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The history of Cup of Excellence

You, the specialty coffee fans, know that this is the most prestigious award given to the best coffees in the world each year. But do you know how the idea was born?

As we await the results of the 20th edition of the Cup of Excellence in Brazil, where Jordan Dabov has already shared with us that he had tasted incredibly delicious coffees – even anaerobic! (link to Costa Rica), let’s go back to the time when the foundations of the world’s most respected specialty coffee were laid.

Watch the Brazillian EPTV report on the ongoing СоЕ Brazil 2019 in the link .

How the idea of Cup of Excellence was born

In mid-1999, the Gourmet project was coming to an end. The aim of the two-year project was to help 5 countries get better prices for the quality coffee they produced, thanks to the support of Gourmet specialists. The funding was provided by several organizations, including the International Coffee Organization (ICO).

One of the major world coffee exporters, Brazil, Have not managed to sell its best varieties to the American roasters and coffee distributors. At the last moment, George Howell – a coffee quality consultant for Brazil, discovered several great Brazilian coffee varieties that were hitherto unknown to American roasters. He wanted to organize a competition at any cost, invite a few respectable cuppers to select the best quality coffees among the participant and distribute awards to their producers. And then sales would be easier.

The American Special Coffee Association (SCAA) got involved in the discussion about organizing such an event but its huge logistics proved a stumbling block.

Only when the International Coffee Organization promissed an advance financing of the future online auction for the winners 310 Brazillian farmers enrolled. 14 cuppers – jurors were sent to evaluate the submitted coffee samples. The event found a home at the small federal university in Lavras, Minas Gerais, where today the 20th anniversary edition also takes place.

During on of the cupping sessions during CoE Colombia 2013

What is the CoE competition like?

During the Cup of Excellence competition, jurors cup one coffee at a time, blindly, ie. without knowing who its producers are. They evaluate the following characteristics: roast color, aroma, defects, cleanliness, sweetness, acidity, first sip sensation, taste, aftertaste, balance, overall appearance.

310 producers participated in the first competition and they submitted at least 2 samples of their coffees, each was tasted at least 5 times. These are at least 3000 samples of coffee, which is not an easy task for the judges. Each competition has two stages of selection – in the first, national jury sellects from the submitted samples those which will continue to the finals. In 1999, 40 samples entered the second, final stage. Then, within a week, the 10 members of the international jury (from Europe, Asia and America) selected the top 10 coffee lots. Those jury members today are among the official guests of the jubilee edition, where our coffee hunter Jordan Dabov is also among the jurors.

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(left to right) George Howel from George Howel Coffee, Joe Hsu from Orsir Coffee, Jordan Dabov form DABOV Specialty Coffee and Andrew Barnett from Linea Caffe in the Cup of Excellence Brazil 2019 jury.

Each of the above listed characteristics – aroma, defects, etc., is rated from 0 to 8 with O being considered “unacceptable”, 4 is normal, 6 is good and 8 is really great coffee. Cup of Excellence is mainly interested in coffee with grades between 6 (good) and 8 (excellent). In order to save the judges time, if one of them gives a rating of 0 (inadmissible) to coffee in one of the categories, it is excluded and the jurors proceed with the next coffee.

This is how Cup of Excellence began. The first online auction was also held, and to a great success, although the prices were much lower than today. The first winner of the Best of Brazil, which transformed into the Cup of Excellence in 2001, is Claudio Carvalho Ottoni of Alterosa farm. At the auction, Diedrich Coffee $2.60 an ounce, which was twice and a half of the then average market price. This fact is extremely important because it set a real precedent, not to mention that the online auction itself was an innovative solution. In 1999, almost no one paid above the average price, despite the qualities of coffee. And in order to prepare for the auction, buyers wishing to participate can order coffee samples in advance to choose the ones they like best. At the same time, Cup of Excellence also promotes the production by sending samples to potential buyers.

Today, those buyers who offer the highest price simply win the auction. The following year, with the help of the already raised funds, a much larger group of jurors arrived in Lavras to look for the best Brazilian specialty coffees. The producers were expecting the competition with an unprecedented enthusiasm. The taste profiles of some previously unknown coffees and others from regions with a reputation for low quality production astonished the jurors with their excellent taste characteristics.

How was Alliance for Coffee Excellence found

In 2001, the American non-profit association Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) was founded, with the primary purpose to organize the competitionannually with every host country. In 2003, the ACE website was launched, with an online auction for the sale of award-winning coffees.

The Cup of Excellence has gradually expanded and today, in addition to Brazil, it is also being held in Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Burundi and Rwanda (forthcoming Ethiopia first edition in 2020). Due to the rigorous selection of the winners, the event is often referred to as the “Coffee Oscars”. So far, more than 140 auctions have been held that have raised over $60.3 million in revenue for the farmers. We are proud that our coffee hunter Jordan Dabov has been a juror at CoE in Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Hunduras and four times in Brazil (link).

СоЕ jury members

Coffee professionals are selected as members of the international jury of the competition. They have a special attitude both to farmers and coffee, to customers and to the relationship between the two. During each intense competition, they build up as a solid team and always create lasting friendships with the representatives of the country in which the competition is held. Each competition features at least one magnificent coffee that judges have tried for the first time.

What makes winning coffees special?

First, these coffees are of very high quality: only perfectly ripe cherries are selected, which are distinguished by their exceptional aroma and sweetness and, in general, characteristics characteristic only of coffees of rare varieties and of very high quality.

How many coffees can reach the Cup of Excellence final?

It depends only on the quality of the coffee and not on the quantity of participants. Participation requirements are so high that only the best coffees in one country are honored with the privilege of taking part in the competition after passing through the national stage of selection.

Who buys such coffee?

Cup of Excellence coffees are purchased from roasters located mainly in Asia, America, Australia. Very few European roasters bid and compete with Japanese, South Korean and American roasters.

We at DABOV Specialty Coffee usually manage to buy at least 1 Cup of Excellence coffee annually so we can make happy the coffee fans in Bulgaria and Europe. We currently offer 3 coffees and expect the winner of CoE Honduras 2019.

Is the Cup of Excellence award important to farmers?

The award is a huge recognition to the farmer for his efforts to grow very high quality coffee. The farms stand out as a “quality producer” of coffee.
This attracts the attention of roasters looking for high-quality rare coffee varietals. In addition to the farm, the roasters expand their interest to the whole region. In most cases, long-lasting partnerships emerge between roasters and farmers. 90% of the online auction record amounts go directly to producers, which improves their life standard, allows them to invest more in farm improvements and long-term training for the whole family and other workers.

Jordan Dabov wth the CoE Honduras 2019 winner – Eleane Mierisch from Finca Santa Lucia. We expect her coffee at DABOV in November.

What Cup of Excellence participants have to say – from producers to jurors and buyers

„After returning from the competition in Santa Cruz, I couldn’t believe the results. Now I am convinced that we have won and with my family we are extremely happy. Moreover, we broke the record of the last year’s highest price. We are incredibly motivated to keep working. This experience will undoubtedly change the quality of life of our entire family and the producers in my area. And this is thanks to SOE! I want to tell all the producers in Bolivia not to feel disappointed. Anyone can win if they work with love and dedication – that’s the most important thing. Juan de Dios Blanco – Winner of the Cup of Excellence Bolivia 2005

„This May, was the coffee month of my life. I participated in all three CoE competitions in just one month. A very intense but also very interesting experience because in Honduras this competition was held for the first time, in El Salvador for the second time and in Nicaragua for the third time (2013). They are all at different stages and I could see how this program seeks to promote producing countries in each of the different stages.

In El Salvador and Nicaragua, overall, the quality is higher than in previous years. I could see and taste coffees, which show that the producers have prepared themselves more carefully. Coffee is more dense, balanced. As a jury, we had to reduce points in certain batches after individual samples. It was very difficult because the coffees were very good. However, we are sure that this is only the beginning of the biggest breakthrough.

In Honduras, I was introduced to a variety of unique flavors that I never expected to meet there. Who would expect mango, passion fruit and even a guava from a cup of coffee!? But there were also some coffees well below good wuality. Yes, it was their first competition and we, from the jury, carefully excluded these lots. Our job is to look for gold or diamonds. Like real adventurers. And we found amazing coffees that stood the test of the most rigorous selection in the coffee world. These coffees have the power to change the Honduras people’s view of coffee completely.

I would like to thank everyone involved in this mission. I’m very lucky to be able to experience this as it is happening. ” Kentaro Maruyama, Maruyama Coffee, Japan – international judge, the only one who has participated in 60 coffee competitions and for that reason is the sole winner of the SoE Golden Spoon Award for a juror with more than 50 competitions.

“CoE has given us the opportunity to meet the best coffee producers in the world today. It has changed our personal and professional lives by continuing to inspire and motivate us to the be the best in the industry. We have been fortunate to be able to purchase COE winner lots and bring them to our corner of Europe…Sharing these exclusive coffees with other coffee enthusiasts is one of the best parts of our day.” Jordan Dabov, DABOV Specialty Coffee, Bulgaria

On the main photo: Susie Spindler, one of the founders of CoE and Jordan Dabov, DABOV Specialty Coffee

Thanks to materials from https://allianceforcoffeeexcellence.org/cup-of-excellence/

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