Specialty Coffee and Team Cupping

No one could argue that the intense focus on the Cup of Excellence (CoE) program and the importance of quality has been truly the highlight of today (so far!). I’ll add to Ken’s sentiments about Steven Hurst’s discussion of the CoE that the audience was quite responsive to his definitions about quality and specialty coffee in general. Mr. Hurst was the first to admit that some of his sentiments were perhaps contentious: “This is a controversial idea I have, that the specialty coffee business is just 17 years old,” he said, noting that his reasoning behind the thought was that prior to 17 years ago, the coffee trade was highly regulated, resulting in the stifling of innovation and quality practices.

FinlandCupping2.jpg Mr. Hurst explained that while there are many auctions in existence currently, each works towards different, or at least varied, goals. All subscribe to one or more overriding themes: Ethics, Environment and/or Quality. Mr. Hurst pointed out that when it comes to the CoE, however, the focus is almost entirely on quality. “They (these three focuses) are all good for different reasons,” he said. “But of primary importance is making an informed decision.”

After a lunch break, during which attendees were encouraged to enjoy their sandwiches and salads with a new “buddy,” the discussion of CoE continued, this time led by Soren Sylvest, owner of Estate Coffee in Copenhagen and frequent CoE juror and buyer. Mr. Sylvest invited attendees with experience judging CoE coffees to share their experiences with the audience. Perhaps one of the most celebrated CoE judges ever, Mr. Kintaro Maruyama of the Maruyama Group in Japan, took the microphone to share some of his experiences working with CoE coffees over the years (he has judged in an unprecedented 25 of the 27 CoE competitions to date). Because of his insistence on pushing the consumption and appreciation of quality in Japan, CoE coffees are available in such common spots as city train stations!


Serious competition got underway when the barista teams were instructed to go over to four long cupping tables set up adjacent to the stage.

NorwayCupping2.jpgAt each table was a member of each country’s team, and cups were prepared for smelling, as well as filled with hot water by the indefatigable Estonian team members, who seem to have the ability to help in 100 ways at once. The barista teams evaluated the coffees on their tables using the CoE score sheets, approaching each cup with an intensity that proved their professional expertise at the cupping table. At the same time, attendees cupped the same coffees and worked with the CoE score sheet, as well.

At the close of both cuppings, judges disappeared to evaluate the score sheets. News of the winning team to come!
—Sarah Allen