Monday, July 15, 2024

Creating roast profiles for Coffee Roasting Championships: What competitors need to know


Coffee professionals and enthusiasts alike eagerly await the annual national Coffee Championships. Each year, the pioneering competitions bring together some of the world’s most talented and skilled industry professionals.

These events include the national Coffee Roasting Championships, which take place in many countries around the world. Alongside assessing final cup quality, the three-stage competition also evaluates roasters’ knowledge of green coffee grading and roast profile development.

As with any championship, prospective competitors need to thoroughly study the rules and understand the format. But rather more importantly, competitors must practise and hone their skills to stand a chance of claiming the title of their respective country’s best roaster.

To learn more about creating roast profiles for Coffee Roasting Championships, I talked to Eduardo Choza, Director of Coffee at Mayorga Coffee and two-time US Coffee Roasting Championship finalist who placed fourth in the 2023 competition. Eduardo recently spoke about this topic in his Understanding what it takes to roast for competitions lecture at PRF Colombia on 14 & 15 September 2023.

Read on for more of his insight.

You may also like our article on how roasters can use blends to drive brand identity.

The 2022 World Coffee Roasting Champion Felix Tereitzbacher inspects green coffee during his routine.

What are national Coffee Roasting Championships?

Among the many competitions in the coffee industry, national Coffee Championships are some of the most prestigious and highly anticipated. They include the national Barista, Brewers Cup, Cup Tasters, Coffee in Good Spirits, Latte Art, Cezve/Ibrik, and Coffee Roasting Championships.

The world finals for the latter first took place in Nice, France in 2013, and has since earned a reputation for being one of the largest international roasting competitions in the sector. The event brings together hundreds of the world’s best specialty coffee roasters to showcase their skills and expertise to a panel of certified judges. 

In fact, this year’s competition was just held at the 2023 Taiwan International Coffee Show from 17 to 20 November – with Indonesia’s Taufan Mokoginta winning the title.

Before earning a place at the world finals, however, competitors must win their respective national Coffee Championships. National SCA chapters host these competitions in a growing number of countries around the world, which follow the same format and rules as the WCRC.

To break down the rules into simple terms, competitors are given scores based on their performance across three main categories: 

  • Green coffee grading
  • Developing a roast profile that best accentuates the coffee’s characteristics
  • Final cup quality evaluation
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The person with the highest score across all three stages of the competition takes the title and goes on to compete at the world finals.

Roasted coffee in a cooling tray.

What you need to know before participating in a Coffee Roasting Championship

As with any competition, there are potential pros and cons when taking part in a national Coffee Roasting Championship.

Eduardo Choza is the Director of Coffee at Mayorga Coffee – a roaster with a focus on supporting and empowering Latin American coffee producers and other industry professionals. He is also a seasoned US Coffee Roasting Championship competitor and has placed in the finals twice, alongside coaching and mentoring other roasters taking part in the event.

“Capital and time are the ultimate investments in roasting competitions,” he says. “If an individual doesn’t perform well, they stand to lose a lot of both.”

Considering this, the stakes are often higher for smaller-sized roasters and independent competitors – including members of marginalised communities who often don’t receive the same level of support. Travel, accommodation, and logistics expenses can quickly add up, on top of the costs of training and preparing for competitions.

Nonetheless, Eduardo highlights an obvious silver lining of taking part in competitions: “If a roaster performs well, the company they work for is likely to receive additional sales (although this is not always the case), as well as recognition from their peers and others in the industry.

“For more established companies, potential sales growth is likely not enough to move the needle in comparison to the overall bottom line though,” he adds.

Recognition and growth

For many coffee professionals, recognition and commendation are hugely important. An outstanding performance in a competition can not only help support a roaster’s business, but may also open doors to new sponsorship opportunities and brand ambassador roles.

Whether they win or lose, taking part in national Coffee Roasting Championships are an opportunity for roasters to make their mark on the industry and propel them to their next phase of growth.

“Regardless of placement, competitors have the opportunity to grow and develop their skills, meet more people, and expand their network,” Eduardo explains.  

Participating in national roasting competitions can certainly help to foster a sense of camaraderie and community with fellow roasters, who are often open to providing support and mentorship when needed – as both Eduardo and Mayorga Coffee have done in the past.

What’s more, competing against some of the industry’s leading roasters can be an incredibly valuable learning experience. Ultimately, this gives roasters – especially first-time competitors – a chance to refine and improve their skills.

Eduardo Choza roasts coffee at Mayorga Coffee.

Developing competition-ready roast profiles

Competing in national Coffee Roasting Championships requires a lot of preparation and practice. During his Understanding what it takes to roast for competitions lecture at PRF Colombia on 14 & 15 September 2023, Eduardo discussed the general and more specific requirements.

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“First of all, you need to have a sound knowledge of roast time, developing roast profiles, green coffee grading, and an excellent palate to discern the flavours in the final cup,” he says.

In the first stage of the competitions, roasters need to accurately grade green coffee by identifying any primary and secondary defects in their competition coffees. Secondly, they need to develop a roast profile that accentuates the best qualities of that particular coffee.

Creating a roast plans

As part of the assessment, competitors must create a roast plan. This must clearly describe several factors, including weight, temperature, colour reading of roasted coffee, and a description of what the taste and flavour results of the roast profile will be.

But in May 2023, the Specialty Coffee Association updated the rules and regulations for both the national and World Coffee Roasting Championships to coincide with its new Coffee Value Assessment. The organisation says its new cupping form and protocol will allow industry professionals to have a more “complete and high-resolution picture of a specific coffee”.

Among several other changes, this meant that 2023 – and future – competitors had to submit an updated roast plan. Competitors need to fill out the descriptive assessment sensory results for each category that the judges assess and evaluate:

  • Fragrance and aroma
  • Flavour
  • Aftertaste
  • Acidity
  • Sweetness
  • Mouthfeel

In order to do this successfully, roasters must have a well-developed palate and excellent cupping skills to assess and identify these specific sensory attributes. Moreover, competitors need to make sure their palates are aligned with the judging panel, who regularly attend calibration sessions to qualify as certified judges.

How can you prepare?

Even the most experienced roasters still need plenty of practice to prepare for roasting competitions. 

“You don’t need a course to teach you how to roast, but you do need to invest in some kind of sensory skills development,” Eduardo explains. “You should be able to analyse both green and roasted coffee. Being able to pick out subtle differences is also key.”

One option is to become a certified Q grader through a course offered by the Coffee Quality Institute. The programme teaches industry professionals to develop their green coffee evaluation and sensory skills – but it is costly and therefore not accessible to all roasters, especially those who may not be able to pay the recertification fees.

Another route which Eduardo recommends is to attend cupping sessions and taste a wide variety of coffees alongside other experienced roasters and Q graders. 

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Additionally, taking part in workshops and gaining hands-on experience with different machines is important. Competitors need to use specific machines which are provided by event sponsors, so learning how to use this specific roaster – along with other brands and models – is especially useful. Feeling comfortable with different machines will only help to minimise any inconsistencies in your roast profiles.

Coffee roasters in a roastery.

Getting the most out of your competition experience

Before anything else, developing a thorough understanding of the Coffee Roasting Championship rules and regulations is paramount. If you want to receive a high score, you need to have a deep understanding of the rules and competition format.

In any coffee championship, it’s not uncommon for participants to lose points as a result of rule violations.

“You can be one of the best roasters in your country, but you can be disqualified for not following the rules,” Eduardo tells me. “There are time limits, procedures, and other restrictions that you need to be aware of.”

Reading the rules & understanding the judges’ expectations

The Coffee Roasting Championship rules and regulations are available online, including any updates, clarifications, or new score sheets so that prospective competitors have the chance to familiarise themselves in advance. In theory, reading and reviewing these resources before competing can help to avoid any unnecessary mistakes.

To receive a high score, roasters not only need to be accurate when grading green coffee and describing their roast profiles, but should also understand the judges’ expectations and preferences – which should be objective to a certain extent.

“It’s important to ask questions, especially to the judges,” Eduardo says. “You need to know what they will be looking for in order to tailor and improve your roast profile.”

Eduardo Choza speaks at PRF Colombia.

Roasting competitions are an exciting and rewarding experience for many coffee professionals. Becoming a national Coffee Roasting Champion requires dedication and practice, but roasters of any level can excel with a balance of preparation and investment – so long as they receive the right support.

But beyond the accolades and industry recognition, training for competitions can offer a valuable opportunity to refine roasting skills and connect with peers and mentors in the industry.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on Mayorga Coffee’s three-year Diamond PRF sponsorship to champion Latin America as a coffee knowledge centre.

Photo credits: Producer Roaster Forum, Mayorga Coffee, Michelle Illuzzi, Specialty Coffee Association

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Mayorga Coffee is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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