Roasting competitions and events can enable you to improve your roasting skills, build valuable relationships, promote your brand, and gain insight into where the industry is heading next. But, just like how you wouldn’t roast a batch without preparing, researching, and creating your profile, you shouldn’t head to an event without also preparing.
I’ve reached out to Hajo Knoll to learn all about what you should do before, during, and after an event. He’s the Founder of the upcoming Bean of the Year roasting competition and event – a new, member-free event for European roasters. It will run from the 24th to 26th of May in Hamburg, Germany. Read on to discover his tips for event attendees and competitors.
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Loring coffee roaster. Credit: Loring
When Is The Best Time to Compete?
If you’re waiting for the “right moment” in your coffee roasting career to compete, stop. You’re probably already there.
As Hajo tells me, competing is beneficial at any stage. You will learn valuable things about your roast methods, be pushed to learn and improve, and also make connections with other roasters. Whether you’re relatively new to the craft or an old-timer, these are all useful.
However, he also explains that it will be probably most interesting during the early to mid-stage of developing your reputation. “This is because competitions help you develop yourself by allowing you to be judged while also comparing your skills to others,” he says.
In other words, competing is always a good thing. But when trying to create a name for yourself, you should definitely be doing it.
So, let’s look at what you should be doing to take advantage of the event.
Freshly roasted coffee cooling down.
This first one might seem obvious, but its importance shouldn’t be overlooked. Competing motivates you to become a better roaster, both as you attempt to win and then, afterwards, as you come away from the event inspired by what you’ve done and seen.
It also gives you the space in which to demonstrate your skills, gain recognition from other roasters, and even win prizes. (At Bean of the Year, you can win a trip to a coffee farm in Nicaragua, another trip to Loring Coffee Roasters in Denmark, and a Mahlkönig coffee grinder.)
Hajo says, “For competitions where you roast ahead of the event, it gives you the opportunity to submit your favorite profiles, or even experiment with something new. If you do this, make sure to spend time developing these new profiles well ahead of the submission date.”
You also get to learn from other competitors. As Hajo tells me, ranking yourself against your peers allows you to learn more about your own roasting skills and styles.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t win, or if you do worse than expected. Competing isn’t only about getting the prize. It’s about learning, being inspired, and trying even harder the next time. Aim to surpass yourself, not just others.
A freshly roasted Alemu Bukato, Natural Heirloom from Kochere, Ethiopia cools. Credit: Drop Coffee Roasters
2. Know The Competition Guidelines
Before competing, make sure to thoroughly read, understand, and memorise the competition’s rules and regulations. Spending a little bit of time on this can have significant rewards later on.
Pay close attention to time limits, quantities, and other specifications that could result in penalties. In a high-pressure environment, it’s easy to get flustered and lose track of time.
Make sure that you know what criteria the judges are evaluating you on. Practise the skills that they’ll be testing, whether that’s green analysis or cupping. And, when describing your roast profile, ensure that you can be as precise as possible.
Hajo adds, “For competitions like Bean of the Year, where you send in your roasted beans in advance of the competition event, make sure to precisely follow the guidelines, use provided bags and labels to send in the submissions, and of course mail them in time!”
Releasing freshly roasted beans in Coffee People, Tallinn, Estonia. Credit: Coffee People
3. Review Feedback
A roasting competition isn’t just an opportunity to win recognition, acclaim, and prizes. It’s also, as Hajo tells me, a chance to receive professional and peer feedback on your coffee. He explains that, at Bean of the Year, you’ll receive personalised comments from the judges and the knowledge of where your coffee sits in relation to other competitors. This is a valuable opportunity.
Criticism might sting at first but use this feedback as motivation to improve your roasting skills and knowledge. Review it carefully, highlight areas for improvement, and you’ll be able to use this to become an even better roaster.
Cupping Ethiopian coffees at Kaffa, Oslo. Credit: Kaffa
Competing can be a PR instrument for you and your business, helping you to both win new clients and impress existing ones. Of course, if you win, you will receive prestige and increase brand awareness. Yet even if you don’t win, you can still gain industry recognition and promote yourself.
So, post on social media and your blog about the experience of competing, write about the coffee you presented and the experience, share what you’ve learned and any positive feedback you received. Take photos and videos before and during the event, interact with other attendees online, and let people know what you’re doing. Drive up excitement.
Roast competitors with their certificates. Credit: Cofficina
5. Be Prepared to Network
Networking is a key part of any industry event. However, if you don’t plan for it, you might find that you don’t meet as many people as you want to. With so many things going on during the event – the competition itself, presentations, cuppings, and more – people can be hard to track down.
So, before you go, have a look at the list of attendees and speakers. Post on social media that you’ll be going and find out who else will be there. Work out who you’d like to speak to and, if you’re hoping for a business meeting, try to schedule it before you arrive. Make sure that you can recognise anyone you really want to speak to, since your only chance might be when you walk past them in a corridor.
On top of this, bring more business cards than you think you’ll need. Prepare your elevator pitch and know your business’ points of difference. Take a business card holder for other people’s cards, along with a pen to jot down key points on the back of them.
As Hajo tells me, the opportunity to meet industry professionals and expand your business and personal networks is invaluable. Don’t lose out on it through poor preparation.
Freshly coffee beans in a bag.
6. Have Real Conversations
Even though networking might be one of your main goals, it’s about more than just collecting business cards and delivering pitches. Be sincere, take a genuine interest in people, and have real conversations with them. Remember, good networking doesn’t feel like a sales meeting.
Hajo reminds me of how much you can learn from attendees at events such as Bean of the Year, describing it as “an opportunity to be within a like-minded community to share, and bounce off, ideas.”
Roasting competitions and festivals gather the industry’s leaders together in one room. You have the opportunity to discuss ideas, receive feedback, gain insights into where the industry is heading, learn from others about how to develop your business, and more. This will only happen if you’re open to conversation.
So, go into these events thinking about how much you can learn and how many relationships you can build – not just how many business cards you can get or whether you will win a prize.
Simo Kristidhi inspects beans mid-roast at Solberg & Hansen, Norway. Credit: Solberg & Hansen
7. Attend Presentations & Cuppings
Speaking of learning, make time to attend all the educational events. Hajo tells me that the presentations are a key part of any industry event. At Bean of the Year, speakers will present on topics such as “How does Water Influence the Taste of Coffee?”, “What’s After 3rd Wave Coffee?”, and “Producing High-Cupping Honey Process Coffee”.
Then there are all the cupping sessions, which Hajo describes as “days of intense tasting with improvement of sensory skills”. This isn’t just an opportunity to improve your sensory awareness, though. You can also discover new coffees and trends, discuss your thoughts with other attendees, ask questions of the importers and farmers present, and learn more about how other people are roasting coffee.
Make sure to check the programme before you go so that you can mark anything you’d like to attend. It may also be worth setting a phone alarm 10 minutes beforehand so that you don’t miss it.
Taking a moment to appreciate the aroma of a fresh brew. Credit: Hajo Knoll
8. Evaluate The Event
When you return home, no doubt the first thing you’ll want to do is sleep. Competitions and congresses can be exhausting affairs, full of non-stop business deals, networking, learning, competing and, of course, having fun.
But after you’ve slept, it’s time to look back on the event. What did you learn? What business opportunities did you gain? How can you develop from what happened at the event?
Perhaps you spotted signs of an origin rising in popularity. Or perhaps everyone was talking about a new roasting app. Can you take advantage of these trends? Do they offer any value to you?
Or perhaps someone shared with you an interesting roast technique. Now is the time to practise it and see how you like it.
Coffee being roasted at Awaken Coffee Roasters. Credit: Awaken Company
9. Follow Up
You’ll have met many new people who could potentially become business partners, mentors, or simply friends. Take a look through the contacts you’ve made, highlight any you’d like to build a relationship with, and send them a friendly and polite follow-up message.
Don’t use the same follow-up message for everybody, however. This becomes spam. Instead, personalise it: mention something you talked about, send them an article you discussed, or mention when you’ll next be in their area.
In doing so, you’re opening the door for them to contact you in the future – ensuring that they become not just somebody you once talked to at an industry event but, instead, a connection.
Freshly roasted coffee beans.
A roasting competition and congress can be a career-transforming event. It pushes you as a roaster, helps you to establish your brand, offers you the opportunity to learn from the industry’s best and, in many cases, build relationships with those people. Follow these nine steps to get the most out of it, whether it’s an international event such as Bean of the Year or simply with a local network.
Written by Angie Molina.
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