The Cup of Excellence is an annual competition that gathers all the best coffees of a coffee-producing country with. But just before looking at how it works, let’s have a look at the history of the competition and why it has been set up.
The Alliance for Coffee Excellence
First of all, the Cup of Excellence (COE) was created by The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE). As stated on its website, the Alliance for Coffee Excellence is “a non-profit, global membership organization that upholds the highest standards in speciality coffee through our program Cup of Excellence. COE entails:
- rigorous juried coffee competitions in coffee origin countries;
- online auctions of winning coffees, with the vast majority of proceeds going back to the farmers.
The Alliance for Coffee Excellence and consequently the Cup of Excellence, born in 1999, more than two decades ago. It would be reductive to say that COE is just a coffee competition. And in fact, the Cup of Excellence shares so many values such as transparency, integrity, quality and fairness, ensuring livelihood sustainability for the farmers.
ABOUT THE CUP OF EXCELLENCE COMPETITION
- The first-ever Cup of Excellence competition was held in Brazil in 1999;
- So far, the Cup of Excellence has expanded its horizons on a worldwide scale, currently running in 11 producing countries. These include: El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, North and South Colombia, Guatemala, Rwanda, Costa Rica, Burundi, Peru, Mexico and Brazil;
- The competition is made to ensure neutrality and fairness and consists of a total of 6 rounds of cupping. All the coffees are blind cupped without any info about the farm, varietal and location. When cupping, the jury looks for the sweetest and cleanest coffees, along with acidity and balance.
Let’s have a look at what coffees go through to be awarded cup of excellence.
THE SIX ROUNDS OF THE CUP OF EXCELLENCE COMPETITION
It’s the preliminary round in which the coffees presented are cupped once by the National Jury. A maximum of 150 samples that score 86 or over advance to next round.
The same samples are then cupped again by the National jury and those that score 86 or over advance to the next round. This time 90 samples will advance to the next round.
The access to the round four is for those samples that will score 86 or over but this time only 40 samples will move into the next round.
The round three concludes the National Jury week in which coffees are cupped by the National Jury. The jury is made by professional cuppers from the country in which the competition is held.
From the fourth round on coffees are cupped by the International Jury which is made up by buyers, importers, cuppers from the consuming countries and two national juries. The samples that will pass to the next round will be only 30. Now only the coffees that score 87 or over will move into the next round.
Only the 10 samples that score greater than 87 will go through this stage.
The awarded coffees are then sold online on the Alliance for Coffee Excellence’s websites through an international auction.
As you can see, coffees that are awarded as cup of excellence go through a rigorous process. Coffees are cupped hundreds of times before reaching the top 10 into the final round. This means that roughly 9,000 cups are being cupped by the jury.
WHY SUPPORTING AND BUYING Cup of Excellence coffees?
Well, there are a few aspects to consider:
- The price of the coffees awarded reaches in most of the cases 30-40 times the fair-trade price, giving back to the farmers a great value for the effort they’ve been through. This will not last just one year. With the money earned, a farmer is able to invest on its farm, improving the farm management, investing in labor training and better equipment.
For instance, recently awarded coffees from the ACE’s auction have enabled farmers to invest in new technologies to prevent flood management, planting new trees to create more shades but also improving the local livelihoods by investing in education, healthcare and so on.
- It creates more long-term relationship as coffee producers are connected directly to buyers. Never heard about direct trade? Producers are getting more direct market access allowing to be in a system in which anyone in the world knows where to buy excellence coffee.
Does it make sense at all? Yes, it does.
The aim is to making coffee farming more sustainable, improving the lives of farmers that cannot afford to live under the threshold of the minimum wage.
Now, you can argue about who is going to buy a Cup of Excellence coffee, as there’s obviously someone more interested in the prestige of grab the best of the best coffee (and spending big bucks) than they are in the producers and the coffees themselves. Honestly, the coffee industry (and farmers) should not care about this aspect as any profit made by the COE’s auction is vital to make everything more sustainable.
You could also argue about the crazy price the coffee is being sold and I would not disagree with you. But that’s just how the auction system works. A single bottle of wine can reach millions of sterling, so why coffee cannot?
But we can also view the auction in another way. If a farmer gets paid (fairly) extremely high for his coffee it could rise the competition with the other producers, raising the average quality of the coffee produced, widen the access of the market to more farmers so increasing the average demand for the coffee as more direct trade would build up.
Obviously, the topic of the article doesn’t want to revolve around the price of these coffees, but instead to keep promoting the core values of The Cup of Excellence and its intent, which is improving the coffee industry with transparency, integrity, fairness and sustainability.
I would like to see the Cup of Excellence as an organ that keeps pushing farmers to evolve and keep breaking the record for the most expensive coffee.
In the past, farmers made bad decisions regarding farm management and especially now, during these though years (facing global climate change), they have to make the right decisions in order to (literally) survive and have a brighter future.
Any thought, please?
I am an Italian coffee lover that pushed for the love of this “amazing drug” decided to come to London to study about coffee and its different extraction procedures and tastes.