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New 2024 Costa Rican Cup of Excellence: Tarrazú-Los Santos Coffee Region Wins Again

Updated: Jun 17

A week ago, the Cup of Excellence was celebrated in Costa Rica, spotlighting some of the finest coffees in the world. The Cup of Excellence is an esteemed international award that recognizes the best coffees from producing countries that choose to participate. This prestigious competition is governed and organized by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which also hosts an online auction where premium buyers can access and purchase these top-tier coffees.

The 2024 edition brought a refreshing change to the competition format. Instead of awarding a single coffee, the competition now features three categories based on coffee processing methods. This innovation provides an excellent opportunity to explore how these methods impact the taste and perception of coffee.

To begin with, it’s essential to understand the composition of coffee. From the inside out, coffee beans are composed of two seeds covered by layers: silver skin, parchment, mucilage (the inner layer of the pulp), and the outer skin.

After harvesting, coffee undergoes processing and drying. Traditionally, there have been three primary processing methods in the coffee world:

  • Washed Process: The skin and pulp are removed entirely, resulting in a cleaner and clearer flavor profile.

  • Honey Process: The skin is removed, but the mucilage is retained, leading to sweeter and more complex flavors.

  • Natural Process: The coffee is dried whole, with both skin and pulp, yielding more intense and fruity flavors.

Recently, new experimental methods have emerged, such as carbonic maceration, anaerobic fermentation, and lactic fermentation. These techniques can be applied to honey, washed or natural-processed coffee, where even if the skin is removed, the coffee is left for fermentation using these innovative methods.

Each processing method imparts unique characteristics to the coffee. Washed coffees typically offer a cleaner, more defined flavor, while natural and honey-processed coffees deliver richer, more fermented notes. For a deeper dive into the flavor profiles of different processing methods and coffee varieties, this article is excellent.

The changes implemented by the Alliance for Coffee Excellence mark a significant step in refining how coffee is evaluated. The idea arose from the realization that comparing a washed process coffee to a natural process coffee is challenging due to their inherent differences. It was also observed that less experienced cuppers might have an unconscious bias toward processes that naturally produce sweeter notes, like honey and washed processes. By categorizing the coffees, the competition ensures a more objective evaluation—comparing apples to apples, so to speak.

This new approach not only simplifies the cuppers’ task but also encourages more producers to specialize in specific processes. Instead of a single award, three prizes are now given, each recognizing excellence in a distinct category:

  • Traditional Washed Processes

  • Traditional Semi-Washed, Honey, and Natural Processes

  • Experimental Category

The culmination of the competition is the online auction, held six weeks later, where buyers can select coffees based on their preferences.

About the Cup of Excellence Process:

The Cup of Excellence process begins with the pre-selection of coffees, where a panel of Costa Rican judges evaluates and selects coffees that score 86 points or higher out of 100. These selected coffees then undergo further evaluation in the national cuppings by the same panel. From this stage, only 40 coffees with scores above 86 points advance to the international cupping stage, where they are judged by renowned international experts. Finally, the top 30 coffees, all scoring a minimum of 87 points, are auctioned.

For a detailed look at the Cup of Excellence results, you can check them here. Notably, the top places were secured by coffees from our coffee-growing region (wujuu), Los Santos-Tarrazú. This success underscores the exceptional quality of coffee produced in one of the best areas of the country.


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