Every year hundreds of coffee farmers face off against other farmers in their country. The competition is fierce, but the rewards are worth the effort.
- Farm recognition
- Financial security
- Incentives to improve
And though the most impact is on the farmers themselves, the competition does affect you a few ways as well. Allow me to introduce you to the incredible Cup of Excellence Coffee Competition.
What Is The Cup Of Excellence?
The Cup of Excellence (CoE) is a competition series held by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, an organization that has supported coffee farmer education and development for decades.
The competitions are country-based. However, Colombia, with how many coffees are submitted every year, has two (a North and South competition). The first competition was in Brazil in 1999, but in less than 20 years it’s expanded to ten countries in 2017, two of which are in Africa.
How The Competition Works
Farmers from all over a country submit their best lots of coffee. There are sometimes as many as 900 samples per competition! Of these, judges select the top 60 or so coffees to move on to the next round.
An international panel of certified judges assess these 60 coffees in series of blind tests. They score on things like aroma, acidity, aftertaste, sweetness, bitterness, mouthfeel. They also look out for defects or inconsistent flavors. External auditors run the cuppings to ensure that everything is fair and blind.
10-15 coffees are eliminated each round until only ten remain. These final ten are cupped one last time and a winner is crowned based on score. By the end, the top coffees have been tasted and scored at least five times.
Once the competition is ended, the top 30 coffees are put up for auction online. Buyers and roasters from around the world bid on the coffees - and those top performing 30 coffees tend to earn a pretty penny for the farmers.
Incredible Auction Prices
It’s not uncommon to see auctioned cup of excellence coffees going for $10 per pound or more. In Burundi in 2017, the average of all 23 finalists was over $9 per pound. Though lower than averages from other competitions, it’s still much higher than the ~$3 Fair Trade price.
- In 2016, a CoE winning lot from Honduras was sold for $120 per pound
- In 2017, a different farm from Honduras broke the record with $124 per pound
- And then, in Brazil’s 2017 competition, a winner sold for a CoE record: $126 per pound
It’s proof that the Cup of Excellence is continually recognized more and more around the world as a reputable competition that fairly picks the best of the best coffees every year.
And when you consider that most coffees in the world are bought for $2-4 per pound, you can see how these quality-focused farms (and the lives of the workers) are changed forever.
Amazingly, the rewards of ranking in or winning a CoE competition don’t just last one year.
Thanks to the greater profits, farms are able to invest in better equipment, more labor training, and all sorts of farm improvements. This leads to better quality coffee, allowing them to enter the competition again the next year (or just sell at a higher price the next season).
And thankfully, the extra money doesn’t just stay at the farms. Many top performers go on to improve the lives of their workers by investing in healthcare, education, and other quality of life-improving services.
Not just farms, but whole area communities are impacted.
What Does Cup Of Excellence Mean For Me?
Have you tried a CoE winning coffee? If so, you know how delicious they can be.
In fact, my favorite coffee I’ve ever tried was the 2014 CoE winner from South Colombia. It was smooth, sweet, and complex with a crisp acidity, melon notes, and a rich floral aroma. And when the cup cooled down, an unmistakable mango flavor appeared.
It was the best coffee I’ve ever tried. And it was $7 per cup.
Roasters have to pay a premium for CoE winning lots through the auction system, so it’s only natural that they pass those costs onto coffee shops and consumers.
It’s not uncommon for top ranking CoE coffees to cost $30-60 per bag for regular folks like you and me, though quite a few now have gotten to the $100+ range.
Are CoE Coffees Worth Paying Extra For?
Here’s the thing. These coffees can be very expensive - and as winners of a prestigious competition, they’re supposed to be luxuries.
Unless you’re a particularly fortunate person, I don’t suggest buying bags of these coffees for regular daily drinking - they’re too special for that. However, there are a few circumstances when it’s totally acceptable to dish out the extra cash.
- You want to give a tasty gift. Chances are your coffee lover won’t want to spend the money on the bag of coffee themselves (since the coffee’s definitely a luxury). However, they’re sure to love it. CoE coffees make stellar gifts!
- You want to facilitate a blow-your-mind coffee experience. Skip the wine at your next dinner party and splurge on an award-winning coffee that everyone will love instead. Also works for special celebrations - skip the pricey drinks and buy the winning coffee.
- You just want to taste a single mug. If your local coffee shop serves a CoE winner as a pour over or french press, expect to pay upwards of $10 for a cup. If you have doubts about spending that much on coffee, split it with someone else. Whether you share or not, it’s worth the experience.
Of course, I won’t stop you if you want to buy a few bags for your regular daily brew. It’s completely your call! And either way, farmers around the world are being supported and you’re getting to taste the world’s best of the best. Sounds like a win-win to me!
The Cup of Excellence competitions have been improving the lives of farmers for years, but they’ve also helped elevate coffee quality across the board by incentivizing farms to focus on quality.
But it’s not just the coffee itself that’s getting better, but the way it’s produced. Higher prices, more dignifying wages, and empowered farming communities are the keys to making coffee farming sustainable.
When you buy CoE ranking coffees, you also play a small - but necessary - role in making coffee financially sustainable for millions around the world.
Want to try a CoE winner? At the time of writing, we have not one, but two former winners in our Coffee Club lineup.
- Our Silver Lining coffee features a Guatemalan coffee that won the CoE in 2007 AND 2011 (and has ranked every year since).
- Our Little Giant offering from Burundi ranked #8 in the CoE in 2015 - and the quality comes through in the bold, fruity taste.
We send out these coffees, among others, every other week to subscribers of our Coffee Club. We roast and ship the beans on the same day, which means you get to try these coffees when they’re as fresh (and flavorful) as can be.Check it out!