On Saturday, December 3rd, as the sun started to set behind the Portland, Oregon hills, dozens of bundled-up coffee enthusiasts, including producers, roasters, baristas, and consumers, spilled into a large, sprawling warehouse space. They were all there for the same reason: to taste the best and highest-rated coffees in the world.
Cup the World, hosted by Alliance for Coffee Excellence in the warehouse space of Finex Cookware, gave coffee enthusiasts a chance to taste twelve 2022 Cup of Excellence winners. Cup of Excellence (COE) is a highly selective and prestigious competition and auction for some of the highest quality coffees in the world. COE winners usually get premium prices for their coffees; the 2021 Ecuadorian COE winners auctioned their coffees for an average of $33.55 per pound; the commodity price for arabica coffee at that time averaged at about $2.49 per pound. In addition to ensuring farmers are compensated fairly for their excellent coffees, COE supports innovation and education on coffee farms and fosters transparency and quality in production.
To kick off the event, Alex Pond and Anna Abatzoglou of Cup of Excellence explained how the coffee tasting would work. Everyone in attendance got their own cupping spoon and cup, and attendees lined up along each side of the table, tasting each coffee one spoonful at a time.
Featured in the lineup were 12 distinct and incredible coffees from countries like Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Colombia, and El Salvador. In particular, a washed coffee from Ecuador stood out: the coffee was bright and exciting with lush and deep grape notes and came from a farm called Hacienda Lumapata. Although there were coffees of various processing methods on the table, most of the coffees were gesha varietals.
“It’s just such a privilege, and you try not to take it for granted,” says Joey Dolin, roasting manager for Dapper & Wise Roasters in Portland. “I am just trying to take it all in, to appreciate it. It’s a good chance to step out of the bubble of coffees we are always working with and to try something new.”
Not only did attendees taste award-winning coffees from around the globe, but they got to be shoulder-to-shoulder with the farmers who grew the coffees, including Antonio Rigno de Oliveira Filho of Brazil, Jose Roberto Monterroso Pineda of Guatemala, Giancarlo Rusconi of El Salvador. There was a palpable feeling in the air: excitement, interest, and, most of all, a deep appreciation for the hard work and mastery that goes into growing and producing such beautiful coffees.
Baylee Engberg, managing director of She’s The Roaster, a scholarship organization for women and nonbinary people who want to learn about roasting, and head roaster for Caffe Vita, shared in the excitement and appreciation. “It’s difficult to imagine that 90+ point coffees. I know they’re out there, but coffees of that caliber are not something I’m accustomed to working with, nor are they something we get to experience often,” she said. “As a roaster, we get stuck into routines of production, data, and quality control. Being able to break our routines with events like this allows us to fall back in love with what made us roasters in the first place. After sixteen years in the industry, it’s a beautiful thing to be surprised by a coffee.”
After the tasting, a few of the growers spoke about their award-winning coffees, including Benjamin Paz Muñoz, whose coffee from Honduras tasted of citrus, berries, stone fruit, and milk chocolate. Jose Roberto Monterroso Pineda of Guatemala took to the stage to talk about his father, who started their farm, Finca El Morito, in 1994. Monterroso Pineda has been participating in the competition since 2001, and this was the first time one of his coffees won Guatemala’s Cup of Excellence competition, a gesha coffee with notes of peach, grapefruit, and honey that scored 91.75 points.
Karina Arguello Enriquez also talked to the audience about her winning coffee, a naturally-processed gesha from the Chiapas region of Mexico. The coffee, with notes of jasmine, brown sugar, lime, and cocoa, was the highest-scoring coffee at the event.
The event also featured a raffle with great prizes, including Finex cast iron cookware, Cup of Excellence coffees roasted by Portland roasting company Nossa Familia, and figurines from Mexico. The evening was rounded out by food catered by Proud Mary, a selection of natural wines and craft beers, and the opportunity to taste more coffees brewed on Chemex by Alliance of Coffee Excellence members.
COE-winning coffees are some of the most sought coffees in the world. Often, COE winners are sold at auction to one buyer and end up being roasted and sold on their own by specialty roasting companies. Cup the World created the rare and incredible experience of tasting and learning about Cup of Excellence winners in one evening, surrounded by producers, coffee lovers, and coffee professionals, an experience that everyone in attendance got to share and enjoy.