What is Cup of Excellence®?
Cup of Excellence is a premier coffee competition and worldwide auction offering the highest award given to a top scoring coffee. The level of scrutiny that Cup of Excellence coffees undergo is unmatched as all of the COE award winners are cupped at least five times (the top ten are cupped again) during the three-week competition. Literally hundreds of cups are smelled, tasted and scored based on their exemplary characteristics. The prices that these winning coffees receive at the auction have broken records time and again to prove that there is a huge demand for these rare, farmer identified coffees. The farmer receives the majority of the auction proceeds based on the price paid at auction, and the farmer can expect to receive more than 80% of the final price. The remaining auction proceeds are paid to the in-country organizing committee to help pay for the program.
Changing Producer Lives
Being selected as one of the winners at Cup of Excellence means recognition and reward for the grower and has been a springboard for many growers to secure long-term relationships with international buyers, which, in turn, allows for further investment in the farm and brings security for families and communities.
The experience for the grower is life-changing. He or she is a star and for that one nervous, exhilarating moment, applauded. Proudly walking up on the stage and accepting the applause, the grower realizes their hard work, attention to detail, maybe their very livelihood, is being recognized as important to their entire country. Some are very shy, never having been in any kind of public spotlight. Many are humble country folk – and this is evident as they shake hands with an ambassador, the vice president or even the president of a country, their expression clearly showing the huge elation of winning. Cup of Excellence has created a much more transparent infrastructure for high quality coffee. Roasters can now identify, find and build relationships with growers of superior coffees. It brings together the high quality roaster and the high quality farmer and helps both understand and appreciate the nuances and flavor profiles of rare exemplary coffees. It has changed the pricing structure for farmers and has discovered many of the incredible coffees that have built consumer excitement and loyalty. With that, we are excited to present our new series: Producer Profiles.
El Salvador: Finca Miravalle
High on the velvet green shoulder of El Salvador’s Santa Ana volcano nestles Finca Miravalle. Dr. Jaime Ernesto Riera Menendez owns and manages these 10 hectares, where climate, rainfall, and meticulous husbandry combine to produce his award-winning coffee. In 1980, Dr. Mendez’s father, Amadeo Riera y Solsona, bought the plantation and named it Miravalle (Overlooking the Valley). Dom Amadeo began the process of reclaiming the coffee trees from the wild, and when he passed away, left Miravalle to his wife, Marta Dolores Menendez de Riera. Eventually she transferred ownership to her son, Dr. Menendez, a gastroenterologist, who inherited his parent’s love for coffee, and today Jaime and his mother Marta supervise the farm’s operations together.
At Finca Miravalle, a combination of Bourbon and Pacas coffee varietals grow in the shade of native Ingas, Cipres and Gravileo trees, thriving at an average altitude of 1650 metres above sea level. Menendez and his farm manager, Luis Flores, employ cultural practices such as continuous pruning of both coffee and shade trees, weed control, replanting, and more, all of which they accomplish by traditional methods. Flores has worked with Dr. Menendez for seven years, and managed the plantation for the last four. They have been able to almost completely avoid the coffee rust that has plagued much of Central America. Together, they have produced a coffee that has won the Cup of Excellence award for four consecutive years.
From its vantage point so far above the valley, Miravalle’s coffee ripens slowly. It is selectively handpicked, fully washed, and then dried in the sun. During most of the year, only two people live at the farm—Luis and his wife—but during harvest that population swells to about 70, as selected pickers from the surrounding region converge. After the 2005 eruption of the Santa Ana volcano, which caused rocks the size of cars to hurtle down on the land, many workers migrated to lower elevations. Now, Miravalle pays their pickers almost 40% above minimum wage to come back up the mountain and participate in the coffee harvest.
Dr. Menendez credits the excellent quality of the Bourbón variety, along with the altitude and location of Miravalle, for his farm’s 13th place award in the Cup of Excellence this year. Dr. Menendez is highly motivated to keep up with optimum harvest and sorting processes to improve the quality of his coffee each year. The key to this, he believes, is motivating the people that work on the farm, teaching them the importance of their role, and improving the benefits for everyone involved.
This lot of Finca Miravalle coffee offers jasmine in the aroma, cedar, malt, and grapefruit up front, and a clean mouthfeel that ends in a lingering aftertaste.