Brazil's Cup of Excellence Competition – Coffee’s Journey to the International Jury

To get to the COE’s international jury, a coffee must pass through two previous competitions. The first is held immediately after the harvest, and is open to all growers that believe they have had an exceptional harvest. Needless to say, hundreds of samples are submitted! The vetting by the national judges reduces the assortment down to a more manageable group of about 100 coffees. Two weeks before the international competition, the second national competition is held to go through the initial 100 coffees to further narrow the field. So every coffee we start with ad already  passed through two rounds of competition, where each had been carefully roasted and then tasted – literally – hundreds of times.

The exact number of coffees tasted in each COE session – and the total number of sessions – is a function of how many coffees the international jury has to evaluate. In Brazil this year, we started with 56 coffees, which were the winners of the national competition held at the end of October. All of the cuppers were assigned to rotating teams of four for each of Tuesday and Wednesday’s sessions, taking about 90 minutes per session to complete the cupping process (at different temperature gradients as the coffee cooled) along with time together as a group after each flight to discuss the merits of each coffee and announce our individual scores. This year, of the original 56 coffees we started with on Tuesday, 32 coffees made it to the semi-finals on Thursday; some failed to reach the next round due to a lower than 84.0 composite score, while a few others failed due to imperfections we discovered in the cup.

The scoring system of the Cup of Excellence is somewhat similar to the system developed by The Wine Spectator® magazine – a 1-to-100 scale. The coffee industry generally considers a coffee to be “specialty” if it attains a score of 80.0 or above – and it is this level of coffees (and above) that CBI and most other specialty roasters focus on using. The Cup of Excellence raises the bar for entry into its program to 84.0 – with any coffee achieving a score of 90.0 and over to be considered as extraordinary and given an additional “Presidential Award”. The scoring system used to evaluate COE coffees (or conventional specialty coffees) requires a substantially greater effort to advance from 85.0 to 86.0 than from 75.0 to 76.0, or 65.0 to 66.0 for that matter. In other words, advancing from a score of 83.0 - which is a solid (and desirable) specialty coffee – to an 84.0 which is the minimum required for being recognized as a COE coffee requires a substantially better performance in the cup than the number suggests. Given that, consider the scarcity and value of a coffee that receives a score of 91.08, which was the top Brazilian score, awarded this year in Machado!

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