On May 16-20, Mercanta North America’s John Curry attended the 2016 Guatemala Cup of Excellence (COE) International Jury as an observer. Mercanta is one of the founding members of COE and is one of the few European Importers to regularly participate in COE auctions. Our involvement extends from the beginning of this historic competition and driver of quality in coffee and will continue long into the future. John is one of a long line of Coffee Hunters to participate in some way in the COE auction system. We are pleased to be able to share his experiences here!
COE Guatemala Field Report
by John Curry, Mercanta North America
Ahead of the 2016 Guatemala Cup of Excellence (COE) international cupping week, I set out with the head of our Central American office, Christian Schaps, to visit some long-time producing partners as well as stop by our Guatemala City lab for some roasting and cupping. With protesters outside Guatemala City, effective road blocks changed our plans at least once a day. We headed first to Antigua to stop by Ricardo Zelaya’s farms, Santa Clara and Puerta Verde. The harvest season was well past and the pruning of coffee and shade trees was nearly done. A few early flowerings could be seen, but the mill was the real center of activity with bags being filled and sewn up and containers being loaded.
Next, we headed to Ataco, El Salvador and Carmen Estate, a long time producing partner whose coffees we look forward to each year. It was great to tour the estate and talk to Fernando Alfaro – owner and manager – about his love of the Orange Bourbon varietal. We spoke about how to create lots that represent the region well, both across the entirety of the harvest and at every level of quality possible. Next stop was Finca Patagonia to see stages of replanting and post-harvest work, with some labor-intensive and time-consuming methods of tending to the trees. Patagonia is a beautiful farm and the kind of place that made me want to become a coffee farmer.
The week ended with cupping at the Mercanta Central America lab and seeing more of Guatemala City. My favorite café and the best coffee I had prepared for me outside of the COE cuppings was definitely Paradigma – World Barista Champion Raul Rodas’ innovative café – which exceeded any expectations I would have walking into a cafe in Seattle, where I live.
The Cup of Excellence event was a great experience. Anyone working in coffee and cupping regularly should try to get involved in the program on some level. If you have a chance to cup the national or international winners at your local roaster, take advantage of the opportunity. Even better, you can form a buying group for auction. Last but not least, you can apply to attend as a judge. For those regularly cupping, it is a great way to get some fresh perspective, objectivity and calibration with truly diverse and knowledgeable professionals. In the end, I’ve tasted some of the best coffees I’ve had in the 10+ years I’ve been cupping. It is an impressive feat to organize the event and the in-country partners at Asociación Nacional del Café (Anacafe) were amazing. The hard work that goes into the program is rewarding to see, especially considering the auction results. The auction gives talented farmers both the recognition and the pay that they deserve for their crop.
John Curry does logistics, account management and a whole host of other impressive things in our Mercanta North America office.