The Cup of Excellence is organised by the Alliance For Coffee Excellence (ACE). It is the most renowned competition for speciality coffee and is the highest award a coffee can get. It is held annually in countries such as Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Brazil, Burundi and Rwanda. The aim is to find the best coffee from the hosting origin during their current harvest. The coffees included in the COE undergo thorough analysis and must pass through several stages of national and international jurors judging the coffees on sensory skills such as smell and taste. At any stage of competition, if a defect is found in the coffee samples then the whole crop is dismissed from the auction. This can even occur at the final round of judging after weeks of analysis. The coffees are judged over a 3 week period and the winning coffees are sold globally on an online auction at premium prices — majority of proceeds going directly to the farmers.
The first stage of analysis is called the pre-selection and is done by a national jury made up of about a dozen jurors (people involved in coffee from the producing country). This stage can vary from 300 to over 900 coffee samples. Here judges assess coffees using sensory skills, such as smell and taste; its sweetness and acids, its body and the balance between these individual components.
The second stage is judged by the International jury and is made up of about 25 experienced and influential coffee professionals from around the world. In this round they judge and score roughly 60 of the coffee samples from the pre-selection. They cup the coffees blind, meaning they are given no information about the coffee samples and the jurors are evaluated and their scores compiled by an external auditor to show fairness across the board.
From these 60 or so samples, coffees are given a score out of 100. All coffees with a score greater than 86 will make it into the second round of cupping. This stage varies from about 20-45 samples. These coffees are judged a third time. Any coffees that score under 86 are sold through a global online auction while the top 10 are cupped a fourth and final time to determine their placing in the final auction.
Tres Cabezas has been a member of the Cup Of Excellence for several years, taking part in the jury as well as buying these coffees from auction.