The idea for a Cup of Excellence was hatched in the mid nineties and was the brain child of George Howell and Susie Spindler who founded the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE). The first competition (“the Best of Brazil”) was held in Brazil in 1999 and featured pulped naturals. Ten coffees were awarded a score above the required eighty points by an international jury comprised of fourteen judges led by George Howell. Six countries were represented on the jury, including the USA, Japan, Norway, Italy, Brazil and the Netherlands. Two years later, in Guatemala, the first “Cup of Excellence” was held.
Since its inception the competition has grown and is now held in twelve coffee producing countries which include Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatamala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Rwanda and Perú.
The competition was established to provide better prices to growers for their coffee. Each year the event is held in a producing country, producers submit small lots of coffee for evaluation by the international jury. The first year our founder, Poul Mark, judged in the COE was in 2009 in El Salvador. He was the only judge from Canada along with twenty-one other judges from the USA, UK, Norway, Japan, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Netherlands and Guatemala. During the competition, the jury evaluated over seventy-five coffees slowly narrowing down the field. Any coffee which ultimately was awarded a cup of excellence (80 points or higher) was evaluated blind (cupped) five times. If a coffee scored over 90 points it was awarded the Presidential Award (only one farm received that award).
After the competition results are published, the coffees are then auctioned off via an online auction where they are purchased for substantially higher prices than normal prices received for producers. Poul recounts after talking to a producer in Honduras, Bertilio Reyes Portillo, who won the COE in Honduras 2009, spent his winnings by purchasing a new farm, paying for a new floor in his church, and covering the costs of his brothers heart surgery. Portillo received US $18.75 a pound for his coffee that year and sold 25 bags of coffee netting him over US $35,000. In 2009 the average coffee prices were around US $ 1.25 per pound. Obviously winning the COE is akin to winning the lottery for many producers in these poor countries. In 2018 winning farms were receiving as much as US $80 per pound for their coffees.
One of the most significant impacts of the COE is the connections made between producers and potential buyers via the competition. Holding the COE in countries allows producers to gain access to quality minded buyers in ways not previously afforded. Transcend has benefitted from the connections made in the early days from our involvement in the Cup of Excellence. And while Transcend does not participate in the judging or auctions anymore, due to its established relationships it fully supports the efforts and benefits derived from all the hard work of those who do.