Certifications like Rainforest Alliance (RFA) and Fairtrade have undoubtedly succeeded in improving the livelihoods of producers, their communities and ecological surroundings. However, in some quarters of the coffee world, many feel that the quality of the coffee coming from these communities through the certified value chain has suffered. In fact, some in the specialty coffee sector – where quality and traceability are paramount – actively avoid certified coffee because of the negative quality connotations. Sadly, this (mis)belief has proven difficult for certified coffees to shake.
In response, the Rainforest Alliance launched the Cupping for Quality event in 2003 to guarantee that the coffee produced didn’t just offer a good deal for growers, but also provided the consumers – roasters and coffee drinkers – with the best end result. The event is still organised by the original Cup for Quality founder, Linda Smithers, who also acts as head judge, and Marty Curtis, ex-SCAA Board of Directors and CQI volunteer, the event’s technical judge.
Twice a year they invite industry experts from all over the world to score the very best of the season’s coffee harvests, all while harvesting and maintaining the valued relationships between growers, importers and roasters.
The latest event took place in New York in December. With a nose for excellence, and formidable reputation preceding her, our very own Priscilla Daniel was invited to be part of this prestigious event – DRW having the honour of being the first European trader to participate. Here is her report:
First things first
As one would expect – the coffee is central to this event. Samples from RFA certified producers (Estates or Co Operatives) are sent for evaluation, although, at the December event, only Brazilian, Colombian and Peruvian origins are graded owing to the seasonality of their crops (in March, Central American coffees get their chance to shine.)
This year saw 24 samples make it through the first round of grading to go on to be scored by the judges – a mixture of roasters and traders from around the world. The results of this, and the March event, will be announced at the RFA breakfast at the SCAA event in April. As the pioneering importer of RFA coffee in the UK, we have cupped our fair share of certified coffees over the years, with mixed results. However, this event really highlighted the excellence and hard work that the producers have put in this past year to ensure quality.
Attention to detail is absolutely paramount. The Cupping for Quality event is always hosted by either a roaster or an importer, BUT always in one boasting an SCAA certified lab, ensuring that rigorous standards of cupping are upheld. On top of this, all judges invited to the panel are required to have earned their Q Grade certificate to ensure consistent results.
There is a great opportunity here for the growers to promote their coffee on a global scale as a specialty coffee, thanks to the marketing of the RFA organisation. It also allows valuable feedback to the producer from trader and roaster alike on the consistency of their quality year on year. By talking to the producer from a trade/roaster perspective, DRW can get an insight into how the producers are developing their growing processes and what changes they are making that could affect their end result.
Despite its name, the four-day event is not all about cupping. Equally important to all involved are the relationships forged.
Events like Cupping for Quality mean we can work hand in hand with the farmers who both produce the best coffee and share the most in common with DR Wakefield’s values. While we have established solid relationships with these growers, these events strengthen them further. Having farmers cupping with their peers also enables a level of communication, collaboration and continuity for DRW – promoting and sharing our values and interests with each. The Cupping for Quality event is a motivating tool for farmers to produce better and better quality coffee.
The result of all this is a more informed producer creating a better, more sustainable, product and giving roasters access to the best specialty coffees available. This is what DR Wakefield is passionate about: great coffee. It’s how we go about finding it that’s a little different.
If you’d like to know more about our imports and how we go about finding our coffee, please get in touch. And follow us on social media too. Twitter. Instagram.