What Makes an Award-Winning Coffee?

What Makes an Award-Winning Coffee?

Coffee competitions, the rising numbers of truly standout coffees and the medals awarded to them continue to increase at a crazy rate. From elite cupping comparisons that put the most coveted coffee varieties in the world head-to-head to region-specific contests and more, there are a lot of coffees taking home awards these days. But there are also plenty that don’t manage to medal and yet still are exceptional!

The top 12 winning coffees last year at the Good Food Awards, for example, were all Ethiopian. Even just to be considered, it was Ethiopian coffee, or a mind-blowing Gesha, or go home. Oceana Coffee just missed the top 20 by half a point with our Ethiopia Hambela.

“The current trend in coffee competitions that tend to lure the ‘unicorn’ coffees'—rare, elusive coffees seldom sold to the public after competing—is to enter very colorful varieties,” says Scott Angelo, Oceana Coffee owner, buyer and roaster, and a knowledgeable Q Grader. “Our Ethiopia Limu Natural is a multiple medal winner in both the U.S. and Australia. It’s one of our personal favorites and has a Coffee Review Score of 94.”

Oceana Coffee’s Ethiopia Limu Natural comes from a family-owned farm in the Limu region of southwestern Ethiopia. The natural processing has imparted intense, lushly complex fruitiness in the beans, with intricate lavender and wisteria flowers, roasted cacao nib, and fragrant sandalwood.

Award-winning coffees, says Scott, start with the coffee beans, of course, which are typically grown in rich soils and ideal climates in regions known for their superior coffee production. But even with the right coffee variety grown in the ideal location, the climate has to cooperate, and the planets have to virtually align. “You can do everything right and there’s still no guarantee that a coffee will be an award-winner.”

According to Scott, the other half of the equation is the roasting, which in and of itself has many variables.

 “Roasting coffee is an art,” he says. “It’s a learned and refined skill. A lot goes into the knowledge of the trade, the methods, the recipes, how to properly use the coffee roaster and even the equipment itself. A talented roaster has to know how to bring out the top qualities of the chosen bean. He has to understand the bean at the green level, and then finesse those characteristics into the cup.”  

Many competitions are increasingly judging coffees with a nod toward exactly that—cupping with a coffee’s ultimate destination in mind, i.e. how it will be prepared and consumed. The Golden Bean, for example, attracts a wide range of coffees, even blends. Competitors entering these types of competitions must think of their coffees as an espresso, for example, or an espresso with milk or as a brewed coffee, etc.

For Scott, and Oceana Coffee, this is the benchmark of success.

“As the coffee roaster at Oceana Coffee ,” he says, “our customers are the most important judges. We procure our beans from around the world with the folks who drink our coffee in mind, always! We roast with that same mindset. How will Oceana Coffee customers prepare this coffee? In an espresso maker? Will they brew it, drip it, pour-over? Even to a degree, we consider folks who prefer cream and sugar to black. Because in the end, while it’s an honor to receive awards as we did with our Ethiopia Limu Natural, it’s our customers who in a sense are scoring our coffees by virtue of whether or not they purchase them and how they review us online. These are the people I roast for. These are our judges.”

Read more about Oceana Coffee’s award-winning Ethiopia Limu Natural here and try a bag before they’re gone.

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