Burundi Cup of Excellence 2017

I was proud and honored to receive an invitation to judge the Cup of Excellence Burundi 2017.  This was my most exhilarating origin trip.  I thank our host Augustin Manirakiza from InterCafe Burundi for his coordination of the program from pre-travel help and advice, and in country arrangements which included personally taking me to the airport.

Happy Lady

While I had participated in seven previous Cup of Excellence (COE) competitions throughout Central and South America, this was my first trip to Africa.  Pre-planning was essential with new vaccines to be taken and visa application.  My thirty-four hour journey to Burundi took me to Ethiopia and Rwanda.  I first noticed the happy disposition of the Africans upon checking in to Ethiopian Airlines in Washington DC.  Throughout the trip I was amazed at how happy and kind the Africans were, especially in Burundi.  This judging experience was unlike any other I had participated in.

The Cup of Excellence was founded after the Brazil Gourmet project auction.  Over the years the COE expanded the program from Brazil to today with programs in 10 different countries.  The program has the highest and most transparent protocols in the industry. The highest price paid for the Brazil Auction in 1999 was $2.60 per pound.  Today the average auction price is over $10.00 a pound with some coffees selling for over $100.00 per pound.  As of earlier this year the COE auctions have generated over $50 million in sales for farmers.  Not only has the COE coffees earned higher prices but coffees from participating countries over all quality and prices have improved.   Direct trade and micro lots which were unheard of in 1999 are now common purchasing methods of specialty coffee.

Fertile Valley at Mukazi Washing Station

Flying into Burundi I was able to see how fertile the land is.  Burundi is a lush green agricultural country.   The mountains surround fertile valleys that are thriving with an abundance of agricultural products.  We saw plantings of bananas, rice, tea, corn, beans, tomatoes, onions, eucalyptus (grown for charcoal), cabbage, sweet potato, potato, wheat and sugar cane.  Most of these crops are for local consumption  while providing food and additional income for the coffee farmers.

Coffee which accounts for 40% of Burundi’s export is grown on small mountain side farms alongside bananas and other crops.  Farms are less than 10 acres with most being less than 5 acres.  With the size of the farms it is necessary for centralized washing stations.  Traditionally the government operated the washing stations and dry mills.  In 2008 government began the privatization of the washing stations and dry mills.  While there are still some government owned washing stations, the privately member driven washing stations are making tremendous progress in improving the quality of coffee.   Along with privatization, the Cup of Excellence and InterCafe Burundi have been an important part of improving Burundi coffee and bringing the coffee to the international market.

On a personal side, I have always loved Burundi coffee since my first introduction to the coffee in 1999 from the USAID Gourmet Project.  Burundi was one of five countries studied during the USAID Gourmet Project which began in 1997 and ended in 1999 with the culmination of the Brazil’s Gourmet project coffee being sold during an online auction.  The Gourmet Project was a study in identifying a countries top quality coffee(s) and finding a way to market the coffee with a value added price for the coffee outside of the “C” market pricing structure.    This was well before the days of direct trade and an internet auctions.  I purchased the coffee from Burundi and it immediately was loved by my customers and staff.  This was the start of consumers truly appreciating quality coffee and paying a premium for the quality.    My disappointment after the coffee was sold was that I could not find more as Burundi a landlocked country struggled to export their coffee.  The Cup of Excellence program has been influential in getting buyers connected to Burundi coffee so finding Burundi coffee in the USA has vastly improved since 2011.

Coffee Map of Burundi

The competition was held in Ngoze, the capital of the Ngoze province located in northern Burundi at an altitude of 5,740 feet close to the Rwanda border.  This was the first time the COE competition was held outside of the capital of Bujumbura. Even though the competition was held three hours away from Bujumbura and we represented 14 different countries Augustin and Sherri Johns did an excellent job of running the event.  It was a time of seeing old friends and meeting new friends with 4 days of intense coffee cupping.

The COE events have been shortened from 5 days to 4 days.  Last year the COE conducted some score testing in Brazil and they discovered some inconsistencies in scores when the first round was split into two days.  By shortening a day and improving the consistencies the schedule means that jurors do not lose two weekends with travel.

How attributes Appear on the Form

What do the Scores Mean?

The first day is jury calibration.  There is always an adjustment to the COE form when one is used to cupping on a different form.  The COE does an excellent calibration seminar and cupping.  Overall I do however prefer the COE form over other industry score sheets.   Along with calibration we did acid taste testing.

Normally the host country does an introductory program in the morning with a presentation on the countries coffee industry.  In Burundi our host chose to do the introductory presentation in the evening thereby allowing more dignitaries to be present.  We had a wonderful dinner, learned about Burundi and how the World Bank is helping the Burundi coffee industry work towards improving quality and production.

Getting Ready to Cup Round Two

Day 2 is the official start of the cupping with round one. This was our intense day of cupping with 40 coffees.    While it was an intense day of cupping it was enjoyable with all of the amazing coffees.  Normally the 4th day was the most intense with the cupping all of round two coffees.  Now round two is less intense and held on day three.

The final day is the cupping of the top 10 side by side for a final ranking and the awards ceremony.  This is the fun WOW day when one cups side by side the 10 best coffees of the country’s harvest season.  We ended up cupping 11 coffees as number 10 and number 11 had a tie score.  The session was simply amazing.

We had a surprise before the awards ceremony.  We were given an opportunity to cup coffees from the national jury that had scored 86 points but were lower than the top forty that went on to the international jury.  Once the coffees were cupped we were allowed to request samples and producer information so we could purchase these coffees.  Three of these coffees in my opinion were exceptional.  Alias I was too slow in getting samples and information on the coffees.  They are more than likely on their way to Asia by now.

Celebration of the Harvest Drummers

Dancer at Awards Ceremony

Dancers at Awards Ceremony

The awards ceremony was special and unlike any awards ceremony I had participated in before.  Most of the awards ceremonies are held in the late afternoon or evening with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance.  This awards ceremony began in the early afternoon with dignitaries’ arrival and the Burundi Drum Harvest Celebration.  The road around the hotel was blocked off and a fair was set up with representatives of the competing washing stations and dry mills along with three different drum and dancing groups.  After wandering around the fair we were ask to take our seats at the awards tents before the minister and the rest of the dignitaries took their seat at the head table.  The drummers and dancers performed various times before and during the awards ceremony.

In all 23 coffees earned the Cup of Excellence award including two winning the prestigious Presidential Award.  The flavor profiles we found in the coffees were distinct different types of citrus, stone fruit, berries, apple, cream flavors like toffee, caramel, vanilla and floral notes of jasmine, lavender, rose.  Overall the coffees were well structured and balanced.  Each winner truly deserved to be recognized for their quality coffees.

In closing I would like to thank Ace (Alliance for Coffee Excellence), InterCafe Burundi, World Bank, Cup of Excellence, Augustin Manirakiza, Sherri Johns, Darrin Daniel and most importantly  all of the producers, washing stations, dry mills that helped the Cup of Excellence Burundi 2017 become  successful event.

Guatemala Finca Ravanales Visit 2016

During the month of May I was invited to be a judge for the Cup of Excellence Guatemala 2016.  As in past Cup of Excellence events I spent some extra days in Guatemala for farm visits.  This year I wanted to focus on regions that I had not previously visited.  The visits did not disappoint.

My first visit was to Finca Ravanales in the Fraijanes region.  The family owned farm was founded by Don Gregorio Zamora in 1894.  Today the farm is run by 4th generation Rafael Ventura Zamora.  Don Gregorio would be proud of the work Rafael and the family is doing with the quality of the coffee, sustainability, environment and coffee research.  The original home is maintained much the way it was when Don Gregorio Zamora was alive.

For the last 50 years the farm has been working with Anacafe to research the quality and productivity of different varietals.  The farm is divided into lots with each lot consisting of a different varietal.  There is one new lot show casing all of the varieties called “Jardin de Variedades”; Varietal Garden.

Laurina After Flowering

Laurina After Flowering

One of the varieties we stopped at was the Laurina varietal.  This is a short thin tree. It has a small flower and leaf and a low producer and is highly susceptible to disease.  With all of the plants short comings one would wonder why is Laurina an important varietal.  The treasure in the Laurina is its naturally low caffeine content.  Laurina only has .6% caffeine while other Arabicas have 1 – 1.2% caffeine. Robusta coffees can contain up to 2.2% caffeine.

During our tour Rafael explained the different varietals, the age, production and cup quality of each lot.  He knows this 370 acre farm by the back of his hand.  The varietals we saw were Catimor, Cattura, Catuai, Marsellesa Sarchimor, Geisha, Mundo Novo, Enano, Icatu, Laurina, Typica, Bourbon, Pacamara, Marogogipe.  With all of these varietals less than 50% of the farm is planted with coffee.  The remaining farm is a nature reserve.  The coffee plants and nature blend seamlessly into the horizon.

Gravilea Shade Trees

Gravilea Shade Trees

Inga Shade Trees

Inga Shade Trees

Shade is provided by native trees.  Most are the Inga and Gravilea.  Coffee benefits from these trees as the slow the maturation of the cherry resulting in a sweeter more flavorful cup.  By planting a mix of the Inga and Gravilea trees the coffee plant roots are protected, the humidity of the soil is preserved and the nitrogen in the soil is balanced.  Organic materials from the trees reduce erosion.  Not only do these trees protect the coffee from the sun but also excessive wind and in rare cases frost.  Finally, the farm and region benefit from these trees by providing a habitat for biodiversity and sustainability.

As we toured the farm it was noticeable that the plants were very thirsty.  Due to the effects of “El Nino” the area was in a drought.  Normal precipitation is 122 inches per year.  Last year the farm only saw 67 inches of rain.  I was at the farm in mid-May, traditionally a rainy month.  This year the rain did not come until after my farm visit. When I saw Rafael later in the week he was pleased with the rain and his plants were back to normal health.

Wet and Dry Mill

Wet and Dry Mill

The farm has its own wet mill.  The mill is designed to handle all of the different varietals as micro lots.  This allows each coffee to be segregated and treated as micro lots.  Typical of most wet mills during the growing season the mills are cleaned up and modernized.  New equipment was being installed during our visit.

Cupping at Finca Ravanales

Cupping at Finca Ravanales

Our final stop was the cupping lab.  This is where the truth comes out.  How good is the coffee?  The table was set with 9 varietals.  All of the coffees were excellent.  I was amazed at the qualities of the coffees.  My favorite was a sweet floral, fruity, clean Pacamara. My second favorite was a Cattura with a caramel aroma, black cherry notes, and a bright clean acidity.  I knew at that point that this farm had a coffee capable of winning a Cup of Excellence award.  I purposely did not bring up the Cup of Excellence during this visit as I did not want any biased opinions being presented.  I was pleased when the farm received the Cup of Excellence award the following week.  Their award winning coffee was not one of the ones cupped at the farm.

With the Family and their 2016 Cup of Excellence Award

With the Family and their 2016 Cup of Excellence Award