In 2022, the Alliance for Coffee Excellence will ultimately host 12 Cup of Excellence competitions and subsequent auctions. To mitigate health risks of traveling during the pandemic, ACE adjusted some of their international juries to be conducted remotely at Global Coffee Centers (GCCs). As such Mercanta, both North America and Berlin branches, participated in Colombia and Ecuador this year as GCCs. What does this unique participation look like?
In the North America office, Leah Warren (Regional Manager), Ryan Bui (Lab Technician), and myself Samantha Sobash-McWilliams (Head of Quality) all participated in the process. We set aside a weekend to put our entire focus on these coffees. In mid-September we received 12 samples to use for calibration and 37 samples to evaluate in the competition. As a jury member, the Cup of Excellence is a marathon. We made each slurp count, kept hydrated, slept well, and tuned out all distractions to ensure each coffee got the attention it deserved for proper scoring. Here is what our schedule looked like —
Wednesday – Roast 12 samples for calibration cupping
Thursday – Calibration Cupping & discussion of results
Friday – Roast Session 1 and 2 samples (20 total)
Saturday – Roast Session 3 and 4 samples (17 total) // Cup sessions 1 and 2
Sunday – Cup sessions 3 and 4
Monday – Roast Top Ten
Tuesday – Cup for placement in the Top 10
Head Judge, Paul Songer, offered guidance through videos and presentations. Unique to the COE cupping forms are sliding scales for sweetness and cleanliness of each coffee. This gives the cupper the opportunity to provide a nuanced analysis of how these elements impact the overall rank amongst the competing coffees. The 37 coffees in the international round were made up of the following processing methods: 24 washed, 3 honey, 5 natural, 4 Washed Anaerobic, and 1 Honey Anaerobic. Aside from the processing method, all other details are kept blind for the duration of cupping; each sample is tracked with a unique code.
In this remote experience, we were tasked with following all COE protocols within our own labs and remained connected with our global counterparts by sharing cupping photos from our respective labs and updates on our progress via WhatsApp. What was confirmed in our cuppings is that Colombia has an abundance of incredibly clean, sweet coffees. It sounds so simple, and yet it is quite impressive to find such consistency amongst diverse processing methods from 19 growing regions divided into 5 zones. As the third biggest world coffee exporter, Colombia Arabica is known for its pronounced aroma, acidity, medium-high body, and cleanness.
The competition began at origin with 261 samples submitted by producers (notably, nearly three-quarters of those samples came from Huila and Nariño regions). Of those 261 samples, 59 made it to the pre-selection round, 39 to the national jury, and 37 to the international jury. Our task as the international jury was to collectively determine which coffees made it to the auction (scoring 87+). And this year, only 22 have made it to auction. On the day of the auction, we spent hours glued to the screen in anticipation of winning one of the lots that we pinned as a favorite. No matter whether a coffee is number 5, or number 22 in the auction – you can see participants view different coffees as gems sprinkled throughout the list. A lovely reminder that every coffee has a home, and the best part of our job as coffee hunters is to find it.
We are excited to have purchased lot #12, a super tasty natural lot from Finca Manantiales del Frontino – a dynamic cup with tropical flavors and jammy body. Please get in touch if interested in learning more about this coffee. And in conclusion, we say thank you and congratulations to all the producers on a marvelous showing of what Colombia has to offer.
Pictured below: Leah Warren (Regional Manager), Samantha Sobash-McWilliams (Head of Quality), and Ryan Bui (Lab Coordinator) in the Seattle, US office.