I have just returned from Pereira Colombia after judging the 2009 Colombia Cup of Excellence competition. Although tired, I'm thrilled about this experience. It is so exciting going through the cupping process and seeing the award ceremony's on the final day.
The Cup of Excellence competition is the most thorough and competitive screening process a coffee farm will put their coffee through. The goal of COE is to bring out the best coffee a current region has to offer in the current crop year. After the competition is over, the COE award is given to the top farmers who represent the best coffees that this region has to offer. These coffees are then put in front of the world on an on-line auction which rewards these farmers for their focused attention to improving quality coffee, and puts a spot light on this region show-casing their excellence.
Stage one Involves the submission from the farmers current crop of coffee. Of the 512,000 families growing coffee in Colombia, only 374 submissions were sent in this year, which was relatively low do to the fact that Colombia's crop forecast is 30-40% lower than the year before.
All of these coffees are cupped and analyzed in Colombia by local cuppers. All coffee scoring an 84 or higher (out of 100) move on to the second National Cupping jury. The National Cupping Jury is chosen from the pool of local cuppers. They are chosen for their cupping skills in the first stage.
The second cupping stage was left with 124 lots of coffee. The same scoring methodology is used, only passing coffee's scoring an 84 or higher. During each stage of the cupping, every coffee will be tested by every cupper a minimum of 4 times. If a taste defect is found at any time, the coffee is automatically disqualified. To illustrate how stringent this process is, 2 out of the final 10 lots were disqualified on the last day!
The 3rd and final stage involves 24-26 international cuppers who have been selected from around the world for their discriminating pallets. This is the panel I have the honor of being a member of. We were all brought to Colombia for a 4 day in-depth analysis of each coffee which was passed by the National Jury. This event left us 56 coffees from around Colombia, most of them this year from the Huila district, and primarily in the Pitalito area.
On day 1 of the 3rd stage, 28 coffees are cupped and graded over 3 different sessions. Each coffee was cupped a minimum of 4 times and each sip requires thought on cup characteristics such as aroma (as dry grounds, the crust and at the break), clarity, sweetness, acidity, mouth feel, flavor, after taste, balance and overall impression. The intensity and flavor description of each is also documented and discussed after each round.
Day 2 also featured 28 coffees over 3 sessions. Day 3 we cupped 30 different coffees which were the coffees scoring 84 points or higher by International Jury on days 1 and 2.
Day 4 the top 10 are finally re-cupped and unfortunately 2 of these had defects forcing them to be disqualified. This was incredibly disappointing for us and the farmers, putting a damper on a typically rewarding day. This left a total of 26 lots of coffee were awarded the coveted Cup of Excellence seal and will be auctioned in April.
I walk away with new friends and a much more refined pallet. I have discovered a range of Colombian coffees that I did not know before and have clarity around potential direct trade partnerships moving forward. More importantly I have a renewed appreciation for the work these farmers/families put into growing excellent coffee and realize again how delicate this product is.
Coffee excellence starts with the farm. Perfect growing conditions (climate, soil and elevation), followed by handing picking the ripest red cherries and flawless processing on the farm and dry mills are step one. Fast and accurate shipping is required followed by a controlled warehouse environment in Calgary to ensure the green coffee conditions are stable. Proper roasting techniques and strict quality control methods are used daily. Roasting and delivering in small batches ensures freshness for our clients and is crucial to the quality of coffee you serve your customers. Proper training for you and your barista's is our final step in helping you strive to be the best and is the final stage for us, where we hand off the responsibility to you. To not brew or extract these and all coffees with the same attention to detail and care, is nothing less than heart-breaking.