As a coffee enthusiast, the opportunity to judge at the Nicaragua Cup of Excellence was a dream come true. My name's Phil, I'm also Head of Coffee at Pablo & Rusty's. This event, a pinnacle in the world of coffee competitions, brings together 15 international judges to assess and celebrate the best that Nicaragua's coffee producers have to offer. Over the course of four intense days, I had the privilege of delving into a diverse range of 40 meticulously curated coffees, each with its own story, journey, and distinctive flavours.

Nicaragua COE

The judging process

The heart of the Cup of Excellence lies in its meticulous evaluation process. Armed with the Cup of Excellence cupping form, a comprehensive tool provided by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, we embarked on a sensory journey. This form, carefully crafted, covers every facet of coffee evaluation - from the initial intoxicating aroma to the lingering aftertaste. Each characteristic, including acidity, sweetness, flavour, body, and aftertaste, contributes to a final score out of 100.

After the initial round of assessments, 28 outstanding coffees emerged as contenders. These beans, having scored above 86 on average, advanced to the next stage of scrutiny. A second round of cupping further refined the selection, ultimately leaving us with a distinguished 16 coffees, each boasting an average score of 87 or higher.

Coffee Cupping

Standouts and surprises

Among this elite group of coffees, there was one that shone like a gem in the Nicaraguan coffee crown - a natural processed Geisha variety. The intertwining of its floral and tea-like notes with the sweet, fruity undertones was nothing short of a masterpiece. It was a coffee that not only met expectations but soared above them, securing the top spot in the competition.

Cup of excellence

Yet, surprises weren't limited to the winner's circle. Another Geisha, also from the same producer, stood as a testament to the potential of coffee processing. Subjected to an anaerobic fermentation process, it emerged with an intensity reminiscent of fine wine, boasting an acidity that sparkled on the palate.

Coffee Cupping

Collaboration among judges

While the act of judging may seem individual, it is, in fact, a collaborative endeavour. The first day of the competition was dedicated to calibration, a crucial process to ensure that our evaluations were aligned. Local experts, intimately acquainted with Nicaraguan coffees, played a pivotal role in guiding our assessments. Through deliberation and the sharing of insights, we honed our evaluation skills, ensuring that each coffee was assessed with precision and fairness.

The impact on producers

The Cup of Excellence isn't just a competition; it's a game-changer for coffee producers. Coffees that make it to the auction platform have the potential to fetch prices several times higher than what they might command through conventional channels. This newfound commercial potential translates to increased income for the dedicated families behind these exceptional coffees, offering a tangible reward for their tireless efforts.

coffee farm

Shaping the coffee industry

Competitions like the Cup of Excellence hold the power to redefine industry standards. By showcasing the potential for superior quality, they challenge the norm and elevate the perception of what coffee can truly be. The value attributed to these exceptional lots isn't just monetary; it's a recognition of the meticulous craftsmanship and dedication that goes into producing coffees of this calibre.

coffee judging at the Nicaragua Cup of Excellence

Lessons learned

One of the most profound lessons gleaned from this experience is the subjectivity of taste. Our individual backgrounds, experiences, and cultural influences shape our preferences. As a judge, it's not merely about what I personally enjoy, but about understanding what will resonate with the cafes and consumers we serve. This realisation underscores the importance of diversity in our approach, acknowledging that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to coffee.

coffee cupping

The future of coffee

Looking ahead, my journey in the coffee industry continues to unfold. A key milestone on the horizon is the CQI's Q processing level 2 course, a six-day deep dive into coffee processing protocols. This knowledge will empower me to work more closely with producers, adding value at every stage of the coffee journey. It's a step towards not only appreciating exceptional coffees but also understanding the intricacies of their creation.

coffee producers in NIcaragua

In conclusion, being a part of the Nicaragua Cup of Excellence was not only a privilege but also an eye-opening experience. It showcased the immense potential within the coffee industry and highlighted the importance of recognizing and rewarding excellence. As we move forward, I'm excited to be a part of this ever-evolving world of coffee.