By Howard Bryman/Nick Brown
DEC 23, 2015 (dailycoffeenews.com)–At a Cup of Excellence auction in Brazil earlier this year, an international panel of cuppers gave a coffee a score of 95.18 — the highest individual COE score to date. Exceptional coffees have been scoring higher across the board, and to reflect this improvement while continuing to motivate farmers, the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which organizes the COE contests and auctions, announced in a letter to its members last week that it is raising the minimum score for official COE designation from 85 to 87.
“When the program first started, an 85-point or 86-point was probably not all that common, and an 89 or 90 was pretty amazing,” ACE Director of Training Sherri Johns told Daily Coffee News, adding that the quality improvements relate not only to improved education among producers, but also to the demands of educated buyers and more sophisticated consumers.
“The fact that this year the minimum score for a Cup of Excellence coffee is going from 85 to 87 is huge,” said Johns. “It’s really huge, because the coffees have gotten better.” Also getting better is the ACE’s base of operations in Portland, Ore., which has just relocated into new offices on the top floor of a new building in northwest Portland’s Slabtown neighborhood. The corner space overlooks the Willamette River, bridges that cross it and the railroads that run along its banks.
The most exciting part is the brand new coffee evaluation and cupping lab, soon to be certified by the SCAA as suitable for cuppings and SCAA Pathway classes for up to 24 people. It’s the first lab the ACE has had at its home base, and upon clearing a final hurdle or two, will be the first SCAA-certified lab of its size in the coffee mecca of Portland. “We had our inspection last week, and every single thing is good to go,” said Johns. “In fact the inspector said he hadn’t seen a lab so well prepared in a while.”
Apart from a La Marzocco GS3, a Probatino, two-barrel gas sample roaster and other outstanding gear provided generously by the manufacturers, the soon-to-be-certified lab also has counters and tables of appropriate height, walls of the right color, and lights of the correct lumens. The right amount and proper types of cupping equipment are accounted for; black-out curtains are in place for darkening the room for the requisite sensory deprivation; and the ceiling is equipped with dim red lights that provide just enough illumination for pouring water on the cupping table while masking the color of the coffee in order to keep judges’ olfactory and taste senses acute.
Alliance for Coffee Excellence
“The only thing is that Portland water is too clean, so I have to re-mineralize it,” said Johns, of the one remaining hurdle for certification. That equipment is on its way and its installation is scheduled to be completed swiftly. Johns expects to ring in the new year in the new, fully certified lab.
“It will be like the flagship, or the showcase of equipment that is ideal for Cup of Excellence,” said Johns. These ACE infrastructural upgrades — funded presumably in part through financial savings reaped from the temporary suspension of COE awards in five countries, announced by the organization earlier this year — will not only facilitate the teaching of Q classes, but will serve as testing grounds for new equipment and processes to be employed by COE teams at origin.
“Our board looks at protocol and certain standards, and this will be a premium test location,” said Johns, who also considers the lab as having great potential for hosting COE auction cuppings for US-based buyers, or perhaps special events like a “best of the best of the best” cupping. “Almost anything is possible in this lab.”
ACE Suspending Cup of Excellence in Five Countries as It Revamps Operations
JUL 20, 2015 (ACE)–The Alliance for Coffee Excellence is suspending the Cup of Excellence awards in five countries as it revamps the program’s operations. The group announced the changes in a letter to its membership signed by ACE board of directors chair Geoff Watts, who described the scaling back of the program as temporary.
ACE produces the Cup of Excellence, which was first launched in 1999 in Brazil and has since grown to include programs in 11 coffee-producing countries. Cup of Excellence involves organizing individual farms in a given host country to submit samples for rigorous cupping from international judges followed by an awards program. Coffees are also widely distributed to potential buyers as samples, and the event concludes with a public online auction.
While ACE will maintain CoE programming in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras in 2016, the group is suspending the events in Burundi, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Rwanda. This, of course, will affect farmers who have come to depend on Cup of Excellence as a means for verifiable quality differentiation and premium market access through ACE’s large stable of buyer members.
The decision to scale back the event came as a surprise to many ACE members, some of whom have been sharply critical of the move — and particularly the way it was communicated to them — on social media and other online public forums. ACE says it communicated with its partner representatives in organizing countries just prior to sending the letter to its membership, after the decision was made last week.
According to Watts’ letter, the change is merely temporary as ACE’s small staff works to improve the program throughout the year. ACE says it intends to develop a new auction platform, update existing competition protocols, develop an electronic cupping form, and improve post-auction coffee delivery systems.
(editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Cup of Excellence programs were being suspended in six countries, including Bolivia. However, Bolivia has not had a Cup of Excellence event since 2009.)
Here is the letter to ACE’s membership in full:
We value and appreciate your support of and commitment to The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) and the Cup of Excellence program. Many of you are also COE auction buyers, and as such, you are an integral part of the process that rewards those farmers who produce winning COE coffees.
As you know, the Cup of Excellence competition has existed for sixteen years. Much has changed in that time, in both the specialty coffee world and the world of technology. The time has now come for ACE to “fine-tune” and upgrade the COE process. As part of a long-term strategic plan, our focus will be on four items:
developing a new auction platform updating existing competition standards and protocols creating and implementing an electronic cupping form, and improving post-auction logistical issues with respect to deliveries of purchased lots
We hope to have these new COE pieces in place for the 2016 competition season. The goal, of course, is to increase the auction prices paid to farmers and ensure that COE coffees continue to represent the pinnacle of excellence.
The changes we are implementing are exciting, and we believe they will result in more opportunities for coffee growers, more incredible coffees, and far better customer service for buyers. All of the planned improvements are designed with the express purpose of making sure the Cup of Excellence that we all care so much about can continue to be the most impactful coffee quality program in the industry.
Given our staff size, however, it is very difficult to institute these changes while still maintaining a full COE schedule next year. As a result, the ACE Board of Directors has determined that it is necessary to scale back the COE competition schedule for 2016. This is a temporary move, one that we expect will result in even bigger and better competitions in 2017 and future years.
In 2016, COE competitions will be held in the following five countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. Once we have implemented the new auction platform and competition standards in these countries next year, we intend to significantly scale up again, with COE competitions in many of the same countries we have worked with in the past, and hopefully new countries as well.
Our decision to temporarily scale back COE competitions in 2016 was a very difficult one for the board. We understand that this decision will impact farmers in countries without a COE program next year, and will also mean that in 2016, there will be fewer COE coffees for our members to buy. Ultimately, however, the board determined that this step was necessary to ensure that program changes can be successfully implemented and consistently replicated across all country programs.
We have had personal conversations with all of our partner organizations to inform them of these decisions, and we very much appreciate their cooperation and understanding during this transition period. We are still developing the ACE membership plan for 2016, but we will send you the 2016 membership details later this year. Given the shift in the competition schedule for next year, we expect new membership registration, as well as COE jury registration, to occur on the ACE website in early January 2016.
If you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Debbie Hill, our Executive Director, at email@example.com. Again, our members are the lifeblood of our organization and we appreciate your support as the COE program continues to evolve.