In May 2023, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) released its updated rules and regulations for the 2023 World Latte Art, World Coffee in Good Spirits, and World Coffee Roasting Championships.
The most significant update is for the World Coffee Roasting Championship, which will now incorporate aspects of the Coffee Value Assessment in both competitors’ routines and the judging process. These competitions prove roasters with an opportunity to experiment with their coffees, showcase their skills, and learn from others in the industry.
Training to compete in a coffee roasting championship requires practice and preparation to learn advanced sensory skills. Additionally, roasters must gain the technical knowledge to grade green coffee and assess its quality once roasted. Beyond this, it is crucial to learn how to use different roasters – ideally, the type and brand used for the competition.
To learn more about competing in local and international coffee roasting championships, I spoke with Eduardo Juárez, Mexican Roasting Champion for 2018, and Eduardo Choza, a repeat finalist at the US Roasting Championship.
Competing in coffee roasting competitions: What are the benefits?
Roasting competitions provide a platform for speciality coffee roasters to further their career. For instance, finalists can go on to become consultants, and 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.
“Coffee roasting competitions can help boost a brand that is working to establish itself and is seeking more eyes,” says Eduardo Choza, who is also the Director of Coffee at Mayorga Coffee. “In most cases, these fresh eyes are industry peers and people connected to the industry.”
Eduardo Juárez, head roaster at Sonata Tostadores reveals when he won the Mexican Roasting Champion in 2018, his sales increased. “Many people wanted me to give courses and talk about my experience. Through these talks, more people got to know me and became interested in buying my coffee.
“I met so many people from other countries with whom I can exchange experiences and knowledge. Truthfully, the competition was a radical change for me and my brand,” Juárez explains.
“Roasting competitions push those competing to be a better roaster, and help build a network of skilled, global peers,” Choza adds.
Overall, roasting competitions are an excellent opportunity to test and improve coffee roasting skills, while bringing more visibility to a brand.
How can coffee roasters train to compete?
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. These competitions test the skills, protocols, and technical knowledge required to ensure coffee quality.
“The training I had for my first competition was just my job,” Choza explains. “I roasted a lot of coffee, tasted it, and repeated the process.”
Essentially, the competition rules state exactly what the judges are looking for, and what they will reward. Therefore, roasters can benefit from studying the rules and learning what equipment will be available. Additionally, they should note the relevant variables, such as the time available for roasting and the stages of the competition.
“Knowing how to grade green coffee, for instance, is essential,” says Choza. “Understanding the changes you make during a roast and how they affect flavour is key. Beyond this, the sensory analysis of coffee is important, as you must know how to analyse the cup.”
Juárez’s first attempt at the Mexican Championship highlights the importance of understanding the rules and training accordingly. “In 2017, I entered the national competition and came last,” he explains. “I only focused on roasting and neglected the evaluation of green coffee, measuring density, humidity, and coffee defects.”
“Equipment handling must go hand in hand with sensory skills,” Juárez says. “I believe if someone can identify a balanced coffee, and complement it with good use of equipment, you’re halfway there. The other half is to enter, compete, and put all that knowledge into practice.”
He adds that roasters must understand what makes a coffee special, and when to leave it alone. “It doesn’t matter if the coffee is a little darker or lighter. What matters is the flavour.”
Overall, roasters can benefit from studying the competition rules and putting a balanced effort into each stage of the evaluation process. Beyond this, roasters can practise with competition equipment, and pay close attention to sensory skills.
In addition to technical skills, there are other factors to consider when competing in roasting competitions. “While much of the competition is demonstrative, roasters will have to receive instructions, ask questions, and receive ideas from other roasters,” explains Choza. “This will probably be done in English, so some roasters will then have to bring a translator.” Yet, as Choza claims in a previous interview, competitors rarely perform at their best when using a translator instead of speaking.
What to consider before entering roasting competitions
One of the most important factors to consider before entering a roasting competition is the cost. Investments in equipment and courses can add up. Furthermore, it’s important to make a grounded decision to compete.
“The real thing to consider is your reasons for competing. I think everyone wants to win, but it has to go beyond that. Knowing the reason is extremely important”, Choza says.
On the other hand, Juárez advises roasters to “leave the pretexts behind and compete, because there is so much to gain. If you haven’t competed yet, you have nothing to lose. The truth is, if you did badly, no one remembers it the next year.”
At every competition, roasters drop points unnecessarily because they haven’t followed the rules outlined by the organisers. The World Coffee Roasting Championship publishes updated rules and regulations each year available for free as a PDF. Roasters can go over these several times before the competition so they 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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