Coffee quality has come a long way over the past few decades alone. From being a plain commodity not given much thought, it has now grown to artisanal recognition like wine or cheese. We’ve come to appreciate coffee more now and the demand for good coffee is only increasing.
As more and more coffee producers appear on the market, the desire to categorize them arises. After all, wouldn’t you like to know what the best coffee is? Coffee finally got its own definitive competition at an international level in 1999 with the Cup of Excellence.
What Is The Cup Of Excellence?
The Cup of Excellence is a competitive event organized by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence annually in different countries across the globe. The goal is simple: identify the highest-quality coffee that year. The winner then goes to an online auction where bidding on the winning lots takes place.
The Cup, although organized by the Alliance For Coffee Excellence, the original concept was developed by the Gourmet Coffee Project, which was part of the International Coffee Organization (ICO). The Cup of Excellence has become the most prestigious coffee competition, and winning is a big deal for the farmers who grow the coffee.
At its core, the Cup of Excellence strives to promote transparency and excellence in the coffee industry. It helped make specialty coffee mainstream, drawing in new consumers and businesses while also caring for small farmers and their work.
The competition is organized in 11 countries: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Colombia organizes two Cups, one north and one south, to accommodate the large variety of coffee they produce.
The Cup of Excellence has tremendous importance in the coffee world by promoting farm recognition (including small farms), creating transparent systems, and providing incentives to farmers to improve their produce year after year. The recognition of winning the Cup of Excellence brings many small farms and their coffee to the international stage and prevents stagnation in the industry.
How Does The Cup of Excellence Work?
The Cup of Excellence is extremely stringent and rigorous at every step. Evaluations are done in three stages with judging from both national and international juries. Farms can submit their coffees for evaluation and in some places, up to 900 samples are submitted for the competition. Out of this, around 60 are selected by judges to proceed further.
These 60 coffees are then assessed by an international jury in a blind cupping. The judges evaluate the competing coffees on factors such as acidity, aroma, mouthfeel, after taste, and overall taste (sweetness, bitterness, etc.). They also look for defects and unbalanced flavor profiles to better weed out the good from the not so good.
Finally, 10 coffees are shortlisted and they are cupped again to receive a final score. This score determines the winner. The winner is listed for an internet auction where bids have reached as high as $185 per pound or more.
Why Is The Cup Of Excellence Relevant?
The Cup of Excellence isn’t just a coffee tasting competition. It’s a platform that features farmers front and center, as they should be. Farmers, especially the small and micro-farmers, are sidelined far too often. The Cup gives them a chance to shine and show just how well they can grow coffee.
The Cup of Excellence has been instrumental in taking specialty coffee to new heights. Winning the Cup is a great achievement that comes with not only monetary compensation but also support in the form of education and research. The competition is completely neutral, blind, and not driven by commercial gain alone, which adds to its reputation as a force for good in the coffee world.
The Cup pioneered the concept of Farmer identification as a hallmark for good coffee. When they started, they ensured utmost transparency so that farmers directly receive the compensation they deserve. This success was adopted by the coffee industry as a whole which has been both commercially profitable and leads to better coffee cultivation practices.
Many farmers see the Cup of Excellence as their opportunity to showcase coffees that may never have seen an international stage otherwise. This keeps the market active and drives innovation in farming practices and coffee production. Farmers also receive training and education to improve their farming practices and bring sustainable solutions to some of their most pressing concerns.
For consumers, the Cup provides an ever-evolving selection of new, high-quality coffee from all across the world produced under complete transparency and with fair compensation for all. This pushes consumers as well to make ethical choices when it comes to their coffee consumption.
The Cup of Excellence has been a mainstay in the coffee world, driving innovation, transparency, and trust while providing consumers with high-quality coffee and giving farmers their due. By constantly striving for excellence, coffee can reach unbelievable new heights.