Three Competition Winners from the Cup of Excellence

By Evan Howe

Since its beginning in 1999, the Cup of Excellence has enjoyed international renown as the preeminent competition and auction for top quality specialty coffees. Following the first Cup of Excellence auction in Brazil, the competition has gradually expanded in scope to include eleven countries of origin and counting. Each year, multiple COE competitions are held in participating countries, and while the setting changes, the goal is always the same: to identify and bring to market the finest coffees produced by that country of origin in a given harvest year.

Cup of Excellence competitions proceed via a rigorous process of blind analysis, first by a National Jury of roughly a dozen people (who, themselves, are rigorously vetted for the honor of being a Cup of Excellence judge), and then by an International Jury comprised of roughly 20 industry professionals from around the globe. As each lot enters the competition process, it is assigned a code known only to the competition auditor. Each lot is cupped (tasted) numerous times. The further along the competition a coffee progresses, the greater the number of times it has been blindly evaluated. A coffee that ultimately makes it to the “top 10” will have been tasted at least 120 times!

After being assigned a final ranking, the coffees are sold through an online auction which tends to drive prices quite high. Overall, this is a net positive for producers and the industry at large as it incentivizes farmers to carefully produce the best possible coffee to submit to the competition, thus treating the crop as a truly specialty item and further distancing and distinguishing specialty coffee from commodity coffee and commodity-driven approaches to producing and selling coffee. Further, it normalizes high prices for coffee - a necessity if coffee production is to continue into the foreseeable future. Finally, the Cup of Excellence plays an important role in facilitating market access for small coffee producers that might otherwise struggle to connect with specialty buyers who are motivated to pay excellent prices for their coffee. Many producers who enjoy success at the Cup of Excellence find buyers through the competition that they are able to build valuable ongoing partnerships with.

Passenger has proudly presented Cup of Excellence winning coffees from an array of producing countries for a number of years. Most recently, our green buying team secured limited volumes of three COE winning lots in 2021: two from the Colombia Cup of Excellence Auction that occurred on June 3rd, and one from the Honduras Cup of Excellence Auction that occurred on August 19th. As with every coffee on our menu, these extraordinary competition lots have been carefully preserved in deep freeze storage since their arrival to Passenger’s roastery. At the time of writing, we are incredibly proud to add all three to the Reserve Lot menu for a limited time.

Three Competition Winners from the Cup of Excellence