world, particularly for baristas and roasters.
The World Coffee Roasting Championship (WCRC) is widely considered the most prestigious competition for roasters. Launched in 2013, it focuses on the craft of roasting and involves hundreds of competitors from around the world. Over the course of a few days, competitors will demonstrate their cupping, roasting, and green analysis abilities in front of a panel of judges.
While the WCRC is the largest roasting event, many countries also hold their own annual championships that broadly follow the same structure and set of guidelines.
Danilo Lodi has been working in the coffee industry for nearly 20 years. Although he started life as a barista, he now works as a roaster consultant and green coffee buyer. He’s also been a WBC-certified judge since 2010 and a WCE representative since 2013. He explains the typical structure of roasting competitions.
“Unlike other competitions, roasting championships don’t tend to have finals. Instead, all competitors go through a few stages and are scored on points,” he says. “There are usually three main stages: green coffee grading, roast profiling, and final roasting.
“During the green coffee grading stage, competitors receive a green sample of coffee from which they need to sort out the defects and record them on the sheet. Essentially, what we’re looking for here is someone who knows how to rate green coffee.”
Next, participants must create a roast profile for a single origin coffee, typically with the assistance of software that registers all the data and keeps track of the process.
“Competitors need to fill the scoresheet with the temperature at which they want to start and end the roast, the total roasting time, and, at the back, the flavour profile that can be expected in the cup. This is to showcase the competitor’s ability as both a cup taster and as a roaster.”
At the final stage, the roasters have the single origin coffee and a few others to use. They will roast a blend, either separately or all together in the same drum.
“The judges will blind taste all those coffees and score them accordingly,” Danilo says. “Then, the person with the highest combined total between the green coffee grading, roast profiling, and roasting is crowned the winner.”
Each year, the WCRC releases a detailed set of rules and regulations that all participants must follow to avoid being penalised and losing points. The winner is the person who receives the most points at the end of the competition.
How Do Competitions Benefit Roasters?
Like anything, whether sports or short story writing, healthy competition helps to improve the abilities of participants and elevate the sector as a whole. For example, studies by Indiana University observed from race data that cyclists recorded faster times when competing against others than alone against the clock. By the same token, the entire sport of cycling shot to widespread popularity when the Tour de France was introduced in 1903.
Sylvia Rodríguez is the organiser of Mexico’s national roasting championship. In an episode of the World Coffee Championships Podcast, she says that every country should hold its own roasting competition to promote specialty coffee and expand the popularity of roasting among women.
She also says that competitions in Mexico have helped improve the quality of the coffee in general. “We started the roasting competition in Mexico around six years ago. The competition has helped roasters learn more about the potential that Mexican beans have in the market. Before, consumers were used to drinking burned or baked coffee, but thanks to the roasting competition, this is now beginning to change.”
For Danilo, roasting competitions provide the perfect environment for roasters to develop and finesse their roasting skills.
“It’s important for roasters to invest time in going to these competitions because it’s an opportunity to learn from other competitors,” he says. “For instance, at the World Coffee Event, there is a blind cupping table at the end for all the competitors to taste each other’s coffees.
“It is pretty amazing how much you can learn from those competitions. Sometimes you’ll end up roasting coffee or working with equipment that you’re not used to. So I think it’s really exciting to have those competitions.”
As well as the invaluable learning experience, he tells me that winning a competition as important as the World Coffee Roasting Championship can help roasters gain recognition in the wider community. This can lead to sponsorships, job opportunities, and ambassadorial roles.
“World champions often become coffee consultants,” Danilo says. “If they have a roastery they can use their success to promote it and expand their customer reach. It’s a pretty amazing to see the effects competitions can have on a brand.”
Top Tips For Specialty Coffee Roasters
Last year, the majority of coffee roasting competitions were cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19. All going well, the 2021 World Coffee Roasting Championship will take place this November at the Taiwan International Coffee Show.
If you plan on competing at this year’s WCR Championship, or any other coffee roasting competitions, here are some top tips to improve your chances of success.
Roast the coffee as you would like to drink it
Trying to second-guess the judges will only distract you from the task at hand. Instead, when it comes to choosing a roast profile, roast the coffee the way you would like to drink it. Remember, if you don’t enjoy the coffee, the judges probably won’t either.
Practise on the same machine before the competition
Each machine is different and, as such, each one produces different results from the same beans. Taking a couple of days to get to grips with the roaster you’ll be using during the competition will help limit inconsistencies that inevitably arise when using unfamiliar machines.
Don’t rush your preparation
As the old adage goes, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. Getting ready for a roasting competition takes considerable time and effort – there are no shortcuts. Previous winners of roasting competitions reached the heights they did thanks to hours of preparation, from logging data and keeping cupping notes, to reading books and listening to experts.
Read the rules. And then read them again
At every competition, roasters drop points unnecessarily because they haven’t followed the rules outlined by the organisers. The WCRC publishes updated rules and regulations each year available for free as a PDF. Make sure to go over these several times before the competition so that you won’t make any avoidable slip ups.
Coffee roasting competitions can be an exhilarating and eye-opening experience for specialty coffee roasters. However, among all the preparation, it’s important to maintain a focus on delivering consistent, high-quality products for customers.
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