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Cup of Excellence Coffee Competition Adds ‘Experimental’ Category in Brazil

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International judges at the 2023 Brazil Cup of Excellence. All images courtesy of Cup of Excellence.

The Cup of Excellence (CoE) coffee competition and auction platform was born in Brazil more than two decades ago and has since expanded to coffee-producing countries all over the world. 

Given the Brazil CoE’s position as an exemplar of international market-building in coffee, it was a big deal last month when the competition featured a major format change.

Wet, Dry and Experimental

The 2023 Brazil CoE introduced top 10 winners in three categories — as opposed to 30 winners in a single category — under the designations wet, dry and experimental.

The move reflected the wishes of producers who are seeking to protect longstanding reputations regarding coffee flavor profiles and consistency, while also allowing for market-driven innovations in creative post-harvest processing, according to Cup of Excellence Executive Director Erwin Mierisch.

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“This is kind of a way of comparing apples to apples, and giving a fair shot to every process,” Mierisch recently told DCN by phone. “It’s much easier to analyze each of the processes separately.”

Mierisch, who took over the international nonprofit’s top executive position in June, said that the change in Brazil was largely precipitated by requests from representatives of the Brazil CoE in-country partner, the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA), as well as other Brazilian producers.

Those producer groups, he said, wanted to protect the country’s decades-old reputation for what have been traditionally marketed as “pulped natural” process coffees. 

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Under the new categories, traditional “pulped naturals” came under the “wet” banner, natural-process coffees fell under “dry,” and all other eligible coffees reflecting relatively new post-harvest processes involving fermentation prior to depulping are considered “experimental.” Those latter category might include labels such as “anaerobic fermentation” or “carbonic maceration.”

Mierisch told DCN that while either naturally occurring or added yeasts were allowed in the “experimental” category, no other flavorings or additives beyond water were. 

‘Louder’ in the Cup

For several years until 2018, the Brazil CoE maintained separate categories for “pulped naturals” and “naturals.” 

Mierisch said that the decision to bring back the multiple category format, while adding the third category (experimental) was in part inspired by challenges regarding calibration and consistency at the cupping table. 

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“These coffees are a lot louder when you cup them… the sweetness and acidity really stand out,” Mierisch said of newfangled-fermentation coffees. “One of the biggest problems with COE in the recent past — and I find this to become true in any coffee competition — it becomes more of an identification game, especially if there are more inexperienced cuppers.”

Mierisch said that the same phenomenon with post-harvest process identification can also be true when dealing with coffee cultivars. 

“As a [former CoE] head judge, that was a problem I would have,” Mierisch said. “For the younger analysts or cuppers, it was harder for them to communicate what they were finding beyond whether that was a Geisha [variety] or anaerobic [process] or whatever.”

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Mierisch noted that the format change thus far applies to the Brazil CoE only, and that changes CoE formats in other countries will only be made through consultations with in-country partners.

Said Mierisch, “One of our major objectives is to highlight the image of the countries that we work with.”

2023 Brazil CoE Winners

Not to be overshadowed by the format change are the winners of the 2023 Brazil Cup of Excellence

The farm Fazenda Rio Verde from producer group Ipanema Agrícola in Mantiqueira de Minas took the top spot in both the wet and experimental categories.

In the former, a pulped-natural Gesha-variety coffee took the competition’s overall top score with 92.15. In the latter, an “anaerobic fermentation” Gesha grown at 1,250 meters above sea level scored 91.32. 

In the dry (“naturals”) category, Fazenda Rainha, part of Fazenda Sertãozinho Ltda in Região Vulcânica, took the top spot with yet another Gesha coffee. 

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The 2023 Brazil Cup of Excellence auction is scheduled for Dec. 6, 2023. Find more CoE competition results and upcoming auctions here

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