The world of speciality coffee is diverse. Ever since the focus has shifted from quantity to quality, producers from around the world have never ceased to amaze us with new, unique coffee profiles. The shift to traceability and transparency has also helped farmers sell their best lots at premium prices, which empowers them to continue investing in quality. Perhaps no organization has helped farmers earn their worth more than the Alliance for Coffee Excellence and its annual Cup of Excellence competition.
How does the competition work? The farmers send samples of their best lots, which are then cupped blindly. The 40 best coffees that the National Jury awards 86 points or more in three consequent cupping rounds proceed to the International Jury. The International Jury raises the bar to 87 points. Two more cupping rounds follow, eliminating coffees until the best 30 remain. On the last day of the contest, the jury cups ten best samples once again and determines “the final score and ranking”. The best coffees are then sold at an online auction, attracting high prices.
The organization recognized already in the late 90s that transparency and just payment for higher-quality coffee are necessary to keep the coffee sector evolving. The first-ever Cup of Excellence was held in 1999 in the biggest producer in the world – Brazil. Since then, twelve other countries have recognized the significance of such an event and welcomed the annual competition, the last one being Ethiopia in 2020.
The winner of Brazilian Cup of Excellence 2021 was Vitor Marcelo De Queiroz Barbosa from DBarbosa coffee. Barbosa family has been in the coffee business since the early 20th century. Today, the family owns several farms in the Cerrado Mineiro region. This year, all eyes were on Fazenda Cachoeira (Farm Waterfall), where the family produced the winning lot. There are still some months until my annual travel to Brazil during harvest, so to quench my thirst for this extraordinary coffee, I got in touch with Deyvid Leandro, who is in charge of quality control at DBarbosa coffee.
Hello, Deyvid. First of all, congratulations to Barbosa family for winning the last Cup of Excellence in Brazil.
Thank you for your kind words. Looking forward to our conversation.
Can you tell me a bit more about the Barbosa family and its ties to coffee?
The family has been working hard in the coffee sector since the beginning, always focusing not only on quantity but quality as well. We wanted to get away from the commodity market, so we focused on speciality coffee in 2017. We have certain profiles that we really like, so for example, we put emphasis on fruity, chocolaty and floral coffees.
You have more farms. How does producing speciality coffee on a large scale work?
We pay attention to some general aspects of coffee cultivation, weather patterns, altitude, varietals… We observe the maturation of cherries, and for our best lots, we pick only the ripe cherries by hand. We are also extra careful at post-harvest; the drying phase, the fermentation. Having multiple farms enables us to achieve all the profiles that I mentioned earlier. During harvest, we see what profile certain coffees have, so we can later separate and store them by their profiles.
This year’s winning coffee was yellow catuai that came from Cachoeira farm. Can you take us through the process, what made this coffee better than all the other coffees in Brazil?
We are extra-careful during the post-harvest phase. This coffee was a result of trial and error. I first did three experimental fermentations and chose the best one. But even then, the first batch we did was too aggressive; the acidity was too high. We solved this problem by reducing the fermentation time for 50 hours. After the fermentation was over, we washed the coffees with water to ensure that the fermentation process halted at once, as we didn’t want any surprise fermentation.
This also made the final cup cleaner. In the end, we blended both versions, and the result was a very balanced cup. Very fruity and floral cup of coffee. We dried the coffee on African beds, which contributed to the quality. Afterwards, we put them in bags and let it rest for two weeks before we stored it in a warehouse. We don’t let it rest for too long because you can’t really control how much the coffee changes in the resting stage. I also believe that one of the reasons this specific coffee was so good, is that we picked it quite late, so the sugars in the cherries were well-developed. So even when we fermented it, the taste was still very sweet.
Did you decide in advance that the yellow catuai should be better or do you treat all coffee in a similar fashion and then see what the harvest brings?
No, it wasn’t just about this coffee. We aim to bring all of our crops to be of the highest quality possible. We process our lots in various ways, we implement various methods, and then we cup each and every lot to see the results. In our family, we have something like an internal competition to see who produced the best coffee. We select the top ten, but we send only the best five to Cup of Excellence.
Do you have any plans for the future? What is your prognosis for Brazilian coffee cultivation in connection to global warming? Many environmentalists are forecasting longer droughts and more challenging weather patterns overall.
Of course, the frost and other weather-related crises are always on our minds. We’re agronomists, we are dependent on weather, but we can’t really say what will happen in the future. One solution could be shade-grown coffee because canopies can protect the coffee trees and improve the quality, but the yield is much lower. We were hit by black frost in 2021 so Brazil will have much smaller quantity of coffee this year. Add on top of that also rising fertilizer and gas prices and you have a very challenging harvest. We can’t say anything about quality just yet, although we had a lot of rain, which is generally a good thing. Hopefully, Brazil will be back on track by 2023.
Thank you for this conversation, and I’m looking forward to visiting your farm this year. Best of luck.
Thank you. Looking forward to meeting you in person.
What will happen in 2022 harvest remains to be seen. Coffee, especially now in the time of global warming, is an unpredictable crop. But whatever happens, I’m looking forward to visiting Barbosa family farms this season and cup their amazing coffees.