In May, I joined a panel of 17 International Judges for Mexico’s 5th Cup of Excellence competition. It turned out to be quite the competition, with some ups and downs, and now sees us sharing one of the most captivating coffees from that table…
Not many of you will remember your last Mexican coffee (“long blacks” Karen from our old Alexandria espresso ghetto, if you’re reading this, I know you’d remember). From my ten years’ experience in specialty coffee, I have seldom seen Mexico coffee featured as a single.
The “classic” cup profiles I had come to expect from Mexican growing regions delivered mild, low-acid, smooth bodied coffees with flavours ranging from sweet stewed plums and milk chocolate to caramelised nuts at their best. Re-reading my cupping forms from this Mexico CoE competition, you’d think there was everything from Nyeri to Shakisso, Huehuetenango to Nariño on the tables.
Heady florals, tropical fruits, intense spices. Demonstrating exemplary growing and processing practices, five distinct Mexican growing regions were celebrated, using all manner of processing to over a dozen different coffee varieties.
Of all these, the combination which shone the brightest was washed Pacamara variety from the state of Veracruz… Finca Kassandra!
The first Cup of Excellence was held in Brazil in 1999, since then there have been about 120 competitions across 11 countries which continue to reward excellence in coffee production. Free for any coffee producer to enter, the sample must meet stringent physical grade standards to qualify as potential “Specialty Grade” green coffee, before being roasted and assessed by a jury of national cuppers (coffee industry’s quality assessors).
Coffees with average scores of over 86 points go on to be assessed by an international judging panel, who then cup again and score to determine the finalists that will move on to be sold in the Cup of Excellence auction.
By the time a qualifying coffee reaches the International Judging Panel, it has already been analysed no less than 120 times!
Being a Cup of Excellence finalist is a game changer for any producer. Being ranked in the Top 10, doubly so. But add to that, scoring above the 90-point threshold… an extremely rare accomplishment, usually achieved by only two, maybe three coffees per country per year and as close to transcendence as we get in this business. These are touted a Presidential Award.
Now to the high point of this particular Cup of Excellence.
The judging panel awarded 22 finalists, and six of these coffees scored over 90 points. Six Presidential Awards in one competition has only been surpassed once before in Nicaragua, in 2010. Extra incredible given that Mexico is a relative newcomer to CoE.
One coffee stole my heart from the first sip. By my 10th slurp, I was a puddle on the floor. Peaches, figs, maple syrup, currants. Tea-rose, honey, apricots, lemon balm. Powerful, persistent and crystal clear cups.
Beyond the variety and region, this was a perfect storm of faultless conditions and uncompromising hard work by Finca Kassandra’s Guillermo Rivas Dias. (And of course, there’s the bean itself. Pacamara is an unusually big bean coffee variety, owing to its Maragogype parentage – the original “elephant” bean – crossed with Pacas – a natural mutation of Bourbon). Often Pacamara presents intriguing and unconventional flavours, which can be risky for a producer, especially when they produce notoriously low yields. But this year it paid off for Finca Kassandra, as this coffee soared ahead of the pack with scores in the mid-nineties from several judges to win 2nd place in the competition with a score of 90.57 points! Colossal achievement!
Sadly, after judging duties, a handful of us were scheduled to visit CoE coffee producers in Veracruz, however due to security concerns we followed the officials’ advice not to travel there. Two weeks later, we received heartbreaking news the truck that had collected all winning CoE lots from the Oaxaca region was ambushed on the road to Veracruz. The driver was unharmed, but forced from the truck and all the coffees were stolen. These producers had been cheered as they received their honours on the awards ceremony stage, including one Presidential Award, and now their coffees could not be auctioned. Not tasted. Not even sampled, post-competition. Cup of Excellence has launched a fundraiser for the affected producers, which we will be supporting & you can too here!
Here’s hoping those producers go on to harvest a great 2018 crop that sees them entering Cup of Excellence again.
Back on a positive note, from all I experienced during my week judging in Mexico, I am extremely excited to speak as an ambassador for what Mexican specialty coffee growers are producing right now. I’m also thrilled to have secured some of the precious Finca Kassandra CoE #2 (thank you for sharing, Dutch Barista Coffee Company!) which I’m gunning to roast in the coming days. It is a great honour to share this Presidential Award-winning Pacamara with the Australian coffee community. Viva Finca Kassandra!
Hey Karen, if you’re out there and still reading, get in touch with us for the most delicious Mexico long black!
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