Cup of Excellence explained

The Cup of Excellence program has improved the business of coffee along the entire chain, but how did it start and how does it work?

Billed as the most prestigious coffee competition in the world, Cup of Excellence is designed to reward and encourage coffee growers who are working to create coffees of the highest quality. Specialty coffee is all about the chain of people – from farmer to coffee drinker – being committed to supporting quality coffee and Cup of Excellence is a brilliant example of what can be achieved with that support.

Launching with the ‘Best of Brazil’ in 1999, Cup of Excellence was the brainchild of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, an international group of coffee professionals who were all working in their own country to try and improve the industry. At this point in time coffee was primarily treated purely as a commodity – sold by the pound, often with the lots of several producers blended together and sold in bulk.

There was little incentive for the farmer to raise the quality above the average of their area – everyone received the same price and there was no traceability back to the farm, so why expend unnecessary resources and time?

The introduction of a competition and live auction changed all that.

Cup of Excellence competition is open to all farmers in the country of origin, with each farmer receiving free entry for one sample.

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In Brazil, this adds up to hundreds of samples being submitted, before undergoing an intensive judging process. Because of the high financial reward of being judged a COE winner, complete anonymity is required to ensure fairness.

Each lot is assigned a number by which it is identified and tracked throughout the six rounds of judging.
In Round One a local jury of around 12 qualified coffee experts from the host country cup each sample submitted.

To proceed to the next round, the sample must achieve a score of 86/100 – Excellent Specialty Coffee, with a maximum of 150 lots to advance. Round Two sees this number reduced to 90 samples, before being whittled down to 60 in Round Three.

An International Jury of 20-25 coffee professionals from around the world arrives to join the National Jury for Round Four, where the competition undergoes its last cut before selection.

In Round Five the Cup of Excellence Winners are announced at a grand ceremony, often attended by high-ranking government officials who present each winning farmer with a Certificate to acknowledge their achievement.

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Round Six of judging is devoted to the Top Ten coffees from each country, with any lots scoring over 90/100 receiving a Presidential Certificate for Outstanding Specialty Coffee.

Within six weeks of the award ceremony, the winning coffees have been milled, sorted, vacuum packed and samples sent around the world to coffee buyers like Merlo to decide on which lots they would like to bid for.

The coffees are sold via a live web auction, often attended by the growers who will be calling for the prices to go higher and higher!

And usually, their pleas are heard – a Cup of Excellence lot will sell for between $5-$7 USD per pound more than the average price for Brazilian coffee. All revenue from the auction stays in the host country, with the lion’s share going directly to the farmer.

Over the seventeen years that the program has run in Brazil, this has had an incredible effect on the industry. Successful farmers seek to repeat their wins and neighbours are inspired to join the competition.

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Although creating such high quality coffee requires investment on the part of the farmer, a study of the program showed that for every $1.00 invested, the average return was between $1.50 and $3.00.

And the benefits spill over beyond the competition lots, with farmers in Brazil who have achieved Cup of Excellence Certification selling their general crop for an average of 0.60c more per pound.

The returns create a beneficial cycle – as the auctions generate revenue, there is more to invest and the quality of coffee continues to increase. Relationships are built between growers and buyers, creating a sustainable economy for the farmers. And of course, better coffee makes for happy roasters, baristas and coffee drinkers.

My father is a farmer and he always told me that “a rising tide lifts all ships”. This is true of the Cup of Excellence program, which has improved the business of coffee along the entire chain.

We are very proud to be a part of the program again this year and to offer you the Mandembo Brazil Naturals Cup of Excellence Winner as our December Bean of the Month.

 

Reference: TechnoServe Report, January 2015, Cup of Excellence in Brazil and Honduras: An Impact Assessment

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