The ‘Best of the Best’ World Coffee Roasting Champions

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What is the World Coffee Roasting Championships?

The World Coffee Roasting Championships (WCRC) are where the ‘Best of the Best’ coffee roasters from around the world compete against each other.

This year the championships were part of the larger Taiwan International Coffee Show held at the Nangang Exhibition Center, Taipei from 15 to 18 November 2019. The event was locally organized by the Taiwan Coffee Association, Chan Chao Int’l Co. Ltd. They finally got to host the championships after trying for 15 years!

The Exhibition Centre was alive and buzzing with hundreds of people from around the world watching the championships, visiting exhibitions, and generally having a good time.

The world coffee roasting championships (WCRC) is governed by the World Coffee Events (WCE). The WCE is the events organizer for the worldwide Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).

Only coffee roasters that have previously won a national WCE championship can participate in the World Championships. So they are literally the ‘Best of the Best’ coffee roasters in the world.

The World Coffee Roasting Championships is not the only championship there are six others organized by WCE:

Who was the World Coffee Roasting Champion for 2019?

The World Coffee Roasting Champion was Arseny Kuznetov Head Roastmaster of  Traveler’s Coffee in Russia. I’ll let you guess who Arseny is in the photo. Arseny was well ahead of the rest of the competitors with an impressive score of 510.75 points (the maximum possible score was 672 points).

world coffee roasting champion
Arseny Kuznetsov. World Coffee Roasting Champion 2019. Source: WCE

Arseny had previously won the National Championships in Russia and earned his entry into the World Championships. In an interview with Traveler’s Coffee, Arseny said that it took a lot of work, dedication, and practice to be a coffee roaster. He had been in the coffee industry for about 14 years and the World Coffee Roasting Championship was the culmination of his career.

Russia seems to be the top of the coffee roasting world at the moment because Vladimir Nenashev won the 2018 World Coffee Roasting Championship.

Here is what Traveler’s Coffee say about themselves (apologies but I don’t know Russian, this is a Google Translation):

“At any Traveler’s Coffee coffee shop you can find out the whole history of coffee travel. There they will reveal his individual taste and give you true pleasure in every cup of espresso and a pleasant aftertaste after.

The main mission of Traveler’s Coffee is to provide you with specialty coffee according to your individual preference and taste. At the beginning of 2015, in the city of Aprelevka near Moscow, its own roasting plant Traveler’s Coffee was opened.

It features German equipment of the latest Probatone 60 model. This is a semi-automatic roaster with touch panel and fully automatic PC-based control, which is also equipped with an additional catalytic function. Using this function, at a temperature of 405 ° C, all the gases emitted by coffee are burned during roasting, and oxygen purified from foreign impurities enters the environment.

Only the Traveler’s Coffee company has such roasting equipment in Russia. This allows you to produce the best coffee and gain recognition among both consumers and colleagues in the coffee business community.”

Who were the other champions in the World Coffee Roasting Championship?

22 other champions were competing in the WCRC.

Shelby Williamson from Huckleberry Roasters in Denver, Colorado, was ranked 19th. I guess this is not the position that Shelby would prefer. However, Shelby is still a champion because she won the US National Championships this year. And you gotta be in it to win it!

Huckleberry Roasters is a true ‘rags to riches’ story in the US and I thought I’d share what they have to say about themselves

“Huckleberry Roasters was founded in 2011 by two friends, Koan Goedman & Mark Mann, who shared in an entrepreneurial spirit and a desire to own a business that made an impact on our city & its people. What started innocently enough, as a side-hustle roasting operation in a backyard garage (tucked next to a rowdy alley & a chicken coop, of course), has become a full-fledged coffee company that has grown far beyond its founders. Huckleberry Roasters is coffee company comprised of a diverse family of amazing, mega-talented and wonderful people.”

What do the Coffee Roasting Competitors Need to do?

The coffee roasting competitors need to perform the following steps in the World Coffee Roasting Championships:

  1. Evaluate green coffee beans
  2. Perform a sample roast
  3. Plan a full roast for a single origin and a blend
  4. Roast the coffee beans

The resulting roasted coffee beans are then judged for their quality.

The competitors are given a bit of time to learn the lab equipment and the coffee roasting machines. However, the competitors essentially need to roast coffee beans they didn’t know with coffee roasting machines they didn’t have experience with, and produce a good roast to boot! That is tough!

There are strict rules for each step of the competition and the competitors can be penalized at virtually every step in the competition procedure. Judges have scoring sheets, and allocate points, for each step of the competition.

We will take a look at each of these steps in a little more detail. The points shown next to each step are the maximum points that the judges at each step can award.

Evaluate green coffee beans (24 points)

The competitors were given five types of green coffee beans to evaluate that were unknown to them. According to Arseny Kuznetov, the  Ethiopian Sidamo Guji coffee beans were one of the three types of coffee beans used for roasting the blend.

Ethiopian Sidamo Guji

Yep! The competitors not only need to roast a single origin but also a blend of three types of coffee beans! Additionally, no coffee bean in the blend could have less than 10% the total weight of the coffee. The fifth type of coffee bean is used by the competitors to practice roasting in the competition’s roasting machines.

The criteria for the evaluation of the green coffee beans include:

  • moisture content
  • density
  • size
  • defects

The competitors have only 30 minutes to fully evaluate the green coffee beans and are penalized by a certain number of points if they go over time.

Competitors need to measure the moisture content and the density of the green coffee beans with instruments provided for them at the competition.

The size of the coffee beans is determined by competitors using screens to physically separate the coffee beans by size. The hole size in the screens started at 1/64th of an inch and went up to about 15/64 inch.

Does size matter? Yes, coffee beans with consistent sizes give a better roast.

The competitors also have to look for defects in the coffee beans. The defects are categorized as primary defects and secondary defects. Primary defects are the worst defects and include:

  • Full Black
  • Full Sour
  • Dried Cherry
  • Fungus-Damaged Bean
  • Foreign Matter
  • Severe Insect Damage

The secondary defects are not as bad as the primary defects and include:

  • Partial Black
  • Partial sour
  • Parchment Floater
  • Broken/chipped/cut
  • Immature bean
  • Withered/shriveled Hull/husk
  • Slight insect damage

Some of these terms sound weird such as ‘full black’ or ‘full sour’. How can a green coffee bean be ‘black’ or ‘sour’? Do the competitors have to taste green coffee beans? No, they don’t have to taste a green coffee beans because they can tell from the look and the smell of the coffee bean.

A ‘full black’ defect, for example, is a green coffee bean that is black, shriveled, and with a wide centerfold in the bean. A ‘full sour’ is a green coffee bean that has a light brown or red color and smells like vinegar when the parchment is scratched. A good explanation of coffee defects can be found at the Perfect daily grind.

Perform a Sample Roast (no points added but subtracted)

The competitor coffee roasters have up to one hour to use a sample of the green coffee beans to practice with the coffee roasting machines provided for the competition. They don’t award points for this practice but can be penalized some points for going overtime. The roasting machines are often provided by sponsors of the coffee roasting championships.

The competitors can sample their roasts at an ‘open cupping’ time. This is where competitors are allowed to grind and cup their sample roasts to test for the quality of their sample.

Cupping (see below) is where people (judges in the case of this competition) use their senses to evaluate the quality, flavor, and aroma when water at 200o F (93oC) is added to the ground roasted coffee.

Plan a full roast for a single origin and the blend (24 points each)

The coffee bean roasting plan is important and details the coffee beans used, the proposed quantity and quality of the roast profile, and the predicted taste quality of the roasted coffee beans when ground for cupping. This plan is a prediction of the roast where some of the details may be gleaned from the sample roast.

There is a maximum of 24 points possible for the single-origin roast plan and a maximum of 24 points awarded for the blend roast plan for a maximum of 48 points in this part of the competition.

The judges compare the plan with the actual roast log during the competition. Competitors are penalized if there are any substantial differences between the roast plan and the actual roast log.

Pretty darn tough isn’t it? You not only need to be a professional roaster but also a bit of a clairvoyant as well!

Roast the Coffee Beans

The competitors are given about 6 kg of the competitions green coffee beans for both the single-origin and the blend. They are then allowed 30 minutes to roast the single-origin and one hour to roast the blend.

No points are directly allocated to this section because the quality of the roast is decided at the cupping step (next section).  However,  penalties can be incurred and if a competitor runs over time, they are penalized 4 points for every 15 seconds. Anyone who exceeds one minute is disqualified.

The competitors are required to submit 1.5 kg of coffee beans for the next step – evaluation.

(Want to roast your own coffee at home? Please see our Ultimate Guide to Home Coffee Roasting.)

Evaluation of single-origin and blend roasted coffee beans (300 points each)

At least five judges (one head judge and four others) are used to evaluate the coffee beans roasted by the competitors. The coffee beans are ground and then cupped. The cupping is done ‘double-blind’ and means that the judges, officials, and competitors don’t know which competitor’s coffee they are testing.

coffee cupping video
Dallis Coffee Cupping from Ozersky.

The video shows an example of coffee cupping in a local roaster. The procedure is similar but far more stringent in the competition.

Preparation of the ground coffee

The preparation procedure for cupping is strict and includes such things as:

  • All roasted coffee is rested for a minimum of 8 hours.
  • Roasted coffee is ground immediately prior to cupping and not more than 15 minutes before infusion with water.
  • The whole roasted beans are weighed to the ratio of 8.25 grams per 150 ml of water.
  • The grind size is coarser than that used for paper filter drip brewing.
  • Three to five (3-5) cups of each competitor’s ground coffee beans are prepared.
  • The water used for cupping is clean and free of odors but can not be distilled or softened.
  • Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) should be about 125-175 ppm but not less than 50ppm or more than 200ppm
  • The water poured into the ground coffee should be fresh and at a temperature of about 200°F (93°C)

The coffee grounds are left for four minutes for the extraction to occur before the evaluation by the judges. A crust forms over the coffee during this time and is later broken to test for aroma and flavor. The judges also evaluate the dry fragrance of the ground coffee beans.


As you may expect the evaluation of the competitor’s roasted coffee beans is also quite strict and exhaustive. The judges may not touch the cups at any time and use spoons to taste the coffee. The evaluation includes:

  • Roast color
  • The fragrance of the ground coffee beans
  • The aroma of the steeped coffee grounds after the crust is broken
  • Flavor
  • Aftertaste
  • Acidity
  • Body
  • Sweetness
  • Balance

The judges take a sample of the coffee with a spoon and suck air at the same time to aspirate the coffee around the mouth, tongue, and upper palate. The flavor and aftertaste are rated as the coffee cools to about 160°F.

The acidity, body, sweetness, and balance are rated as the coffee cools to about 140°F. The judges continue to sample the coffee as the coffee cools but stop evaluation when the coffee is at about 70°F (21°C).

The overall scores are totaled as follows:

Green Coffee Bean Grading (24 points) + Roasting Plan (48 points) + Cupping Evaluation (600 points)- Penalties = Total (672 Maximum)

Remember that the roasting plan and the cupping is assessed for both the single-origin and the blend coffee beans.

What makes a World Champion Coffee Roaster?

Well, obviously the person who has the highest score in the competition is the World Coffee Roasting Champion. This score is designed to reflect certain qualities of a champion coffee roaster. That is, the champion coffee roaster should be able to:

  • Produce the best quality roast with the assigned coffee beans
  • Evaluate green and roasted coffee beans
  • Use roasting equipment effectively
  • Deliver and assess the roast according to plan

Clearly, the competition is rigorous and thoroughly tests the mettle of any competitor.

How should we interpret the points?

As you saw there are three parts to the competition and all the champions had good scores. A low score relative to other competitors doesn’t mean that the coffee roaster was bad. It just means that on the day fortune, circumstance, skill, or fate smiled on another.

A champion can also succeed in one part of the competition and not at another.  They could have had the perfect roast but were let down by their participation in the other parts of the competition.

We should also remember that all of the participants were National Champions in their own right and they earned their entry into the World Coffee Roasting Championships.

Finally, a professional coffee judge would have far more discriminating senses than a ‘normal’ person (me included). This doesn’t mean that you would like the same coffee! Coffee tasting is a subjective experience and if you like a coffee, even if a judge didn’t, then it is good for you – right?

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