Recently, we had the opportunity to ask the Alliance for Coffee Excellence’s Executive Director Darrin Daniel a few questions in preparation for upcoming cuppings and auctions. In the meantime, take a look at our interview with Darrin below.

1. Hi Darrin! Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Darrin Daniel and I am the Executive Director for the Alliance for Coffee Excellence. I have been in green coffee procurement and sensory analysis of coffee for 30 years and formerly was the head green coffee buyer for Stumptown Coffee Roasters.

2. For those unfamiliar with the years of Cup of Excellence (COE) success, can you describe the COE?

The Alliance for Coffee Excellence owns and operates the Cup of Excellence. We started in 1999 and we reward and bridge the best coffees in the countries where we operate with the top roasters around the world. Our program serves producers with the hope to build premiums for these producers for their small microlots.

3. What makes the COE special compared to other auctions?

Our auction is truly a national program designed to discover the very best coffees from that country. The playing field is even and the juries of both the National and International judge these coffees have no knowledge of who produced them. We are the pioneers of the auction system and have put a lot of time and energy into creating a program that best serves the needs of small-holder farmers.

4. How do producers enter their coffees in the competition?

Depending on the country, farmers enter into a bonded warehouse, where their coffees are given a code so as to keep the lots completely blind. There are numerous warehouses in any one given country where producers enter 5-20 exportable bags. There is no charge for the entry of their coffee.

Photo: Carlos Fernández Morera, a recent COE winning producer from Costa Rica. Read More about Carlos & his Crown Jewel coffee here.

5. What are the benefits for producers to participate?

The strongest benefit for producers is getting access to the market, building direct relationships with prospective customers and, most importantly, it creates a system for identifying exactly what the coffee quality of any one farmer is. This is a critical part in giving producers a lot of information from multiple sources about how good their coffees are.

6. What makes COE winning coffees unique?

The amount of vetting and the arduous process involved. Any one farmer’s coffee will be cupped hundreds of times before it can pass onto the final round. We estimate that one competition with roughly 300 farmers entered results in over 9,000 cups being analyzed by all of the juries in total. No other program in the world can say they have such a tough standard for establishing the final winners.

7. Who is involved in judging and deciding the winners at the competition?

We have head judges that test for the best National Juries (those from the countries where the competition is hosted in, then 12 final jurists are chosen for the National Jury to taste and choose the final top 150 coffees. From there the International Jury takes the top 40 coffees and tastes them to decide the final 40 winners. Jurists from over 25 countries, some of whom are the top tasters in their prospective countries, are represented. We have had over 2,500 International cuppers participate since our first year in 1999. We have trained over 1,000 National cuppers in 11 countries.

8. What kinds of attributes are judges looking for?

We are looking for the cleanest and sweetest coffees to give the top honors to. We also look for balance, acidity, or brightness,

9. How can roasters participate in the COE program?

You can first sign up as a member (which is an annual membership) and if you want to be on a jury our instructions are below:

  • Select up to 4 countries, in order of preference. Juries have limited capacity and fill up quickly. ACE will offer qualified jurors one (1) of the four (4) requested countries. International juries must be balanced geographically. If the jury in a country of choice is full for your region, you will be offered another country.
  • Pay the one-time jury fee. This fee will be valid for one or more jury spots in 2018.
  • International Juries must be balanced geographically. Therefore, registration does not guarantee a particular country.
    ACE will contact you via email with the formal invitation letter asking you to respond to the invitation for your assigned country. Further information (location, hotel, and farm tours) will then be provided. Please do not purchase air transportation until you have received a formal invitation.

10. What are the benefits of buying COE coffees?

Excellent quality guaranteed, supporting growers who deserve a more identified relationship. Ensuring the future of specialty where we operate. Be part of a coffee community that is global. Participate in our trainings that will happen in Asia.

This program allows us to share COE knowledge with those who want to improve their businesses by driving coffee excellence. ACE members, non-members, roasters, and retailers with cupping experience are invited to join us for a four-day intensive training. The Sensory Education events are a great opportunity for you to improve your sensory skills, evaluate coffee with greater accuracy, consistency, and confidence, while also building relationships among fellow members of the global coffee community.

Photo Credit: Alliance for Coffee Excellence