More than just a roasting competition, the future of the industry is entrusted to the "1st crack coffee challenge", which brings out the essence of the roaster's work

Yusuke Fukuzawa, Director, Giesen Japan

On 8 September 2023, the competition "1st crack coffee challenge" was organised by Giesen Japan. The competition focuses on the evaluation of "roasting technique" and "presentation", with the aim of producing young talent with not only technique but also a broad perspective.
"Compete in the art of roasting and think about the future of coffee."
"To increase the number of roasters in Japan."

With this in mind, Yusuke Fukuzawa, the representative of Giesen Japan, is managing this competition, and since August 2021 has been working to increase the number of roasters in Japan in partnership with Dutch company Giesen Coffee Roasters.

In this interview, we spoke to Mr Fukuzawa about the background to the "1st crack coffee challenge" competition organised by Giesen Japan, his commitment to the competition, and his vision for the future of coffee.
Not just a roasting competition, bringing out the essence of the roaster's work.

―― What was the purpose of the "1st crack coffee challenge" competition organised by Giesen Japan?

As a manufacturer of coffee roasting machines, we want to provide support to roasters. We want to grow together. With this in mind, we have decided to organise this competition in the hope that we can host a competition where roasters can compete with each other in friendly rivalry. There are already many coffee competitions in the world, but we have devised the evaluation criteria and rules in the hope that the competition will put more of a spotlight on the roaster's skills.

―― I would love to hear more about one of your specialties, the "evaluation matrix".

In the qualifying round, the "roasting technique". In the finals, the evaluation axis is based on "presentation". Firstly, for the roasting technique, the contestants were asked to reproduce sample beans for the competition in their own roasting machines, in order to test their cupping and roasting competence.

―― Why did they take that form?

One of the most important elements of being a roaster is to be able to continue to serve the same coffee every day without changing the quality. To achieve this, fine adjustments have to be made according to the daily changing seasons, humidity and temperature. In order to compete in such technical aspects, we have set up an evaluation system, such as "how close to the sample can the coffee taste be made".

―― I see. It's more of an evaluation point that questions the professionalism of the roaster's job.

We also want to ensure that the actual judging is fair. That is why we introduced an analytical evaluation technique called "Gas Chromatography Analysis", which enables evaluation based on scientific values, with technical support from Ajinomoto AGF. This device has made it possible to objectively express evaluations that would have been difficult using only the human tongue.

We would then like to have leading Japanese coffee consultants and roasters as cupping judges, which we hope will lead to essential technical skills improvement and fair evaluation of the competitors.

―― We also heard that in the final, you placed more emphasis on "presentation". What was the aim of this?

The most important thing is that I want them to learn how to express themselves. I think that roasters are craftspeople who work in silence because of the nature of their work.

Of course it is important to hone your skills. But I also want the competitors who pass the qualifying rounds, where their technical skills are tested, to acquire the ability to express themselves in their own words. If they can communicate in a way that moves the hearts of those listening, they can deliver the appeal and value of coffee to even more people. The range and possibilities of the job of roaster will also expand.

―― By expanding the range of expression, the range of possibilities also expands.

With this in mind, the finals put a lot of emphasis on presentation. I think it was a new challenge for many roasters. I would be happy if they learn new skills through the competition and use them in their next steps.

Opportunities and a stage for the younger generation! Focusing on the coffee industry of the future

―― Another feature of this competition was that it set an age limit of "18-35" for participants in the competition. What was the aim behind this?

Looking at the coffee industry from a bird's eye view, I got the impression that the top people in Japan and those who are active on the world stage are generally in their late 30s and 40s. Of course, the sight of these people working as a result of the accumulation of their careers to date is an inspiration to young people.

On the other hand, I thought that young people in their 20s and 30s who admire such top players also need a stage on which they can seize opportunities. Through competitions, we want to provide opportunities for them to grow, to gain confidence, to take on new challenges out of frustration, and to run up to different stages of their careers. For this reason, we dared to set an age limit that focused on the younger generation.

――So that was the aim.

I myself like hip-hop and rap music, and when I watch them, I see young rappers taking on famous rappers! I like hip-hop and rap myself, but when I watch them, I see scenes where young rappers challenge famous rappers. I think that's great. I think it motivates the younger generation, and conversely, the older generation can learn from the younger generation. I think it would be great if we could create a mechanism to raise the level of the coffee industry as a whole in this way.

―― That's a lovely thought! How did you come to want to give the younger generation a chance?

The main reason is that I felt that the coffee industry may not be an environment where people can work for a long time.

Looking at baristas, I felt that many of them left the industry in their late 20s or early 30s when they started families and had children. Seeing this, I wondered if there are many people who like coffee but feel limited in their career options and potential as a business and change jobs. I thought.

―― In what specific respects did you feel this way?

For example, after a career in a shop, what is the next career? When asked, the only way is to become independent. When that happens, it inevitably becomes an individual battle. Of course, opening your own business is one option, but I personally think that it would be good if there was an option to continue working in coffee as part of a larger organisation or team, while also guaranteeing a certain level of income stability.

I am originally an outsider who came into the coffee industry from a different industry. After graduating, I joined a Japanese advertising agency and later worked for a small marketing firm on the West Coast of the USA. Perhaps it is because I have such an outside perspective that I feel this is an issue, but I think it is important to have the perspective of "how does the coffee industry look like from the perspective of the younger generation?

―― I feel that this is an issue that only Mr Fukuzawa can focus on.

”I love coffee" I think everyone involved in this work feels the same way. That's why I think we need to gradually build a sustainable environment where people can continue working even as they get older.

When today's young generation reaches their 30s and 40s, will they be able to do business in the coffee market?

Will they be able to enjoy and continue working in coffee?

We believe that supporting the younger generation while valuing such perspectives will lead to the future prosperity of the Japanese coffee industry.

Towards a coffee industry that everyone can enjoy and keep working in for a long time.
―― Tell us about the challenges you would like to take on in the future.

In the competitions, we want to make them enjoyable to watch, even for people who have no connection to coffee. When I think about the future of the coffee industry, I think that if we make it a space that can only be enjoyed by people in the industry, it will not expand any further. The appeal of coffee has various aspects that cannot be expressed in a single word, so I think it would be a waste if it were to become something that "only people with expertise can understand".
" I don't know much about coffee, but it sounds fun!"
"I want to try it myself!"
want to make it a competition that anyone can enjoy and that everyone can get excited about. I want to make it so that everyone can enjoy it and get excited about it, so that people who used to work in other fields can become interested in the coffee business. Young people can become interested in baristas and roasters. It can be an opportunity to form a business partnership with someone from a different industry.
It can be an opportunity to form a business partnership with someone from a different industry. I think that by creating avenues for involvement, we can attract all kinds of people.

―― I see. If the public's access to coffee is widened, it opens up more possibilities not only for roasters but also for the industry as a whole.

Yes, I am. So I'm thinking of challenging myself in various ways, without being bound by stereotypes. For example, I could make a documentary film of the competitors entering the finals and show it at the venue. I would like to make a documentary about the competitors who make it to the finals and show it at the venue, or have the competition featured on streaming TV as news. I want to be involved! I would like to be involved! I think we also need to be creative in this way.
I also want to work on supporting roasters as a business. Compared to other countries, Japan has many nano-roasters, but the number of small- to medium-scale roasters who are roasting their own coffee on a business level is still very small.
One specific challenge is the high hurdle for introducing roasting machines. The price of a commercial roasting machine can range from 500,000 to more than 10 million yen per unit, and some are large in size and width. Installation requires time and money, including consideration of the surrounding environment and the selection of a property where roasting can take place.
Another is the lack of information on roasting. Roasting is often undisclosed, as it is a recipe for each shop, and it is not uncommon for the recipe to be 'in the head of the person in charge'. Therefore, even if someone wants to try roasting, there are few open resources. but there are few open resources, which is a hurdle for those who want to start.

―― I see.

Ms Fukuzawa: That is why Giessen Japan wants to encourage roasters to focus on "reviewing domestic sales prices", "strengthening the support system" and "the roasting open platform plan".
The aim is to achieve reasonable selling prices by bringing as much of the work involved in importing and delivery in-house as possible and reducing intermediate margins. Not only will maintenance of the roasting machine itself be carried out by partners in various parts of Japan, but also partnerships will be formed with companies specialising in green bean purchasing and shop operation know-how to provide ongoing services after the roasting machine has been purchased; using social networking and community services, roasting knowledge and know-how will be provided. Provide a place where users can share their roasting knowledge and know-how with each other.
In 2024, the company plans to create an offline venue where users can exchange ideas with each other.

There are many more things that can be done.
I hope to create an industry that is fun to be involved in and a joy to work in, not only for the younger generation, but also for those who love coffee and those who will love coffee in the future. I hope to create such an industry.


Giesen Japan

Director, Yusuke Fukuzawa.