Who knew searching for the world's finest artisan coffee could be dangerous? Read Jeff's travel journal as he heads to Guatemala to judge the 8th national Cup of Excellence competition, right before the volcanic eruption of Pacaya and whirlwind tropical storm Agatha (the one that caused the sinkhole in Guatemala City).

Greetings from Guatemala

Cup of Excellence Guatemala
By: Jeff Babcock I arrived early yesterday after taking the red eye from Seattle via Houston to Guatemala City, Guatemala for their 8th National Cup of Excellence Competition. I've been involved with the Cup of Excellence Competition since the beginning - this is my 8th time judging it. After a long nap at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Guatemala City, I had a light lunch and chatted with a couple of other early arrivals who would also be judging the competition. Twenty-one judges from around the world will cup and grade the top 40 coffees. It's a great time. The judges come from all over the globe: Brazil, Canada, the US, Russia, Germany, Norway, Lithuania, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. This year's competition is being held at Anacafe, the Guatemala National Coffee Association in Guatemala City. When we arrive, national judges have already trimmed down the coffees from 122 entrants to the final 40.

Cup of Excellence Kick Off

Guatemala Coffee Association We kick off the day with an hour-long lecture delivered by William Hempstead, the Director of Anacafe. He goes into great detail on the coffee production structure and current condition of the 90,000 coffee farmers in Guatemala. At 11:00 AM, we go into a series of calibration. Sylvia Leite, the head judge from Brazil will lead us in a review of sensorial training.  Zoka fun fact: A good cupper isn't just knowledgeable about coffee - he or she must constantly train their sensory system and it takes a long time to develop a good palate. This sensorial training consists is an hour of sensory review. For example, cupping terminologies and technical standards of the daily cuppings. We will review the new computerized scoring sheets and the qualifiers of sweet, body, taste, flavors, acidity, mouth feel and how they relate to the scoring. We will also review the taints and defects in coffee such as fermentation. Fermentation is when coffee has stayed in the water cleaning process for too long. Another defect is metallic phenol, a very nasty medicinal alcohol flavor that coffee sometimes picks up from poor processing, or other negative flavors such as underdeveloped astringent coffee, gritty, dirty, or harsh coffees. You can really pick out these defects as the coffees cool down when you are cupping. The winning coffees usually stand out with incredible flavors of chocolate, citrus, berry, black current, caramel spicy, honey, fruit, almond or nutty flavors. And of course, the really good coffees are always very sweet and juicy with their profiles. The scores are based on a 100-point scale and the top coffees will score over 87 points. The solid coffees over 84 points and the Presidential winners with scores over 90 points. Each session will take an hour with 30 minutes of deliberation. This will go on for about 7 hours for the first several days and then 2 hours on the last day Friday, when we judge the top 10 coffees. There is an awards banquet that evening and then we will get to go to the winning farms the next two or three days, to meet these great farmers and build relationships for future coffee purchases. This is how I have found many of the great Cup of Excellence and artisan coffees for Zoka. Tomorrow, I will begin the process of cupping coffees -- spitting and slurping to catch all of the nuances of flavors. It is an exhausting experience, but worth the effort when we find and sample some of the world's best coffees. I will be in bed before 10:00 in order to be ready for the 7 hours of cupping the next day brings. That is all for now! Until Next Time, Jeff Babcock Zoka Coffee President PS. Stay tuned for the next travel log and read about Jeff vs. the Volcano