May 10th…no, now it’s May 11th 12:05 a.m.
It’s late. I’m tired. I’m hot. All that and all I am doing is sitting at LAX waiting for my flight to board. I’m going to Guatemala City to participate in the 2013 Cup of Excellence (COE) as a Judge on the International Jury. I’m excited, sure! How many times can I look forward with 100% certainty that every coffee I am going to cup at a table is going to be a good to great coffee? To tell the truth: not so often!
We recently bought a container of coffee from Finca La Lagunilla in Mexico. It’s a great coop that produces COE winners and placers consistently. The coffee we bought: solid 88-89 coffee. Even Steve Lee, our Director of Coffee, Quality and Education (point miser that he is), scored it high and waxed poetic on its qualities in the cup. But we had to wade through about thirty coffees from Mexico that whose taste profiles ranged from tasting something like accidentally having your mouth open just as a skunk decides it feels threatened and “expresses” itself; to sucking on old & wet jute; to “it’s brown and tastes like coffee; to “hey…pretty good…”; to a stifled squeal of joyful surprise at having just sipped a cup of brown ambrosia a passing Greek Deity accidentally left on our cupping table . We keep on plugging ahead, though, constantly on the lookout for another forgetful deity accidental gift.
Even after we make a purchase, we continue to cup coffees from the same origin to get a better idea of what the new crop is shaping up to be and to better understanding where our coffee fits into that picture. Just this past Wednesday, we cupped four organic coffees from respectable Fincas and Coops in Mexico and were unpleasantly surprised at the low scores we gave to them. Looks like we were cupping in the wake of an Olympian the day we tried the La Lagunilla….
So, where was I? Right, I am heading to Guatemala for a week of cupping and road trips. The twenty judges and seven observers will deliberate over the relative merits of the top thirty or so coffees from a field of one hundred and eighty three entrants. A team of local National Judges had the task of wading through all the coffees to find the gems I’m dropping out of the sky to cup. Gentlemen and Ladies…I salute and thank you!
Flying 2500 miles to cup good coffees may seem extreme even for a guy like me who brings his own Aeropress, Hario Hand Grinder (with metal filter!), four pounds of coffee we just roasted today…and just remembered I forgot my gram scale and coffee scoop (Drats!) Even so, I feel it is important for us to attend/participate in events like the Cup of Excellence for all sorts of reasons. Aside from my own professional development as a cupper, which is important to both me and the company, getting to cup with at least 26 other high level cuppers from around the world helps me understand and to calibrate with peers whom I otherwise wouldn’t get to meet and/or work with. Seeing how cultural influences effect scoring (boy, those Nordic Folk do love their acidic coffees!) and getting exposed to different perspectives on flavor attributes certainly causes me to pause and consider how my quality and sourcing team approaches our work, what we’re doing great and ways in which we might improve.
I’ve got quite the schedule lined up for tomorrow and the next day…here it is:
My 130AM flight lands at 715am in Guatemala City.
Thankfully, I will be picked up by representatives of Anacafe and whisked off to my hotel.
At 8am, I will be met by representatives of a small umbrella Coop called FECCEG who sent us some amazing samples…including one from Cooperativa Renacimiento.
Where I will meet with their board of directors and tour the Coopertiva’s fields and operations hopefully the village, too!
From there, we’ll go and visit a farm being developed by the Gerencia of FECCEG and a few of his Co-Workers. They are trying to plant and develop a model organic and sustainable finca.
We’ll end the day in a city called Quetzaltenango.
On Saturday, we’ll head over to FECCEG where we will tour the dry mill, warehouses as well as the roastery they are building to serve the needs of the local community.
We’re going to cup some coffees, discuss additional products they are developing to help their members diversify their coffee income with income producing products for the off season.
Then back to the hotel in Guatemala City where I will rest and prepare for the beginning of the competition on Monday.
Stay tuned for more Dispatches From The Road.