Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

Nicaragua Cup of Excellence 2003

Eighteen fine people and myself were invited as judges in the Cup of Excellence (CoE) competition in Matagalpa, Nicaragua this year. The judges were from Nicaragua, U.S., Holland, UK, Japan, Denmark and Australia.

The group of judges: head judge was Willem Boot

Our job was simple compared to the National Jury that prescreened the coffees for us: they started with 400 samples and reduced it to 52, we simply reduced that to 37.

Someone was a little overanxious with their cupping spoon!

Yours truly, after a long day of cupping. If you cup 50 coffees in a day, you do flights of 10 at a time, with 4 judges at each table. Each coffee sample has 4 cups, and consistent character between those cups is part of the judging. So really on a day like this you taste and judge 200 cups of coffee.

Judging starts with examining the roasted coffee samples and recording any variations that might affect the cup. In Nicaragua, the roasting was excellent, but there were problems with the crust of grinds that forms on the cup falling to the bottom of the cup too soon. The cupper "breaks" this crust at 3 minutes after pouring, but some were falling at 2 minutes. This could be the R.O. water, the way it was poured, or the air conditioning in the room ... who knows.

We had a non-human cupper one day. Here he is getting a sense of the dry fragrance of the cup, before the water is poured.

The support staff for the CoE was excellent. It was decided that at this even the water would be heated in percolators, with water temperatures always being closely monitored. But I don't think we'll be seeing percolators used at cupping events any time soon.

After the water is poured, cuppers judge the aroma from the crust of the cup, then sink the crust while smelling (called "breaking") after 3 minutes. Actual tasting, which involves annoying sucking sounds of varying intensity and spitting, happens as soon as the cup is cool enough, for most people around 8 minutes.

Cupping is really quite disgusting and thanks to Soren from Estate Coffees, Denmark, for the lovely picture of the bottom of a spittoon. (This is what happens when you hand over your camera to a stranger! You want to spray the coffee into your mouth, your throat, up your nasal cavity, and then do some retro-nasal breathing for aftertaste. Sometimes I wear earplugs because the sounds are deeply irritation if you happen to lose your concentration on cupping, and start to listen.

After scoring the flight of 10 coffees, the judges retreat to share scores and comments in a separate room. In the meantime, the tables are cleared and the next flight of coffees is prepared.

After the panel had cupped the coffees rated over 85 twice, we recupped the top 10 to rank scores, then recupped them again using a "descriptive cupping form." In this case, the silence rules were set aside and we discussed the coffees while cupping them.

Cupping is exhausting -very hard work! But it's fun too. Kentaru Maruyama has a smile to share even after a long day at the cupping tables.


One cupper has the habit of going barefoot (you know who you are!) I have seen other people wear sandals. Frankly, I would not recommend open-toed shoes with all that spitting going on (see the floor around the spittoon).

Also see:

Nicaragua Trip 2003: Matagalpa and Nueva Segovia
Selva Negra Farm: Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Prodecoop "Sabor de Segovia" and La Union Coop


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