Written by PRISCILA PINHO | Every year or harvest, coffee beans are renewed, and at the end of each harvest season, when fruits are dry and ready to be peeled, the phase of quality tests begins to assess how the processing and drying are expressed in the cup. These tests can be done inside the lab at the farms themselves, or be carried out by certified Q graders. Usually, these results become useful reports so that producers can make the best post-harvest decisions, especially to know which processes are worth repeating or changing for each variety, respecting the climate, altitude and all variables that need to be taken into account according to that specific region or country.
Quality assessments can also take place in the form of a championship, rewarding the season’s best coffee producers. These contests can be regional, national, or international. Each of the countries that produce coffee has its own competitions and to register, producers need to follow a protocol, with specific quantities, quality of the beans and provide a sample to be evaluated to be approved or not.
The quality expected for coffees in a competition like that is above 80 points in the SCA table, these are the ones that are accepted for the first round of the cupping tables, when the Q Graders make a pre-selection of them. Later on, the producers fill into the contest, take the green coffee to the association of specialty coffee that is hosting the contest, then these samples are analyzed, roasted, and the cupping is done respecting the international protocols, which can be the SCA Cup Of Excellence table.
Later on, the roasted beans analysis has to be made within 8 hours after roasting. At that moment the selection of finalists is done, and the podium is decided with the participation of other Q Graders. All coffees are numbered and coded so that no one knows from which producer the samples are, so that will not interfere when attributing the final punctuation for each sample.
The classification test is done through cupping, where three to five cups of each coffee are open, and the analysis begins by the aroma of the dry ground coffee, and all the Q Graders pass by scenting each of the samples. The second stage consists of adding water to each set and moistening the coffee, so the Q Graders will now again evaluate its fragrance. Finally, they will wait four minutes to break the crust of the infusion and taste the coffee, sucking the liquid, so oxygen will be mixed with the liquid itself, helping to improve the distinguishing nuances of the availables coffees.
As we are in the middle of a pandemic, all safety requirements must also be met when cupping. Beforehand, the Q Graders used to make one or two tables, depending on the number of Judges on the day, and each one with their spoon, passed in a row, with a clipboard in hand for the requirements notes. Nowadays, this test suffered some changes: one can no longer share cups, and spoons can no longer go straight into the Q Graders’ mouth, unless each one of them has their own set of samples and do their work isolated from each other.
Based on the WHO protocol, quality contests continue to take place, after all the vast majority of Flor de Cafe Association coffees for 2020 are already packed in bags, ready to become the most irresistible cups of our lives. This harvest was giant, beautiful, full of surprising coffees especially for the producers who took extreme care of them, treating coffee as a food that is what it is, guaranteeing a controlled drought, for a clean, harmonious and full of flavors cup.
For many producing regions, reaching this quality parameter is a challenge, either because the producer is entering the specialty coffee level, or because of the lack of a specialty coffee association in the region, or because of physical distance from centers and therefore, of Q Graders to evaluate it. In short, we could list a multitude of difficulties for a contest to happen, but more and more, producing regions are managing to organize themselves so the work of producers is recognized, formalized, and transformed into a great cup capable to travel the whole world amongst roasters and consumers.
That was exactly what took place in Nepomuceno, Minas Gerais, the biggest coffee producing belt in the whole planet. Through Flor de Café Association, which has been working with producers for 3 years, the first coffee quality contest was held on September 12th of year 2020. This was the first quality contest in over 200 years of extractive production, which always exhausted the soil and had little concern with the consequences of producing coffee in a conventional system. This first contest was the beginning of many yet to come, of coffee produced in a healthy environment, giving focus to preserving life.
A quality contest is done to validate the high level of what is being produced in a particular territory. Very often neither the producer himself has a clue of what he has in hand, and taking Q Graders to a place that only does its work focused on quality for a few years, and submitting them to follow international standards, has a huge positive impact. It often works like a wave, prizing and improving the quality of processes, the structure and as a consequence future harvested coffees.
We urge you to enhance award winning coffees, to always try to know who made the coffee you are drinking, this traceability is what makes us more and more likely to drink unforgettable coffees.
This article was written by Priscila Pinho, from Coffee Break, in colaboration with BCNCOFFEEGUIDE and FLOR de CAFÉ.
For the portuguese version click HERE