Last month, I was honored to serve on the international jury for Brazil’s 22nd Cup of Excellence (COE) competition. This year’s Brazilian competition was the third COE jury I’ve participated in and a really special one for me. Over the years, I’ve traveled to Brazil multiple times. I have many close friends and partners there, including Little City’s own Joel Shuler. The competition was held in Patrocinio, Minas Gerais, in the Cerrado region, where we have purchased coffee for the last several years and where we work directly with some of the best growers in the region, including some past COE winners. A region historically known to only produce quantity over quality, the tables have turned in the Cerrado. They are now producing some of the best specialty coffees in Brazil and have won countless national and international awards, including the top prize in three of the last five COE competitions.
About the Cup of Excellence
Currently held in eleven producing countries, the Cup of Excellence is one of the most recognized and prestigious coffee quality competitions in the world, and its corresponding global auctions often fetch record prices for the winners. In addition to a potential big payday for the few who make it to the top, the competition also serves the greater purpose of identifying and shining a light on the world’s most talented coffee producers, helping to bring value directly to them and their communities. In addition to the auctions, international events like the jury week I attended last month help to facilitate direct relationships between coffee growers and potential buyers from around the world. In today’s specialty coffee industry, transparency and traceability from seed to cup have almost become requirements, and the COE, along with many of their early participants and buyers, can be credited as some of the first to introduce and promote these concepts.
And it all started in Brazil…
First Cup of Excellence Competition, 1999. Image courtesy of COE.
In 1999, Susie Spindler, founder and executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE), along with George Howell, Silvio Leite, and several others, held the first Cup of Excellence competition with the goal of helping farmers receive more money for their higher quality coffees. The winning coffee that year sold for a whopping $2.60 per pound, considered a victory at the time as the commodity market price had fallen well below $1. Flash forward to 2017, and COE champions routinely fetch over $100 per pound. In 2018, a Gesha from Finca Don Cayito in Costa Rica sold for an unbelievable $300.09 per pound!
Brazil The Coffee Nation
The Cup of Excellence is a BIG DEAL in Brazil. It’s like the Oscars of coffee. Not only is Brazil the birthplace of the competition, but it is also the largest producer of coffee in the world. So, of the 60 million bags of green coffee, or over 8 billion pounds, the odds of even qualifying for the competition, much less winning it, are astronomical. Unlike some origins, where particular processes or cultivars dominate the competition landscape, the diversity of Brazil’s coffee regions and profiles makes it even more difficult to predict a winner. Once considered only capable of producing a singular profile, chocolatey and nutty, Brazil has shown the world what it can do by combining generations of experience with modern technology and best practices. The modern coffee producer in Brazil must offer a wide portfolio of “flavors” to keep up with industry trends and maintain a diverse customer base. And this year’s coffees were as strong a representation of the “new” Brazilian coffee industry as I’ve ever experienced.
2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence: The Coffees
Processes: Of the 469 coffee that qualified for the pre-selection round of the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence, only two processes were represented. That is because the competition in Brazil separates its coffees into only two main categories: Natural (the coffee seed is dried with the entire fruit pod still intact) or Pulped Natural (the seed is removed from the outer flesh before drying). This doesn’t tell the whole story, as there are countless variations within each of these broad categories. Fermentation time and environment, the amount of mucilage left on the coffee while drying, drying time and method, and other factors can greatly influence the final product, and these post-harvest processing techniques are a major reason we saw so much diversity in the flavor profiles during this competition.
Regions: From the flat savanna of the Cerrado to the steep coastal mountains of Espirito Santo, Brazil’s multitude of growing regions and microclimates is another driver of its diverse coffee profiles. The chart below shows the thirteen regions represented in this year’s competition and their success by stage.
Brazilian coffee regions in the different phases of the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence. Image courtesy of COE.
Cultivars: Over thirty varieties of Coffea Arabica were represented in the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence competition, and many growers decided to blend coffees to create the winning lot. This genetic diversity was appropriate for Brazil, the world’s leader in coffee research for generations, and also refreshing in the context of coffee competitions, where exotic varieties like Gesha have dominated over the last few years. The chart below (courtesy of COE) shows the cultivars represented by phase.
A breakdown of the cultivars represented at the different phases of the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence. Image courtesy of COE.
Of the 24 coffees to score over 87 points and qualify for the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence auction, five scored above 90 points, a benchmark for which COE presents a Presidential Award. And have I mentioned profile diversity in this article yet? Because if it wasn’t yet clear, the difference in the cups of these five could not have been more diverse. The winning coffee, from Antonio Rigno of the Chapada Diamantina, was intensely sweet and citric, perfectly blanched. Number two, from Maridalton Silva, also of the Chapada Diamantina, was more caramel and brown sugar forward with a thick, almost chewy body. Third place, from Afonso Vinhal of the Cerrado, was the clearest product of its post-harvest processing. A natural coffee that, according to the producer, underwent an extended anaerobic fermentation before drying, was bursting with notes of red wine and very ripe red fruits. Fourth and Fifth place, from Homero Texeira and Pedro Bras, respectively, were Gesha varieties or blends that were floral, smooth, and delicate, occupying nearly the exact opposite space of the previous three bold coffees. You can find a complete list of the winners and the results of the upcoming auction here.
Top 5 scoring coffees from the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence.
Full results can be found at the link above.
Taste the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence Winners!
We will be hosting a free tasting of the top 24 coffees from the 2022 Brazilian Cup of Excellence competition on Friday, January 6, at 3 pm. No experience is required, just a love of great coffee! Click here to register.
Love the Cup of Excellence? We do too! Click here for a recap of this year’s competition in Guatemala.