Lori takes a trip to Costa Rica Cup of Excellence

Costa Rica Cup of Excellence 2008

The Costa Rica COE International jury met just outside San Jose, on the week of April 6-11. A week before they were to meet I found out that I was invited to be a member of the jury. I was excited and honored to be apart of the proceedings. There were 22 jurors from India, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, the UK, Japan, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Canada and the USA.

The first day was a calibration day, to get us on the same page. We did some sample cuppings to get us used to the score sheet. We then took a tour of two micro mills. Costa Rica is in the midst of changing the way they process the coffee. One reason for this is new environmental laws that the government has put into place. Another reason is the growing popularity of farms having either their own small mill (micro-mill) or a few farms getting together to form a co-op using the same mill. We were able to see the drying patios that were empty because the harvest was over and they showed us their mills with some already filled burlap sacks of green. The second farm had a few cows that they kept and they even mixed the coffee-pulp (mucilage) with the cow feed. The farmer said it makes good beef!

After our tour of the mills we had an amazing dinner at Grace Mena's house. Grace is the founder of Deli Cafe and Nature's Best Coffee. She has the most beautiful house. My little adventure during dinner was being bit on the arm by a 2 inch long black beetle, luckily harmless!

The next few days were focused on cupping the 48 coffees that made it past the National Jury. Each session we would cup 8 samples except the last session when we re-cupped the top 10 coffees. After each session we would gather in the conference room to give our palates a break and discuss the scores and thoughts we had on the coffees, then we would go back to the cupping room for another session. Out of those 48 coffees 30 made it to the Cup of Excellence, the coffees that I cupped were the best Costa Rica coffees I had ever tasted. There were some beautiful full-bodied coffees, full of chocolate, caramel, plums, tangerines and honey. You can taste the changes that are being made in the processing of the beans, and the changes are making the coffee even better!

There was a round table discussion held just prior to the awards ceremony in which the international jury and the farmers from the 48 farms got to meet and ask each other questions. We split up in groups but in the end we got to meet everyone. It certainly put learning Spanish near the top of my to-do list! One memorable moment was sitting next to this sweet lady who after trying to talk to me excitedly in Spanish realized I did not understand and motioned to my hair saying 'beautiful!' I then came to find that she owns a small farm and was not going to submit her coffee to the COE program. After a lot of coaxing from her daughter, she sent in her sample at the very last moment. It was wonderful to see her face when we all found out that her farm won the number 1 slot of the competition.

This was my first trip to origin, my first time putting faces to the people who farm and process the coffee that I see every day in the roastery. I learned a lot about where the coffee starts before it ends up in the roaster then into the cup. I am thankful for the experience!

Lori Billups
Coffee Roaster