Paul Newbold reports from COE El Salvador

NZ Roaster Guild member Paul Newbold, from Ozone Coffee Roasters, reports on his trip to El Salvador and COE jury participation…
This April I had the privilege of attending my 3rd COE. I was accepted on to the international jury in El Salvador – a special honour to be accepted and participate on the 10th anniversary of El Salvador’s involvement with Cup of Excellence. This small nation is one of several renowned coffee producing nations in Central America, sharing borders with Guatemala and Honduras.
Attending the Cup of Excellence event in El Salvador appealed for a number of reasons – the coffees have some beautiful flavour profiles and can be a great component for espresso blends, it is a geographically small producing nation but has 6 distinct growing regions, and is home to a varietal that is was birthed out of El Salvador, the Pacamara.
This year the cupping competition was held in the financial district of downtown San Salvador the capital city of El Salvador, and the cupping sessions held at our accommodation for the week, the fairly large Crown plaza hotel, which cut down traveling time needed to get from accommodation to the event – more time to cup coffee.
The weeks schedule is dedicated firstly to the cupping of the coffees selected by the National jury to go through to the International jury phase. Fifty coffees were selected by the National jury of cuppers for the International Jury to begin the week with.
New to the event this year in El Salvador was the use of an electronic tablet for scoring replacing the tried and true COE score sheet and clipboard. Monday is always used as a day for 2 or 3 calibration cupping sessions, and this year, a good practice run for familiarizing with the new scoring technology….and get over some jet-lag too. Head judge Sherri Johns offered up the 3rd session of the day as optional, but not one cupper opted out of the final calibration session – we were all keen to get dialed in and become very familiar with the tablets.
El Salvador had an exceptional year in 2011 with 41 coffees awarded Cup of Excellence and going to auction. The jury also awarded a record 6 presidential awards – coffees that scored over 90/100.
So my expectations were high going into the weeks coffee, and this nation, that ‘punches above its weight’ in the coffee world, did not disappoint.
The session’s tables had some stunningly clean, sweet and dynamic coffees with interesting acidity and flavours. In El Salvador they grow heirloom Bourbon, and 2 varieties created in El Salvador – Pacas and Pacamara and this translates to many different flavour profiles in the cupping competition. Participating on the jury is such great cupping experience with the highest of quality coffees, long days, and exposure to these unique, native varieties which definitely helps make you a better cupper.
Thursday and Friday are big days at a Cup of excellence event. On the Thursday the coffees that survive the first round are back and are cupped again. This year we had 33 coffees to cup – that’s 4 sessions that takes about 6-7 hours of tasting and discussions. At the end of Thursday the winners have been decided upon….but not announced.
Friday is awards ceremony day and a chance to meet the entering farmers and producers, but first in the morning the Top 10 ranked coffees are cupped one more time, to finalize their ranking for the upcoming auction.
As a jury we visited a number of farms during the week with our hosts CONSEJO, the Salvadoran coffee council. Each farm impressed with the farmers telling us of the innovations, research, and attention to detail going into growing, cultivating and processing that is pushing the boundaries of flavour and quality.
The farms we visited are truly treating the coffee they grow as an artisan product even before it reaches roasters, and this approach will grow a formidable specialty coffee industry for the future in El Salvador.
From what I observed at farms, and talking to growers, El Salvador’s specialty coffee industry has come along way since its first COE in 2003, and is set to grow from strength to strength in the ever changing and challenging specialty coffee market.
Ozone Coffee Roasters is a proud member of the Cup of Excellence program and we cannot wait to source some of this year’s winning lots of coffee and feature them on our offerings list.
Contact Paul if you have any questions about jury selection you can follow more stories from Paul on his blog, including this great movie here>