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A few weeks ago, most of our Little City team participated in a two-day course entitled CVA for Cuppers. According to the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA’s) description:

The Coffee Value Assessment (CVA) Course for Cuppers is a two-day professional update for coffee cuppers, during which they will learn and become familiarized with the SCA’s new Coffee Value Assessment (CVA) as a tool to evaluate coffee’s value. The course is full of hands-on activities to demonstrate the elements of CVA, including several cuppings, lectures, and periods of discussion. 

What is the CVA?

In 2020, the SCA commissioned a research project to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of existing industry protocols for quality and value assessment, namely the SCA Cupping Form, released in and unchanged since 2004. This led to the release of a report entitled “Understanding and Evolving the Specialty Coffee Association Coffee Value Assessment System: Results of the 2020-2021 Cupping Protocol User Perception Study and Proposed Evolution.” This was followed by a white paper proposing an effort to improve the definition of “Specialty Coffee” from its current “80+ points on the SCA cupping scale” to a more holistic and attribute-based understanding. This would necessitate a new cupping form, and in 2022, the SCA’s technical director, Dr. Mario R. Fernández-Alduenda, began testing pilot versions of new forms with stakeholders across the industry. 

Alpha and beta versions of the new forms (note the plural) were launched at the SCA’s Specialty Coffee Expo in April of 2023 along with a call for early adoption partners. The CVA is divided into multiple sections intended to be completed separately in order to improve focus and avoid bias.

  • The physical assessment evaluates the green, unroasted coffee through moisture content, density, screen size, and the presence or lack of physical defects. My understanding is that this will not see any major immediate changes from the current green grading standards widely used  across the industry.

  • The descriptive assessment is an evaluation of a coffee’s objective and intrinsic properties, such as flavor notes and intensity levels of attributes like sweetness and acidity.

  • The affective assessment allows the evaluator to record their subjective impressions of quality using a hedonic scale.
  • The extrinsic assessment, currently in alpha testing, will take into account the value of a coffee’s outside influences, like producer, origin, processing method, and certifications.

The SCA recognizes that some assessments will be more useful than others, depending on the user and circumstances, but insists that the presence of all four gives the user all the tools needed to fully evaluate a coffee’s value and to tell its full story without reducing it to a singular score. 

Little City team practicing use of the SCA’s new CVA descriptive form

How will we use the CVA at Little City?

Good question. During the course, and in the days after, we’ve had many discussions about the value of this new system and if/how we will incorporate it into our current coffee evaluation programs. We generally agree that it is an improvement over the 2004 form and that some of the changes were long overdue; however, it is quite challenging to move away from a system that has been the industry standard for 20 years and is embedded in so much of what we do. Though we may not immediately adopt all its elements, our team is in agreement that the descriptive assessment can have an immediate impact on the way we assess value and in turn communicate that value to our customers. We plan to start by performing the assessment on all our coffees and using it as a way to better organize them into specific categories or “styles” using the CVA’s descriptive language and intensity scales. 

Eventually we will incorporate the data into our website and other marketing materials as a way to better communicate with our customers and help them home in on specific types of coffees that they may (or may not) want to try. In the long run, this data will help us better understand our customers’ preferences and will help inform our sourcing efforts and purchase decisions.

Putting it to the Test

Remember Dr. Mario Fernandez, who we discussed above? In addition to his work with the SCA and his critical role in developing the CVA program, Mario is also a long-time friend and collaborator. In their previous roles with the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), he and Little City’s Joel Shuler worked closely to develop the Q Processing program, a multi-unit course designed to help learners deepen their theoretical knowledge of post-harvest processing methods, learn best practices, gain hands-on experience with quality control systems, and develop the skill sets necessary to achieve different flavor profiles through processing. Additionally, Mario’s family has a farm in Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico called Finca Garabandal, which also happens to be the origin of this month’s featured microlot. Mario’s father, Mario Sr., was a legend in Coatepec and is believed to be one of the first growers in Mexico to produce the coveted Gesha variety for commercial sale. You can read more about Mario Sr. and the story behind his famous Gesha in our tribute from 2022, “In Memory of Mario Fernandez Sanchez.” 

The late great Mario Fernandez Sanchez at Finca Garabandal, Februay 2022

Given our excitement about the recent CVA course, our relationship with the Fernandez family, and our upcoming annual trip to Veracruz, we thought it would be fun and appropriate to make Red Honey Gesha from Garabandal our first official in-house CVA assessment. Below is a visual representation of our results and our first attempt at communicating our findings. Based on the descriptive assesment, the consensus was that Garabandal is exceedingly aromatic and floral with a bright and sweet citrus fruit acidity and a delicate, tea-like mouthfeel.

Would you find this information helpful in choosing future coffees to try at home? We’d love to hear from you and will be sending out a survey and copies of the CVA forms to our microlot subscribers so you can try out the system and give us your feedback. We hope this will be the beginning of a new and transparent information exchange that will help us all better understand what we value both as individuals and as a coffee community.

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