Cup of Excellence – the highest award for coffee

Cup of Excellence – the highest award for coffee

The gold medal in the world of coffee

The world’s most renowned and respected competition for specialty coffees is called the “Cup of Excellence”. In the coffee world, the Cup of Excellence is the highest award a coffee can receive. The aim of this competition is to determine the best coffees in the country. The award-winning coffees can bear a seal until the next Cup of Excellence, by which the buyer can recognize the best beans of the season.

The course of the Cup of Excellence

The coffee is judged according to 10 criteria: aroma, acidity, body, character, sweetness, clarity, balance, finish and overall impression. 10 points can be awarded for each factor, from “0” for not available to “10” for one-time. Only the coffees that achieve a rating of more than 80 points are called “specialty”.

It is therefore a long way to get the seal, and coffee has to convince many people of its uniqueness. Depending on the size of the country in which the competition is held, the number of coffee types submitted each year is roughly between 100 and 900 types. Of course, Brazil has more submissions than a small country such as Rwanda. In order to be able to make a pre-selection from all the varieties submitted, all those involved not only need an excellent and fine sense of taste, but also a lot of patience, as only the best beans should reach the second round. For this pre-selection, a national jury made up of employees from the national coffee organizations, exporters and so-called Q-Graders is appointed to determine the best coffees submitted.

Q-Grader is a program that was launched in order to be able to achieve a uniform standard with a uniform language, with which the coffee quality can be “tasted” and described. This means that farmers, consumers, roasters and baristas can check the quality of the coffee during a cupping. Describe in the same language and verbally make all the nuances around the taste and aromas clear to everyone involved. A lot of time and patience is required to acquire such a skill, because it is not only about using a uniform language, but also about recognizing the grades – from good to mediocre to bad coffee – that are tasted. The basis for learning the Q-Grader program lies, among other things, in the great exercise in the art of coffee cupping.

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The coffees submitted are now cupped by the (national) jury over five cups. The expert calls the expertly accomplished tasting of a coffee “cupping”. During this evaluation, the quality of the coffee is checked and assessed accordingly. Within the coffee value chain, there are different areas in which cupping takes place. For example, raw buyers carry out an evaluation as a quality test in order to be able to assign a price to the coffee. When roasters try different roasting profiles on a coffee, they top them up to determine which profile is best. Some roasters also organize such a cupping to allow their customers to compare offered coffees.

Cupping in the Cup of Excellence is done by placing five infusions of each coffee next to each other, with each of these infusions being tested. In this way, possible roasting errors can be excluded. In the pre-selection, the national jury concentrates on the search for unique flavors and evaluates other facets such as taste, the sweetness and acids, the body and the balance between the individual components.

About 60 coffees are left over, which then meet with an international jury. It consists of the most influential coffee buyers, coffee sellers and roasters in the world.

Only the taste of the coffee is decisive for victory

The size of a company is not decisive for the result. “ACE”, the “Alliance for Coffee Excellence”, is responsible for the composition of the jury. In the second round, all types of coffee are tasted blindly. This means that the jury does not have any information about the coffee samples, because they do not know the name, the type of preparation and the variety. Only the taste is decisive.

So while the experts are dancing, the points awarded are counted and announced by an independent auditor. Coffees that have scored over 84 points advance to the next round. The highest score is 100 points, although this rating is more than rarely achieved. Now all coffees that have received over 84 points will be tried again and rated. Often times, there will be about 20 to 30 coffees left at this stage of the test.


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The Cup of Excellence- The highest award for a coffee

A coffee that receives more than 85 points and is therefore one of the winners achieves top prices in the subsequent auction. However, the number of points and the order in which they were placed are not the only decisive factors for receiving the prize. Because each of these coffees is unique. Therefore, a coffee in 30th place can achieve a significantly higher price at the auction than coffee types from the top 10.

Who can take part in the Cup of Excellence?

This competition is held every year in the coffee-growing countries of Africa, South and Central America. Any coffee farmer in the host country can submit a sample of their coffee for evaluation without having to pay a fee. This makes the COE one of the few competitions in which the same conditions apply to every farmer and which enables him to take part in the specialty coffee market.

The “Alliance for Coffee Excellence”

The Cup of Excellence (COE) was founded by George Howell. This is undoubtedly a veteran of the American specialty coffee movement and was once the owner of the “Coffee Connection”, which was ‘swallowed’ by Starbucks. The American non-profit organization, “ACE” for short, organizes and administered the COE and thus promotes the reputation and importance of excellent and outstanding coffee worldwide. These efforts are supported by farmers and coffee roasters from more than 50 countries. The ACE has been organizing the “Cup of Excellence” competition since 1999, thereby ensuring that objective evaluation standards are established. These efforts contribute to unparalleled transparency and integrity throughout the coffee industry.

The process of the coffee auction after the Cup of Excellence

In order to participate in the campaign for the green coffee that has been awarded this seal to be able to participate, the bidder must be a member of the ACE. The bids can be submitted directly on site, but also via the Internet. The bid is always made for the entire seasonal harvest per US pound. This means that the highest bidder always buys the entire harvest, which is mostly green coffee between 300 and 800g. Buying groups can also be the winner of a campaign. As soon as the auction starts, all participants have exactly three minutes to submit their bids and can bid on all of the award-winning coffees. As soon as a bid has been received, the clock is set again to the period of three minutes and a new bid is made. If no bid has been submitted within these three minutes, the auction is over. The more competitive the coffees are, the longer the auction usually lasts, although 12 to 14 hours are not uncommon.


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The “Cup of Excellence” award: A real win for the coffee farmer concerned

For example, the auction on October 2, 2014 for the award-winning coffees from Rwanda came to an end after around 4 hours with a maximum bid of USD 37.10 / US pound green coffee. That is roughly 20 times the then current market price. As a result, the farmer, named Terimbere Kawa Yacu, was able to achieve a final price of more than USD 50,000 with the sale of his seasonal harvest, with 85 percent of the proceeds going directly to the coffee farmers.

Such an award means that the starting price alone is guaranteed at the beginning of the campaign and is currently more than twice as high as the world market price for coffee and also more than twice as high as the guaranteed fair trade price. This means that the award-winning coffee is a real asset for coffee farmers .
Incidentally, the winning coffee of 2016 comes from Finca “La Esperanza de Mender” in Guatemala!


The most prestigious competition in the world for specialty coffee is the “Cup of Excellence” founded in 1999. The annual organization is carried out by the “Alliance for Coffee Excellence”, or “ACE” for short. The coffee is judged first by a national and then by an international jury according to 10 criteria.

  • 10 points can be awarded for each criterion
  • Only coffees that achieve a rating of more than 80 points are referred to as specialty coffee
  • Only taste is decisive for victory
  • Both a national and an international jury are involved
  • To participate in the subsequent auction of the award-winning coffees, the bidder must be a member of the ACE
  • All bids refer to the entire seasonal harvest per US pound
  • The coffee farmer of the award-winning coffee benefits to a great extent from this award
  • The 2016 winning coffee comes from Guatemala