Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines

Adventures of a Coffee Trainer by Emma Haines

The last week has seen much excitement in the coffee world. With many of the World Championships taking place in Belo Horizonte, during Brazil's International Coffee Week.

There seemed to be something particularly magical about holding these events in the largest coffee producing country in the world.

On track to export an estimated 159.92 million bags of coffee (according to ICO) by the end of 2017/18, the visitors flocking to the champs were able to revel in all of Brazil's coffee glory.

For many competitors, they managed to tie their visit in with a trip to origin, to meet the growers, pickers and graders and pay homage to their expertise.

The UK saw some incredible representation, with Freda Yuan getting through to the semi-finals in the World Cup Tasters event, Lisa-Laura Verhoest competing in World Brewers Cup, Dhan Tamang in the World Latte Art Championship and of course, the incredible Dan Fellows bringing home the first place trophy in Coffee in Good Spirits.

As an avid coffee competition supporter, I watched from afar (via Livestream!) as competitors took to the stage.

Their composition, nerves of steel and dedication to coffee is evident. You can see the hours and hours of practice and preparation that have gone into the sets. Everybody is there to win and although only a few can take home a trophy, every competitor does their country proud.

So why all the fuss? Why do we bother having competitions in coffee? Well, it’s a question I’ve been asked a few times now, often by those outside of the industry, those who have not experienced the atmosphere and excitement present around the stage.

The answer however, although simple, goes deeper than just the World championships.

Rewind to 1999, when a group of specialty coffee enthusiasts (and experts in their fields) decided to launch the Cup of Excellence, a competition for growers to showcase the best coffee they have and auction it accordingly. Rather fittingly, it all began back in Brazil and since it’s inception, has grown to incorporate 11 growing countries.

I was fortunate to meet and spend time with Susie Spindler (long-time executive director of Alliance for Coffee Excellence up until 2014) a few months ago and what was crystal clear, was the incredible impact the competition has had (and is still having) throughout the world.

It is deemed as the most rigorous coffee competition available. The entered lots undergo an incredibly high level of scrutiny, with cupping (a consistent test performed to evaluate the coffee) taking place over a total of three weeks. It will see jurors from the country of origin, then International jurors assess the coffees for all of their cup attributes. Now, when I say the testing is rigorous, it really is. According to the ACE/CoE website, ‘A competition with 300 entries yields an average of 9,000 analysed cups, with each 'Top 10' coffee being cupped at least 120 times.’

The evidence on the impact this has is clear. Through this competition system, the farmers are able to see complete transparency. The value (and quality) has increased and at the end of 2017, COE auctions had accumulated over $55 million in revenue to farmers.

Alongside the increased revenue, the buyers visit origin, are able to invest more and provide an increase in economic stability to entire regions.

As a whole, competition in coffee is providing growers, buyers and consumers alike the ability to unlock more potential. It is increasing farmers profile, and allowing speciality coffee to hit the main stage for all the right reasons.

Long live competitions!

  • To find out more about the work by Alliance for Coffee Excellence and Cup of Excellence, visit
  • Emma has worked in hospitality and catering training for the last 10 years. For the last five years, she has focused on coffee training, in particular specialty coffee training, and how to incorporate specialty elements into commercial environments. She works all over Europe and beyond, and is a resident trainer at London School of Coffee.

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