In October last year, our co-founder Jiyoon had the privilege of attending the Cup of Excellence competition in Peru, known to some as the “Oscars of the coffee world.” It’s nothing short of the most prestigious coffee competition in the industry. However, Jiyoon wasn’t just there to take in the sights — she had the honor of being invited to help judge the competition as part of a hand-picked international jury. Read on to learn exactly what makes the Cup of Excellence such an intense competition.
What is the Cup of Excellence?
Hosted by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, the Cup of Excellence, or CoE, is the most highly regarded coffee competition in the coffee producing world. Every year, thousands of hopeful coffee farmers enter their best to be judged by an esteemed panel of national and international jurors. Out of all of these coffees, only the top 30 entries from each participating country are deemed Cup of Excellence winners.
The Cup of Excellence program began in 1999 as the result of a global project aimed at helping coffee farmers receive more money for their coffee, and to build overall awareness of their level of quality.
As Susie Spindler, the founder of Alliance for Coffee Excellence, puts it: “The competition was born out of a larger project designed to help farmers in multiple countries receive more money for their higher quality coffee. Brazil was one of the countries in this project and BSCA (Brazil Specialty Coffee Association) was a major contributor. The first competition was held in Brazil in 1999 so that importers and roasters that did not believe Brazil could produce specialty coffee could come cup these coffees for themselves. It was also developed as a way to help farmers understand which quality improvements would yield the best results.”
As of 2023, the competition has been held in over a dozen countries (although not every country participates each year): Brazil, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Rwanda, Burundi, Mexico, Peru, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Ecuador.
What coffees are submitted to the Cup of Excellence?
Any coffee farmer in a CoE participating country can submit any number of coffees for consideration, although only the first submission is allowed free of charge. All samples get cupped once by a national jury from each country and the top 150 samples that score above 86 points move on. This initial pre-selection round often involves scoring thousands of cups of coffee!
After 2 more rounds of scoring, the national jury narrows it down to the top 40 coffees, which are then cupped by an international panel of judges. Of these 40, the top 30 are selected as Cup of Excellence winners. One final round of scoring identifies and ranks the top 10 coffees which are awarded special recognition.
On top of the global recognition for their hard work, winning a CoE competition is often a huge financial windfall for farmers. Following the competition, all winning coffees are entered into a private auction where roasters and buyers bid on their favorite lots with nearly all of the money going directly to farmers. Bidding can get intense—it’s not uncommon for bidding to reach prices well into the hundreds of dollars per pound. In fact, at the 2022 Ethiopia CoE, the top-scoring coffee sold for $400.50/lb. This set a new record for the most expensive coffee sold at a CoE auction!
Who gets to Judge the Cup of Excellence?
Only the most highly qualified coffee professionals are approved to judge a CoE competition. The first rounds of judging are done by a national jury consisting of working professionals in that particular country of origin. For the international jury, the Alliance for Coffee Excellence invites 20 to 25 potential jurors who have applied for the position. These invitations are carefully considered and it is a high professional honor to be selected as a judge.
What are the coffees judged on?
The CoE uses its own cupping form to score coffees, but because it’s based off of the SCA cupping form, the two are quite similar in practice. There are some differences to make judging more competitive (for example, points are awarded in the “Clean Cup,” and “Sweetness” categories unlike the SCA version), but coffees are still judged using the same criteria and across the same aspects of flavors, such as acidity, body, aftertaste, fragrance, and aroma. Like the SCA standard, coffees are scored on a 100-point scale.
Cup of Excellence Peru 2022
In October 2022, CoE Peru was held in the beautiful city of Ayacucho, located in the southern Andes region of Peru.
As an international juror, Jiyoon’s job was to help select the winning 30 entries from a shortlist of 40 coffees identified by the Peru national jury.
After several days of nonstop cupping and deliberating, the top 10 winners were announced! This was an especially exciting year for women producers — with women winning 5 of the top 10 awards. First place winner, Blanca Flor Cordova Jimenez was chosen for her winning coffee, a gesha, which scored an impressive 90.39 points and sold for $75/lb!
The Cup of Excellence is truly a showcase for the best coffees in the world, and we’re beyond proud to partner with several immensely talented and innovative producers who have gone on to win. These phenomenal coffees are unlike any other and we encourage you to give them a try!