The event, invented by Canadian coffee competitor Cole Torode, is currently entering its eighth season.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Cole Torode
When Cole Torode launched green coffee company Forward in 2019, he wanted to change his mindset. A former coffee roaster who had been focused on finding exclusive coffees for his company, Cole wanted to encourage the idea that roasters don’t have to find coffees no one else has—rather, they can differentiate themselves through the roasting process. “My thought was, how do we get roasters comfortable in roasting the same coffee and looking at it in a more collaborative, opportune sort of way?” Cole says.
The result is the Forward Lottery, a quarterly event launched in 2019 that, as the website puts it, aims to “push roasters outside their comfort zones and challenge their perspectives using a fun, community-driven, and playful concept.” Season eight of the Forward Lottery is currently underway; while the event is sold out, roasters will have a chance to participate in future seasons, including season nine that will kick off this fall.
How the Forward Lottery works
Each season features a different coffee, and Forward provides no information on that coffee. Roasters pay a $30 buy-in per kilogram for the featured green coffee and other supplies, plus shipping, that counts as their ticket—and they can buy up to six tickets. Roasters then use their senses and experience to develop a profile and roast the coffee, then send back 400 grams of it to the Forward team as their lottery submission. Forward then evaluates the submitted coffees with a team of coffee professionals and crowns the winners, who receive online buying credit with Forward, among other prizes.
Cole says the Forward Lottery is a marketing campaign, first and foremost, but it’s designed to be fun for roasters and to create positivity throughout the supply chain. “(The lottery) supports the brand of a coffee producer, getting one of their coffees into the hands of many roasters, who will work intimately and competitively with it, without details of what that coffee is until the season wraps,” Cole says. “Additionally, it supports roasters with the top five winning prizes and also opening some marketing opportunities.”
The Forward Lottery Judging Panel
Cole, a two-time World Barista Championship finalist representing Canada, has enlisted a diverse selection of judges for each season; season seven, which was held in Monza, Italy, included a panel featuring Justin Boudeman of Longboard Specialty Coffee in Panama, a Best of Panama judge and committee member; Calvin Lee, a multi-sensory expert and World Coffee Events judge based in Hong Kong; and Paolo Scimone, a Q Robusta and Arabica grader, and owner of His Majesty the Coffee.
The opportunity to taste different roasters’ approaches for each lottery’s coffee has been eye-opening, Cole explains. “I think the experience of tasting so many different roast expressions of the same coffee is one of the more fascinating things I’ve had the opportunity to do in my near-15 year coffee career,” Cole says. “In season seven, we evaluated 43 different roasts, with a range of flavours that jumped all over the map. There was of course a consistent underlying structure to the flavour experience; however, the tops notes, or low notes, or textures would change depending on the style of roast.”
At the end of each season of the Forward Lottery, Cole shares data-driven feedback with all participants on their roast submissions, regardless of their placement—feedback data from season seven of the lottery can be found here.
Season Nine is Coming Up Soon
With four lottery campaigns each year, Cole is starting to take the event outside of Canada—including the aforementioned season seven in Monza—and has longer-term plans to host the lottery at coffee events and origin countries. “I would love it if the lottery became some what of a roadshow, bringing in participation and education from a plethora of coffee pros,” he says.
While the first six seasons of the Forward Lottery were limited to Canadian participants, the event has since branched out, and the current season eight features entrants from Hong Kong, Singapore, and beyond. “Though I’m Canadian and I love the Canadian coffee scene, my scope and effort is not limited here,” Cole says. “I think it’s critical that we work toward a global industry, where all baristas, roasters, consumers, and producers have the same access and availability for knowledge. The world of coffee would be stronger without borders, in my opinion.”
Interested roasters can keep an eye out here for season nine of the Forward Lottery; tickets will go on sale September 1, and coffees are scheduled to ship the second week of October.