29 Jan 2020

Sample Roasting For A Crowd: Our Taste of Harvest Challenge at the 2019 Nordic Roaster Forum

Our first “global roasting competition” – very unofficially – was held and cupped by a somewhat international audience (with a heavy Oslo contingent) at the 2019 Nordic Roaster Forum (NRF).

We were recently lucky enough to both attend and hold a workshop at the NRF again in Oslo this past October. Not only has the event been an important part of our history (see the roast profile “winner winner chicken dinner”), but it’s long been an excellent source of inspiration and knowledge sharing.

This year we expanded on our previous workshop at NRF, and asked attendees to help us find an excellent roast profile for a washed bourbon from Rwanda.

We had 10 roast profile submissions from 5 continents and 1 coffee, and attendees cupped these blind.

It was designed to be both educational for attendees, and valuable for Taste of Harvest (ToH) which is a Cup of Excellence-style competition in Africa.

More specifically, our objectives were:

  1. Find a roast profile for washed, high-grown, traditional variety coffees that scored very well in a group setting to pass on to Taste of Harvest
  2. Provide a snapshot for attendees of how sample roasting is approached by professionals around the world
  3. Dig deeper into how much the roast matters when cupping coffee

We know the roast matters when we’re cupping. Coffee professionals, especially those that are buying green coffee outside the office, get very good at tasting different roasts.

But companies also become very calibrated to their style – internally, everyone begins to understand what a good sample roast is, and what isn’t. This can happen with or without outside calibration.

Cupping in Oslo at Tim Wendleboe roastery

Our vision as a company extends across the entire supply chain. IKAWA tools include information sharing and making roasting accessible, and ultimately we want to help improve coffee, from farm to cup.

Alex in Rwanda at sample roasting lab

We are lucky enough to meet, roast, and drink coffee with producers from around the world. We know how challenging it can be for them to know what their customers want in a coffee, and how to assess whether their coffee meets that. 

Roast profile sharing with IKAWAs is extremely powerful for this. It makes calibration quick, easy, and effective both locally and over long distances.

cupping scores at Best of Panama

Competitions like the Cup of Excellence, Best of Panama, and Taste of Harvest (among others) often use an international jury to score coffees, which helps level out the scores and makes it more representative of international taste preferences (or averages it down depending on how divisive that coffee is!). 

When companies send representatives to these events, they are entering a cupping environment that is new to them, and if they aren’t experienced buyers who travel often to cup, this can be a challenging time to score accurately, and it is easy to not fully understand a coffee’s profile on the cupping table. 

cupping at the best of panama

Cupping a different style of sample roast can magnify an already challenging task of cupping in a different country. Sample roasts that are not aligned with what someone is used to can be a real detriment to a producers’ work.

Our goal is to help producers realise the true value of what they have created and for buyers to have full confidence in their purchase decisions.

Tony roasting ToH coffee in Rwanda

At African Fine Coffee Association Conference (AFCA) 2019 in Rwanda, we roasted all the top Taste of Harvest competition coffees for the public cupping that took place – and it was a privilege to roast so many fantastic coffees.

The AFCA Taste of Harvest (TOH) program is an annual specialty coffee event aims to identify and showcase the absolute best coffees from Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

AFCA built on the experience in Kigali Rwanda, and used IKAWA to roast some of the samples in World of Coffee 2019 in Berlin. Some roasted coffees had been lost in transit, so we were the perfect solution to help out. On the table at their public cuppings were coffees roasted the traditional way, and others roasted by IKAWA. While the coffees were all of similar quality, the audience scored the IKAWA roasted coffees higher. Because the roast matters.

AFCA now use IKAWA roasters for Taste of Harvest competitions – sometimes to roast all the coffees, or alternatively to show local sample roasters the benchmark roast degree to aim for.

IKAWA’s NRF x ToH Challenge was designed to help ToH to better understand “The Market” roast / taste preferences, and tap into the roasting expertise of global coffee community.

The Challenge:

To find the right profile for ToH, we put a call out for IKAWA roast profiles for a washed bourbon from Rwanda ahead of the Nordic Roaster Forum.

Roasting on the IKAWA PRO V3 Sample roaster

We asked both attendees and some of our global community to contribute profiles that we could cup and discuss, and if it was well received, share with the Taste of Harvest competition.

Submissions came in from 5 continents! We had submissions from:

Danilo Lodi, independent (Brazil)
Dennis Agaba Desouza, Desouza Coffee (Uganda)
Tom Flawith, Square Mile Coffee (UK)
Kristoffer Layton, CPH Coffee Lab (Denmark)
Smayah Uwajeneza, Question Coffee (Rwanda)
Heath Cater, Supreme (New Zealand)
Lee Jonghoon, Coffee Graffiti (South Korea)
Birdie Chiu, Hazel & Hershey (Hong Kong)
Ioannis Lazos, Black Cat (Norway)

Thank you to everyone who submitted, it was great to have such a range of amazing profiles. It’s important to note that all of these people are respected, successful coffee professionals. If one profile isn’t scored as high as another, it doesn’t make it a ‘bad’ roast, but shows how taste preferences and roasting approaches vary globally.

That being said, all produced good sample roasts, and most were scored very well.

Thanks to Nordic Approach and especially Kaya Caretta for their help with this. Nordic Approach supplied the excellent coffee, Gitesi from Rwanda, and Kaya was our Cropster expert who ran Cropster Cup for the cupping. Note that we used Third Wave Water rather than Oslo tap water, to be as replicable as possible.

IKAWA workshop - attendees scoring the roasts

The Results:

We had a great group of cuppers who diligently entered scores for each sample. It’s always difficult scoring a roast, especially when the same coffee is on the table 10 times.

The average score for each roast ranged from 83.5 and 86.5, a 3 point spread. The roast levels were quite different, with some very light and some with roast character.

The top 5 roast profiles for Gitesi Rwanda were:

1. Ioannis Lazos – Black Cat (Norway) 85.57
2. Kristoffer Layton – CPH Coffee Lab (Denmark) 85.39
3. Heath Cater – Supreme (New Zealand) 85.20
4. Lee Jonghoon – Coffee Graffiti (South Korea) 85.16
5. Tom Flawith – Square Mile (UK) 85.07

The averages were very tight, as you would hope when cupping the same coffee.

If we look at the highest and lowest scores for each cupper, we see a more telling story. The difference between the highest and lowest scores were, on average, 3.9 points. The cupper with the smallest difference (or tightest scores) still had 2 points difference.

This is illustrative of what we have been observing: the roast matters, on a perception basis which often has financial consequences.

How often do people make a buying decision based on a less-than-great roast? We hear that roasters struggle to develop the same flavours in a coffee when they receive the shipment. It’s possible this can be linked back to the roast. Without a sample roast that accurately showcases a coffee, it’s easy to buy a coffee thinking it will behave and taste one way, and have the reality be different.

It’s also very likely many buyers are missing out on great coffees because the roast wasn’t displaying a great coffee fairly.

Using an IKAWA roaster and app removes inconsistency for a set of sample roasts. It also opens up a pool of knowledge to draw on.

We’re grateful to our contributors. The top roast profiles were shared with Taste of Harvest to use going forward.

Try these profiles yourself with a bourbon from Rwanda and let us know what worked well for you on Instagram (@ikawacoffee) or by email (support@ikawacoffee.com).

In Part Three of this series, we look further into this data and at what makes a good sample roast.

author-img By Geoff Woodley