Peru - Cup of Excellence
Author | groundwork coffee Date | November 21, 2019
The Cup of Excellence is a competitive culmination of hard work for coffee growers across given regions. This year, our own Chief Coffee Guy, Jeff Chean, participated in Peru at the COE as a judge. Here, he takes us through the meticulous process.
Day 1, Calibration - As you might imagine, it's no simple task to align the tastes of 20 people from different countries, cultural/personal preferences, ages, and levels of experience for a consensus of what coffees of various qualities should be scored. It seems a daunting task, but over the course of (a very long) day, a sort of group mind-meld-magic occurs. The International Jury cups through four rounds of eight coffees that have been previously vetted and scored. These sets range in quality, and some coffees will show up more than once to see if they are scored differently each time. When tasting so many coffees, it's difficult to keep them all straight. If a coffee is really great, and the next one is really good (but not great) the really good coffee's score can suffer and vice versa. Over the course of the week, the group consensus tightens as to what coffee should be considered a Cup of Excellence coffee.
Day 2, Cupping - Each coffee is assigned a random ID number that changes each round to avoid biases. They are all roasted fresh the day before evaluation and re-roasted if it moves onto the next round. First in the cupping process is to evaluate the roast level of each sample. The goal is that the sample roasts are all the same so as to minimize the impact on the flavor of the coffee. Judges are assigned table with all the samples covered to help retain the dry aromatics, provided evaluation forms and begin the dry (fragrance) evaluations and the wet (aroma) evaluations.
On the COE cupping form, unlike on other cupping forms, the aromatics are not scored although the intensity and any sensory impressions are recorded. This approach is valuable because, quite often, the aromatics are really nice but they don't flow into the cup. Anyone who has ever thought "If only coffee could taste the way it smells..." knows what this means. When it's time to get the coffee wet, Porters bring the hot water. The pouring must be synchronized so that each sample steeps for the same amount of time. The Porter's have to be careful not to over-pour the water or the grounds will overflow the cup and result in a cup steeping with less coffee than its companions. After steeping for four minutes, it's time to break the crust of the cupping bowl. There's a saying in our industry: Coffee floats; tea sinks. When the water is poured over the coffee grounds, they saturate and float to the top of the bowl and creates a "cap" over the liquid. At four minutes, each person goes to the first cup and they "break" the cap on their cup. There's a ritual to this as well: move the spoon through the grounds no more than three times and then flip the spoon over and smell the foam. After we skim, we typically wait for the coffee to steep 11 minutes before we taste. It's not a magic number, it's just the typical amount of time it takes for the coffee to cool down enough so the cupper doesn't burn their mouth. Some people start sooner and others take a bit more time. A judge must cup each cup on the table at no less than three different temperatures so they are sure to pick up on the subtleties revealed at each.
This process goes through several rounds. While it's the farmers who ultimately feel the impact of the chosen winning coffee(s), the judges take the process very seriously as we know the results will reverberate through many communities. Following the COE, we at Groundwork receive all the top samples to roast in-house and decide if we want to bid at auction. Stay tuned if any of the COE Peru submissions join the Groundwork family of coffees.