By: Jeff Babcock, Founder & President. The plane touched down in La Paz, Bolivia just as the sun began to sail up and over the horizon. The first thing I noticed is how clear and bright the sky is - so bright that I immediately reach for my sunglasses. It instantly feels different up here - we landed 13,000 feet above sea level, and I am puffing and panting up here in the thin air.
Cool Travel Fact: One of the oldest civilizations, Bolivia is the birth place of the Aymara civilization that predates the Incas.
Cup of Excellence Judging, the First Few Days
After the Zoka team and I collect ourselves at the Casa Grand hotel and eat a short lunch, it's off by bus to Coroico where we will stay for a week and judge some of the best and highest grown coffees in the world. That's not an exaggeration - Bolivia has many towering peaks; the highest is Nevado Sajama at 21,463 feet. When we arrive in Coroico, the coffees have already been whittled down from 260 farms to the select top 58 National winners. We work with a very knowledgeable international judges group, made up of 23 expert coffee cuppers from the around the globe who will judge the coffees in a blind format for days.
On Monday, the Calibration Begins
Coffee Talk: The Calibration is a gathering so everyone can get used to the judging protocol and format - we cup several series and then coordinate to make sure all the judges are on the same page with their scoring. Tuesday is the first real day of the judging process. We cup for about five hours and judge the first 30 coffees. Every coffee is given a code and we hand in and review our scores. If the scores are above 84, the coffees make it to the next round. Typically judges score 10 at a time and it takes an hour and a half from start to finish. After five hours, we break for lunch and in the afternoon, it's off to a coffee farm and then home and dinner for an early start on Wednesday.
Friday's Final Coffee Countdown
This process is pretty much the same for three days. By Friday, we have the top ten selected. On Friday, we cup and score these top coffees and then sit down to review the scores. We were amazed that for the first time in the history of the competitions 7 out of the top 10 coffees had an average judges' score of over 90 points! That is truly astonishing - usually only one or two coffees score this high, but this year the coffees were exceptional and the scores proved it.
The verdict: The Bolivia coffees for 2010 are insanely delicious! And they're coming soon, so stay tuned.
After the Cup of Excellence
At the international auction, which occurred 6 weeks later, Zoka purchased the no. 6 coffee from the farm of Luis Huayhua Chiji. His farm is called Café Central and is located near the city of Caranavi in the region of Yungas. It scored a 90.71 and is an outstanding coffee that comprises the best flavors found in any Bolivian coffee. Expect to savor these sensational flavors in our Bolivia Cup of Excellence: cherry, orange spice, cocoa, rum acidity, brilliant red wine, coconut, raspberry, sweet and cinnamon, hints of Jasmine. Now that you know what goes into a Cup of Excellence, you can appreciate why these coffees don't last long. We purchased 7 bags of it and we're sure we'll sell out quick. See our Central & South American coffees and explore this wonderful growing region.