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Cup of Excellence Workshop

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  • Cup of Excellence Workshop

    Hi All,


    The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE, the company that runs COE), ran an introductory COE workshop here last week.  Both Susie Spindler, the exec director, and Erwin Mierisch, the operations director, made the trip to deliver a very memorable two day session.  

    The Workshop

    The workshop took the form of a number of cuppings per day, plus a number of lecture sessions.  Attendees were largely professional coffee roasters, but there were also a few enthusiasts.  The cuppings were largely geared towards getting people used to the COE score sheet, whilst the lectures focussed on the program itself, together with coffee processing, shipping and roasting.

    The first session consisted of a tasting of a number of solutions to get everyone on the same page.  A key aspect of the COE score sheet is that many of the scores are quality scores rather than intensity scores.  For example, a solution of citric acid alone displayed quite a strong intensity.  A solution of mixed acids was less intense, but jucier and, so, was probably the preferable one out of the two.  Similarly, a solution of methylcellulose had a very heavy mouthfeel, but it was quite up front and not as rounded and enjoyable as the less intense glycerin solution.

    Pic: Solutions

    The cuppings were mostly organised by themes, supported by a number of coffees that would be difficult to find here that were dug up by Erwin.  Cuppings were all blind and the theme was mostly kept secret from attendees until the end.

    Pic: Before the cupping

    The first cupping was really just a broad survey of a number of coffees to pique our interest.  Two coffees really stood out as quite objectionable: a sample from Honduras that had been dried too quickly and tasted both baggy and rubbery and a sample that had been blended with unripes, which had a green quality to it, backed by an unpleasant instant coffee taste.

    The second cupping featured an absolute knockout: a Honduran Yellow Catuai that tasted of peach, canteloupe and florals.  I scored it 90.5.  This was a pre-shipment sample of a coffee that will be entered into this years SCAA coffee of the year competition.  If it tastes anything like that at the SCAA comp, Im sure that they stand a great chance.  The buzz around the room that this coffee generated really seemed to underscore to the attendees the value of getting samples from as many places as you can and cupping through them properly - coffee of this calibre is pretty rare anywhere, let alone in Australia.  This lineup also featured an interesting Pacamara from El Salvador with a telltale pepperyness.

    The third cupping featured a number of defects, including baggy coffee, over-fermented coffee and mouldy coffee.  The examples that were presented were fairly dramatic, but served to underscore the need to pay attention in cupping samples: many of these defects show up very faintly in pre-shipment samples, only to be much more intense in the lot delivered.  We were also lucky enough to have a few stunning examples of very strong phenolics, with a pronounced band-aid aftertaste.

    The fourth cupping was a number of different roast profiles.  The baked and double-roasted coffees were useless.  The scorched sample was fairly good because the guys had a bit of trouble getting it to actually scorch!  The fast roast tasted surprisingly good, whilst the COE roast stood out as the most balanced and well developed.  My notes say that it was a 10 min 40 second roast, with first at 8 min.  My scores from this round ran the gamut from F to 88, which is a pretty huge spread for the same coffee at different roast levels.

    The fifth table was the same coffee brewed with different waters.  Again, the difference was pretty phenomenal, particularly when the water contained salt.  The tap water that we were using turned out to be quite tasty.

    The final two tables were the tables for which the roasters had been invited to bring along coffee.  There were really two main themes that emerged here: first, there were a lot of coffees that were dark roasts, presumably for espresso.  Many of these were taken to a point where the sweetness had started to diminish and some were even to a point where the body that the roasters had presumably sought to create had been roasted out.  The group averages for these coffees were around about 75 or below.  Second, most of the roasters that bought along lighter roasts chose Ethiopian coffees.  There was no shortage of winners in this category; I gave about half of these between 80 and 84 and half between 85 and 87.  An unusually fresh and clean indonesian coffee rounded out the mix, together with my collection of stale mixed commercial espresso roasts, both of which the group scored around 82.  Interestingly, I didnt end up using the defects column for any of the coffees on the table, so one expects that what defects there were were obscured by the roast.

    Pic: More cupping tables

    Cup of Excellence

    Throughout the workshop, we were treated to a few lectures and there were certainly a few points about the COE that bear repeating.  

    The key point is the phenomenal rigour of the competition itself.  The competition attracts around about 1000 entrants per country, each of whom submits a lot of 5kg or so to be cupped by the national jury.  The national jury advances any coffees that score 84 or higher to the international jury stage.  There is a cut-off at 60, but that is seldom reached.  The lots that make it to the international jury stage are picked up and taken to a bonded warehouse, where an auditor draws representative samples from the bags of coffee in each lot.  The auditor codes these samples and passes them on to the international jury.  The international jury of 20 or so cups the samples a minimum of three times each.  Coffees are eliminated if at any stage they show a defect.  Mild taints are not eliminated, but they are penalised so much on the score sheet that they probably will result in elimination.  The top coffees are then cupped again.  Once all of this is done, the coffees are ranked and the auditor reveals which code is whose coffee.  The difference in quality control between COE coffees and ordinary commercial coffees is pretty stark; a shipping container of an ordinary commercial coffee might be cupped 20 time; a COE lot might be cupped several hundred times.

    Another point to bear in mind is the impact of the competition in producing countries.  To us, COE coffees might be delicious and expensive.  In producing countries, the competition means so much more.  Generally, it provides access to markets for producers who have a great product, but might otherwise have difficulty getting in touch with buyers in consuming countries.  To give a few more specific examples:
    *in Colombia, a COE winner was able to renovate his house, buy a small truck, a motor bike, a fridge, a washing machine, a dishwasher and make a payment towards building a road to his farm;
    *in Honduras, a COE winner was on the verge of having his bank foreclose on his mortgage for the sake of $1000 or so; today he has three farms;
    *in El Salvador, all of the COE winners have lunch with the president; and
    *in Rwanda, the entire country basically stopped for the awards ceremony, presided over by the president.

    Pic: Movie time

    End of the day ...

    Overall, I have to say that I had a great time and that I felt that this was probably the best coffee tasting event that I have done; right up there with the Coffeelab course. ACE did an amazing job squeezing such a huge amount into two days.

    A big thankyou to Seven Seeds, who were instrumental in getting the event run in Australia to start off with and who took care of most of the logistics. 4 cuppings per day, up to 8 coffees each, 4 bowls of each on the table, 8 tables per cupping ... that is an absurd amount of cupping bowls to fill and wash.

    As always, it was great to catch up with the industry crowd and hopefully we will see some more people join the list of Australian COE buyers.

    I have been invited to COE El Salvador, so hopefully Ill be able to take photos and post up about that.

    In the meantime, damn I wish I had some of that Honduran sample ...


  • #2
    Re: Cup of Excellence Workshop

    Great information, thanks for sharing, Luca!



    • #3
      Re: Cup of Excellence Workshop

      Hey Luca,
      Thanks for the writeup. I was quietly waiting for a blog entry or post to these forums about your experience, so Thanks.

      I must say, I really wish I had been able to attend. The amount of information and palate training an event like this would provide would be phenomenal.

      Its also great to hear anecdotal stories of the great impact CoE has for the farmers producing these coffees. Its really important the general drinking public are educated more about these worthwhile initiatives instead of being fed the same old "fair trade" koolaid.

      All the best in El Salvador.