What Are Coffee Competitions & Why Are They Important?

     If you were a coffee farmer back in the 80s and 90s and produced high-quality coffee, there were very few ways to market and tell people about how great your coffee was. There was no mechanism in place that would show your meticulous work in the growing, harvesting, and processing of excellent coffee. Since the best coffee grows in higher elevations, harvesting is often only done by hand, processing requires a lot of work, and then there was the issue of transporting coffee. These would prove to be insurmountable obstacles, especially if you were a small family farm with limited resources.

     If you're reading this, it's clear you care about coffee. You know the coffee culture and know that people take coffee very seriously. Then, some take coffee so seriously that they take action and create mechanisms to share their love of coffee with the world. Those are the people that designed and implemented a global project to help farmers fetch higher prices for their high-quality coffee. The program was the Cup of Excellence Competition. The Cup of Excellence is one of the most prestigious international coffee competitions. This competition has enabled coffee producers to showcase their hard work, fetch a higher price for their coffee which created a demand for great-tasting coffee. Coffee that wins the Cup of Excellence is among the best coffee in the world. Countries that have a significant coffee presence will often have "Best of"Competitions. Winners and high scorers often go on to other competitions such as the Cup of Excellence. Winning coffees and National Winner finalists go to the Alliance for Coffee (ACE) for auction.

Coffee is Judged for These Characteristics

  • Aroma – in the simplest terms, the aroma is the smell of coffee. There are 800 known aromatics in coffee. Aroma descriptors include floral, nutty, smoky, spicy, citrus, and more.
  • Flavor – just like the aroma, the flavor is simply what the coffee tastes like. Descriptors for taste include wine-like, bitter, tangy, acidic, bright, and more.
  • Body – Body refers to the feeling of heaviness that can be detected. It could indicate the structure of a drink and what physical properties are felt in the mouth. For example, oiliness, or watery, grainy, and more.
  • Acidity – Acidity is one of the primary sensations you feel when tasting coffee. Depending on the roast level, the acidity is felt in different places in your mouth.
  • Judge's Opinion Score – A judge will offer an opinion score based on how they liked the coffee. It's the most subjective score, but since no two pallets are alike and since drinking coffee can be such an individual preference, it very difficult to judge coffee the same way from judge to judge.

     Judges take all these coffee characteristics and their judgment and give the coffee a score. Coffee can theoretically reach a score of 100. A cup of coffee that scores above an 86+ will often be sold at coffee auctions and is a high-quality cup of coffee, possibly some of the best.

So, Why Compete?

     The first round of competition is often selecting coffees who score higher than 86+. Those may go on to other international competitions or may be sold at auctions. Coffee competitions began to showcase and separate the highest quality specialty coffee from the average or lower quality coffee. Before these coffee competitions, producers often had a hard time showing potential customers how good their coffee was. It'sIt's a lot of work to harvest coffee and transport it, especially when the best farms sit at very high altitudes. When coffee is entered in a competition, and highly skilled tasters give a coffee a high score, you know the farmers and workers are highly skilled in their craft of growing and harvesting coffee. The producer has also incurred great expense to elevate the coffee to competition levels. The commitment to their craft is on full display at coffee competitions.

How Do Coffee Competitions Connect to Sagebrush?

    I would highly recommend watching our YouTube video on "How Coffee Gets So Expensive & Why We Want it to Be." Matt shares a lot about the coffee industry, how different coffee markets work, why it's so hard for producers to generate profit. He mentions how coffee competitions can really benefit the producer because its sets their coffee apart as the best of the best. Whenever a producer can be identified as one of the best, accessibility to that producer grows. Winning in a competition can launch a producer to the international stage and help him grow coffee production exponentially. Matt pays close attention to what happens in the specialty market and what coffee gets selected to be sold at auctions. Matt is very selective about what coffee is sold at Sagebrush. He wants to offer our customers the best coffee in the world and showcase the hard work of producers. Following auctions and competitions helps Matt makes selections and helps us connect the customer to the producer in a more meaningful way.

     In the video, Matt talks about how when a producer wins or even scores high in competition, the reputation of the whole farm is elevated. One such farm is the Altierri Farm in Panama. We love building relationships with producers, and when they succeed, we succeed. The coffee grown in the Altieri Farm has scored very high in the Best of Panama Competition of 2021. What that tells us is that they're level of commitment to high-quality coffee is unprecedented. It also shows how much a family business can grow. When they can offer prize-winning coffee, it raises our confidence level in their harvesting process. We are always happy to bring awareness to our customers about producers and their hard work. At Sagebrush, we love to showcase the hard work of producers. To learn more about the Altieri farm, access one of our latest blogs, where we ask them questions about their farm.

     Another high-scoring farm we are proud to buy from is the Esperanza Farm in Guatemala. Try our Guatemalan Gold Label and our Guatemala Las Plantas Black Label. Both coffees are sold by Onyx Coffee, specifically from the La Esperanza Farm. For more specific information about our direct supplier, read our blog called "Get to Know ONYX Coffee, Our Direct Supplier of Guatemalan Coffee."