The Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE) has been running their Cup of Excellence program since it was first launched in Brazil in 1999. Since that maiden event, the Cup of Excellence (COE) has grown to include – at one point – eleven different coffee producing nations and countless farmers.
At the moment there are twelve different COE events covering ten countries.
For those in the trade who are on the hunt for the best coffee in the world, it’s a much-loved event and for those farmers and plantation workers it is a vital part of the calendar – a good score from the COE judges can increase the value of their handiwork increase exponentially.
Unfortunately, the Cup of Excellence awards are going to be slashed – temporarily – next year as ACE begins a restructuring process. The group announced their intended changes via a letter signed by Geoff Watts, the chair of directors.
For 2016, events in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras will continue, but those in Burundi, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Rwanda will lose theirs.
The decision to scale back has caught many people by surprise, including some within ACE circles. Critical voices have been heard above the parapet, with many people being unhappy with the way the move was announced.
But, the biggest impact will be felt by those farmers who now do not get a chance to enter their local Cup of Excellence competition. Given the potential financial rewards on offer for a high mark, the decision to suspend the awards in these five countries could well have an untold and negative financial effect on crop prices – that’s the worry at least.
For those unaware with the COE’s structure, farmers are invited to send samples off to ACE for judging. After being independently assessed by a national jury an international panel then grades the coffees. Those that achieve a score of 85/100 and above then are awarded a certified COE status before being sold in a private internet auction comprised of some of the world’s most important coffee buyers, chains and roasters.
To get to the final stage, the coffee will have progressed through five rounds of rigorous testing and assessment. The top ten have to go through six!
So what is the reason for this drastic course of action?
As noted, ACE are hoping to streamline and alter their operations, and how the COE events are run. At the heart of what has been described as a ‘long-term strategic plan’ which will see the development of a new auction platform; an increase in competition stands; the implementation of a new cupping form and new protocols and regulations – all for 2016.
Talking about the issue in a public letter, Watts said that their aim is “to increase the auction prices paid to farmers and ensure that COE coffees continue to represent the pinnacle of excellence,” but conceded that with their staffing levels a momentary cut in events would have to take place.
“Given our staff size, however, it is very difficult to institute these changes while still maintaining a full COE schedule next year,” he continued.
“As a result, the ACE Board of Directors has determined that it is necessary to scale back the COE competition schedule for 2016. This is a temporary move, one we expect will result in even bigger and better competitions in 2017 and future years.
“Our decision to temporarily scale back COE competitions in 2016 was a very difficult one for the board. We understand that this decision will impact farmers in countries without a COE program next year, and will also mean that in 2016, there will be fewer COE coffees for our members to buy.
“Ultimately, however, the board determined that this step was necessary to ensure that program changes can be successfully implemented and consistently replicated across all country programs.”