Cup of Excellence: First Ethiopian Edition

Ethiopian coffee ceremony

The Oscar goes to...

The premier coffee competition worldwide and the highest award given to specialty coffee. The Alliance for Coffee Excellence is calling it ‘the Olympics for coffee’, I’d say it is like winning an Oscar for producing the best coffee. 

Hi there, this is Marian Osinga, copywriter and coffee explorer, collaborating with The Coffee Quest.
Read my report about the Cup of Excellence.

Daye Bensa’s, Asefa Dukamo, one of our collaborative partners in Ethiopia, was one the nominees and won 7th place in this year’s competition. My friends at The Coffee Quest have given me the task to report on the aftermath of the Cup of Excellence, in particular the first Ethiopian edition this year and the effects it had on their collaborative partners at Daye Bensa coffee. My love for coffee and people brought me to Ethiopia, which gave me the honor and perfect opportunity to visit Asefa’s office and meet the Daye Bensa team in person.

cup of excellence infographics

CoE at a glance

The first Cup of Excellence dates back to Brazil 1999. Brazil had a reputation of growing ’commodity’ grade coffee. Therefore the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association, participating in the International Coffee Organization (OIC), wanted to promote the country as a specialty coffee origin. With the Gourmet Project they achieved farmers to receive more money for their high quality coffee. As the event was successful and the specialty coffee market grew rapidly, Guatemala was the second country of origin to host the Cup of Excellence in 2001, followed by more countries such as Nicaragua, Honduras and Colombia.

For that purpose, the team that organised the first Cup of Excellence, founded the Alliance for Coffee Excellence in 2002 to manage the growing organization. ACE is a non-profit organization, funded by members, sponsors and donors. Their headquarter is located in Portland, Oregon, run by a Board of Directors and a team with a vast knowledge and experience in coffee and members from over more than 50 countries worldwide. 

In the hunt for the rarest gems, newest trends and to have a peak in the future of the industry, CoE is unique as it is the only globally acknowledged competition for farmers. Every farmer or coffee producer in the hosting country is getting the chance to submit their coffee, regardless of farm size or financial position. Due to the strict rules for submitting the samples and being cupped blindly by professional judges, new coffees are discovered and high quality is guaranteed. In that sense you could say Cup of Excellence is a hallmark for price, quality, transparency and traceability.

The top 30 coffees will be sold during a national auction, in which buyers from all over the world participate. The auction system is a game changer and has raised over US$ 63 million for the winning producers since 1999. 

High prices for the top 3

Bringing farmers and buyers together comes along with challenges. On the buyer side, to be able to acquire these top coffees at the auction it assumes you need to be financially sound. The top 3 coffees are sold for high prices. For example, the highest auction price in the CoE history paid for a pound of green coffee is $ 300,09. As this coffee scored a 90+, the 529 kg lot was divided in two. To be able to buy a lot like this, a number of buyers, many from Asia, form a group.

After the auction, most of these remarkable results are in the news. To see all the overall results CoE gives a transparent insight on their website, with all the competition and auctions results of the winning coffees, such as prices and scores and commissions that have been paid, are collected. It shows that prices of all other in the top 30 auction coffees can vary significantly compared to the no 1 winner or top three. 

For example, the average auction price, for all lots from the attending countries in 2019 at Cup of Excellence, was US$12,29 per pound. In addition, to give access to more top scoring coffees CoE organizes the National winners auction and gives a platform to quality specialty coffees scoring 85+, which were being sold for an average of US$4,45 in 2019. 

A springboard for coffee producers?

On the farmer side, as George Howell, one of the CoE founders says in an interview: ‘Cup of Excellence is there to uplift the farmer. Though what happens is that big farms and export companies get richer from the competition and get the chance to invest in processing to perform for more years on the top.’ If winners use it as a springboard and start operating independently from that point, they would make room for new and small farmers to enter the platform. When we look at the results, we see over the years many farmers in the top 30 are not being rewarded in the highest bidding prices. They perform for years without getting the possibility to invest as much and thereby innovate and grow radically.

As an observer and consumer, I think I would really like to see this change by giving producers and buyers the possibility to build sustainable relationships, outside of the CoE. Thereby upholding the value created and making place for new participants of the CoE to rise to the top, invest and create the innovation this industry needs to keep moving forward!

CoE: Ethiopian edition

This year CoE was hosted in Ethiopia, in cooperation with Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority and funded by US Agency for International Development organisation Feed the Future. Due to COVID-19 it was an achievement on its own! To make sure reaching out to the large number of coffee producers in the country, CoE visited the coffee producing areas and made their announcements through Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation television and Facebook. 

Throughout the country farmers were called upon to bring their best. So they did, massively; 1452 samples were submitted to the competition, a record in the CoE history! 

To make sure that judges are not influenced by coffee region, process, or for instance by fame of the farm, every sample is packed in a universal bag and stored in the CoE warehouse. A unique code given to every coffee and its producer. Samples are checked on water activity and on moisture content, coffees which don’t meet quality guidelines, are disqualified from the competition.

When all the preparation is done, the selection process starts. The samples of all submitted lots are randomized on the cupping table, and prepared according to SCA cupping protocols. The jury cups them blind, which doesn’t mean they are blindfolded, but rather that there is no way of knowing which coffee they are tasting. This ensures the jury’s impartiality and objective decision making.  

On the 17th of February the National Jury, made up of 16 judges overviewed by the head judge and a supporting head judge, started cupping all 1452 samples. This means 11.616! cups have been cupped to select only the top 150 coffees in the first round. The 150 producers of those coffees brought their full lot to the warehouse. 

Usually the National jury would cup the coffees again to select the top 90 coffees in the next round. Then COVID-19 changed the game. As travelling was no option, judges couldn’t come over to Ethiopia to cup the coffees. CoE decided to send the samples to Portland, Oregon from which they were sent to the labs of the 9 international judges around the globe. Finally, from the Top 40 coffees, the 28 lots that scored 87+ points according to the SCA scoring system, attended the Cup of Excellence auction and from these the 90+ coffees received the Presidential award.

The Auction

On the 25th of June, 168 registered bidders from 33 different countries competed for no less than five hours to get the top Ethiopian coffees, and successfully! It resulted in a record for raising the highest rewards for the coffee producers in the competition. The highest scoring coffee was sold for $185,10 per pound, according to the ACE the highest price ever paid for an Ethiopian coffee. Another record is broken for the highest average price of $ 28,44 per pound in the competition! Then, after the auction, all coffees were headed to the assigned exporter to ship all lots to the winning bidders. 

CoE in Ethiopia broke a record, by raising:

  • $ 1,348.690,45 Total raised by bidders 
  • $  299.235,52  – Commission for the country organization that hosts CoE
  • $1.049.454,93 Revenue raised for Ethiopian coffee producers.
cup of excellence infographics

Ethiopia has a rich history in producing one of the best quality coffees in the world. The results of the auction this year prove that and the recognition is there. Though the Ethiopian farmers are still among the poorest. Cup of Excellence will make these farmers more aware about the value of the coffee they are producing, while the auction participants definitely get the revenue. The Ethiopian coffee industry though is complicated and not so transparent to know how it will affect the farmers for the future. Is it easier for the wealthy producer to compete? This is definitely something we want to learn and get to know more about.

Daye Bensa

As I’m writing this, sitting in my house on top of the hill at the border of Addis, Ethiopia is wrapping up the 2019/2020 harvest. Due to COVID-19, lots of coffee is still in the country. The success of the CoE is shaded for the company of winning producer Asefa Dukamo and it is a weird year for all of us. Currently, it is the rainy season in Ethiopia. The coffee plants, full of new green cherries, get as much water as they need for the next harvest. In the pouring rain we are heading to the Daye Bensa Office in Addis, where I meet Kenean and Eliyas Dukamo. They tell me that, before the Cup of Excellence got to Ethiopia, they had no idea about what to do with the competition or what to expect from its impact. Though, there was no doubt to participate. They processed the coffees according to the routine that has been used for more than 20 years. Kenean tells us he suspects more of the top auction coffees were not specially prepared for the competition. Five of the top 10 winning coffees come from the Sidama region, where Daye Bensa already has proven producing high quality specialty coffee. 

The owners and brothers Asefa and Mulugeta Dukamo Korma started as coffee producers and suppliers in the region already 28 years ago and since Daye Bensa Coffee was established in 2006, they started exporting as well. The family business is ambitious, Kenean travels a lot and went to Guatemala last year to learn and share knowledge, like they used the ‘dry fermentation’ for their coffee from Bombe washing station. Now winning 7th place in the Cup of Excellence with the Shantawene Village lot they get the recognition for all the hard work and dedication, and put Daye Bensa specialty coffee even more on the map.

Daye Bensa’s winning lot

  • Shantawene Village, 
  • 74158 variety, natural processed 
  • score 89,21 
  • auction price of $ 23,10 per Lbs, 
  • buyer; South Korea; M.I. Coffee Corporation

Total reward of $ 42.014,51, minus the commission of $ 9.048,58 that is taken from the revenue to pay to the country organization that hosts the competition.

At time of the auction, selling and shipping the coffee is the highest priority, especially when COVID-19 is challenging getting all coffees ashore on time. So how the revenue is going to be invested will be decided after export is finished. Though the coffee farmers and people behind the coffee who contributed to this lot are assured being rewarded for this achievement soon.

Daye Bensa will definitely prepare for the next competition! As more coffee producers take their experience of this year’s competition to next year, we are really curious to see what is going to happen in 2021!

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