Great coffees have existed since the dawn of time. The only problem is finding them.
But finally we humans stumbled across this magical fruit and the world changed forever. No, hold on, it was actually a flock of goats that made that discovery (their entrepreneurial shepherd was busy taking a siesta under a tree). Ok, but then once we marvelous humans finally had the beans and learned how to prepare them, that’s when we really started rocking it, right??! No, sorry, wrong again! That’s the point when we started blending away all of coffee’s exquisite taste, creating a uniform-tasting commodity with very little recognition of the individual farmer or of the unique flavor profiles of particular varieties or microclimates. Ok, so then how did we get around to really discovering the immense potential of coffee??
The answer has something to do with a program called ‘The Cup of Excellence’ started by George Howell and the Specialty Coffee Association of America as recently as 1999. In short, The Cup of Excellence (or CoE if you want to get down with the street slang) is the most esteemed award given out for top coffees. These awards come from a strict competition that selects the very best coffee produced in that country for that particular year. These winning coffees are chosen by a select group of national and international cuppers looking for perfectly ripe, carefully picked with a well-developed body, pleasant aroma, and a lively sweetness that only extremely high-quality specialty coffees contain. The winners are awarded the prestigious Cup of Excellence and sold to the highest bidder during an internet auction.
But it’s not just those individual farmers who are ecstatic beyond their wildest dreams to be bestowed with coffee’s holy grail that locks in a bright future where they can ask almost any price for their coveted beans. A winning farm and often the whole region can expect to receive future visits from roasters looking to buy more quality coffee for their companies. The positive impact on the quality of life for a winning farmer and his family is permanent as the auction money will often be spent on farm improvements or family education which can change their economic livelihood for the long term even if they do not win every year.
The Cup of Excellence program builds the bridge between the high-quality farmer and rewards their efforts to add value to their product in the country of origin so that they can be traded for a higher price on an international free market. This all makes for an even better taste to be found at the bottom of the cup of coffee when you know that with every sip at that the farmer has been well compensated for their hard work.
We’ve certainly come a long way from our staggered beginnings in coffee, but let’s hope that now we’ve finally turned the corner and realized that there just might be something in this little bean after all…! Long live quality!!
(Images courtesy of Gourmet Coffee, Ozone Coffee Roasters, Kafema, Colombian Coffee Growers Federation, Alliance for Coffee Excellence and International Womens Coffee Alliance)