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Competition Coffees: Everything You Need to Know

Competition coffees are a coffee lover's dream. They offer all the flavour and depth of regular specialty coffee, but with added layers of complexity and intrigue. What makes competition coffee so special? Let's find out!

There are different kinds of coffee competitions. Some focus on barista skills, others on roasting techniques, and at the heart of the coffee supply chain, there are coffee-producing competitions. These competitions exist to elect the best coffees from an annual harvest and in large coffee-producing countries such as Brazil, they exist at levels that go from the local coffee co-op to regions and even national and international.

The Cup of Excellence is a prestigious coffee competition that takes place every year. The winning coffees are some of the most highly regarded in the world and can fetch astronomical prices at auction. So what sets these coffees apart from regular coffee? Read on to find out!

The Cup of Excellence is an annual competition held in several countries to identify the highest quality coffees produced. Organized by the Alliance for Coffee, the competitions began in 1999. As of 2022, competitions are held in Brazil, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. In the course of the competition, each coffee is tested at least five times. Only those coffees that get high scores continuously move forward in the competition.

How The Competition Works

Farmers from all around the world submit their finest lots of coffee for consideration. Some competitions can receive several hundred samples! Of these, the top 60 or so coffees are chosen by judges to proceed to the following stage.

These 60 coffees are judged by an international panel of certified judges in a series of blind tastings. The aroma, acidity, aftertaste, sweetness, bitterness, mouthfeel, and defects/ inconsistencies are all taken into account. External auditors run the cupping to ensure that everything is level and blind.

Ten coffees are eliminated each round until only a few remain. These last ten are cupped one final time and a winner is determined based on the count. The best coffees have been evaluated and scored at least five times by this point in the process.

At the end of a contest, the top 30 coffees are put up for sale online. Buyers and roasters from all around the world compete for the coffees; those top-performing 30 coffees tend to make a lot of money for farmers.

How do competitions affect coffee producers?

The benefits of ranking in or winning a coffee competition don't last just one year. Because of the greater earnings, farms are able to invest in improved equipment, more labour training, and a variety of agricultural improvements. This leads to higher-quality coffee that allows them to participate again the next season (or simply sell for a higher price the following year).

The extra cash doesn't just stay on the farms. Many top performers move on to improve their employees' lives by investing in healthcare, education, and other quality of life-improving services - entire area communities are improved as well.

Should you buy a competition coffee?

Competition coffees are an exciting and rewarding experience. If you're wondering whether or not to treat yourself or someone else to competition coffees, there are a few reasons why you should:

  • You want to give a thoughtful gift. Most coffee drinkers haven't tried competition coffee - chances are most have never even heard about them! However, they’re sure to love it. Competition coffees make excellent gifts!
  • You want to provide your guests with a mind-blowing coffee experience. At your next dinner party, skip the wine and go for an award-winning coffee that everyone will enjoy instead. Also great for special events; purchase the winning coffee instead of pricey beverages.
  • You simply want to find out what competition coffee tastes like. Some select coffee roasters are able to secure limited quantities of competition coffee and offer them in small bags that are enough for you to brew a few cups and access these very exclusive flavours - it's an experience in itself!
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