Nicaragua, Esteli, May 22nd, 2009

nicaragua-esteli-20-5-2009This being the 10th year of Cup of Excellence, throughout the week at the Nicaragua competition, much reference was made to how the programme took the first tentative steps to launch off the ground over a decade ago. The first format of the Cup of Excellence started back in 1999, in Brazil. Initially it was an approach to let the coffee world know that Brazil had the capacity to produce coffees that were just as valuable as some of the more well known speciality origins that commanded a price premium. The auction, for this first competition was a wild success and evolved into a second programme in 2000 with a larger International Jury participating.

exacting-precison-roasting-for-each-cupping-lot-jose-erasmo-villaho-arauzThe following year, as the programme was still fragile, the first competition to be held in Guatemala, even farmers didn’t believe they would even receive a premium so they had pre-sold their coffee, just in case!

So from these delicate beginnings the programme has now expanded to El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, Bolivia, Nicaragua and of course Rwanda and has gone on to create the most stringent selection process known in the coffee industry. Described as the “Oscars for Coffee” the Cup of Excellence programme has become respected around the world.

nicaragua-checking-consistency-degree-of-roast-for-each-cupping-lotIn 2002, Nicaragua was the 3rd producer country to commit to Cup of Excellence, and now, ten years on I was privileged to reprise my role in Nicaragua 02, and participate again as a member of the International Jury in the Nicaragua 2009 competition, billed as the “50th Competition Event”. From the ground that has been covered it’s possible to see what a significant impact the event has had on the way specialty coffee is now perceived by producers.

The premise behind Cup of Excellence is to create a pinnacle of high quality coffee that rewards farmers directly. This creates a momentum and over successive years, with farmers putting more care and attention to the production of their coffee, submitting lots to competition, with the hope of winning, there would be an overall increase in the quality of coffee produced by an origin country. Indeed, this premise is most notable in Guatemala and Brazil where coffee is consistently recognized to be of increasingly higher quality as the same farms consistently get their coffees into the finals.

nicaragua-carefully-adding-water-to-the-cupsHead Judge, Silvio Leite presided over the event and turned in a flawless performance. We cupped 61 different lots that were selected by the national jury. From these, the final 26 made it into the winners enclose, and on the last day, we ranked the top 10. Five coffees scored greater than 95/100.

At the evening awards ceremony, all of the 61 farmers, whose coffee was selected by the National jury for entry into the Cup of Excellence were given high praise indeed.

The winning lot was produced by Maria Amparo Castellano Paguaga, of Finca La Esperanza She deserved the recognition for producing an exemplary coffee. Second place was Jose Efraim Espinales, Finca El Recuerdo and both top places are from de Dipilto in Northern Nicaragua near the Honduras border. The on-line auction is 2nd July.waiting-to-break

First stepsWe held another Espresso Emergency Room a couple of weekends ago – a hands-on clinic for home espresso users joined us the Union Roastery cupping room along with their own trusty espresso machines lugged from their own kitchens.

We tinkered with a selection of Gaggia domestic machines, two Rancillios, La Pavoni lever, Krups and even a trusty stovetop appeared.

The Kitchen Aid – reasonable to good shots but the tiny little steam nozzle (!!!) takes a heck of a long time to produce enough foam for one cappuccino. But with some patience a tight, textured, glossy meringue foam can be produced.

The Rancillios on first look have good build quality, robust brass group head really solid. With two machines on the table – one was producing water in low 90’s C and the other was 96-97 C– even trying to “manage” this by flushing the group heads was still problematic. Running water off the group for 10-15 secs brought the temp down but merely served to demonstrate the capacity of the boilers was insufficient as the performance was unstable. Small boilers, common on domestic machines lack capacity to stablise at a lower temp before the temp plummets down in a straight line.

The shots showed burnt crema and taste- playing with the grind and dose weights achieved good body – but lacked sweetness. Checking with the thermocouple probe – recorded 96C.

The best on the day was the little Gaggia – solid, robust, but the gaggia burr grinder couldn’t quite achieve the fineness to get the balance. But coupled with our Mazzer Mini, Revelation yielded – sweet red blackcurrant upfront, almond marzipan with dark choc lingering final notes.

The planned 3 hour session extended to 5 hours – so I think everyone had a good time. The event highlighted the difference between domestic & commercial machines although some machines appear to have a full size group head with solid construction, the domestic machines don’t get close to the turbo drive that we expect.

Kitchen Aid, La Pavoni & Rancillio on the bench with Mazzer grindersThe La Pavoni – unfortunately just served to reinforce the view – asthetically pleasing, but injecting water into a group head from a boiler can only ever burn the coffee! Bare in mind we’re talking about premium delicate arabica -as apposed to commercial robusta based blends that can tolerate a wide temp because, in our opinion, they lack finesse.

It was a real eye opener when giving everyone a chance to play on the Linea and GB5 – most impressive aspect was the shear raw power apparent in the steam wands like stepping from a a Skoda to getting behind a 911. Not a criticism of the owners machines, just a comparison of the amazing power generated from the professional machines.

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