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by Shawn Steiman

Specialty Robusta — A Revolution or a Tragic Mistake

Categories: 2012, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Earlier this year, the Coffee Quality Institute announced the launch of the R-grading sys­tem. The premise is that there are Robusta cof­fees good enough to be con­sid­ered spe­cialty cof­fee and that a sys­tem of dis­cov­ery and pro­mo­tion is needed to build a sub­stan­tial spe­cialty indus­try around them. The idea of spe­cialty Robustas has polar­ized some parts of the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try with both strong detrac­tors and adher­ents speak­ing out; it is not a sim­ple issue.

As Robusta cof­fees have a sig­nif­i­cant taste dif­fer­ence from Arabicas, the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try (at least, in the U.S.) has spent decades demo­niz­ing them. While the indus­try admits that not all Arabica cof­fee is spe­cialty cof­fee, there has been a fairly good agree­ment that Robusta is evil. While there have been some Robusta sup­port­ers, in gen­eral, though, the mes­sage has been clear: it can­not be spe­cialty cof­fee if it is or if it con­tains Robusta.

The idea of spe­cialty Robustas is not new. An Internet and trade mag­a­zine search will turn up arti­cles writ­ten in the last few years dis­cussing the mat­ter. It is only the new R sys­tem, with its active pro­mo­tion of Robusta cof­fees, which has caused some peo­ple to cry foul.

CofeeTalk Magazine has played host to a con­ver­sa­tion about spe­cialty Robustas in the last few months within the edi­to­r­ial sec­tion and let­ters to the edi­tor. Instead of recap­ping those con­ver­sa­tions, this arti­cle will explore some points of those con­ver­sa­tions while bring­ing up some new ones.

Can Robustas taste good enough to be con­sid­ered spe­cialty coffee?

I have long been a pro­po­nent that each indi­vid­ual con­sumer is an arbiter of qual­ity. Far be it for any expert to claim what is uni­ver­sally good or bad for every­body else. In this con­text, there are cer­tainly Robusta cof­fees that will be accept­able and desir­able to some consumers.

Given the cur­rent Q-grading sys­tem and its attempt to define spe­cialty cof­fee, are there spe­cialty Robustas? Nobody knows. A few farm­ers are sell­ing them but the sam­ple size is so small that it is impos­si­ble to make a gen­er­al­ized con­clu­sion. Thus, cof­fee geeks can­not even weigh in on the possibility.

Agronomically, the ques­tion is dif­fi­cult to answer. Arabica cof­fees have long been receiv­ing royal treat­ment and pam­per­ing. In the field, they are bet­ter cared for, bet­ter har­vested, and bet­ter processed than Robustas. Farmers even plant spe­cific vari­eties with taste in mind. Arabicas are given more oppor­tu­ni­ties to attain their poten­tial as spe­cialty cof­fee. Robustas, on the other hand, are almost never treated as well. Thus, we do not know if, given a chance, they could be much bet­ter than they cur­rently are. It is prob­a­ble that there will be a vari­ety, a process, a loca­tion, or a com­bi­na­tion of such things that will pro­duce a spe­cialty Robusta.

Can spe­cialty Robustas help keep costs down?

Most likely, no. The pri­mary rea­son Robusta cof­fees are cheaper is that they are not pro­duced as lov­ingly as Arabicas. Thus, if farm­ers fer­til­ize and water them more, pay pick­ers more for bet­ter har­vest­ing, and spend more money on pro­cess­ing, their cost of pro­duc­tion is likely to rise to com­pa­ra­ble Arabica levels.

In addi­tion, if spe­cialty Robustas do take off, then they’ll need to be sup­ported by sci­en­tific research to dis­cover best prac­tices for spe­cialty pro­duc­tion. That research will need to be funded and there’s lit­tle hope that pro­duc­ers (and con­se­quently con­sumers) won’t have to bear part of that burden.

Will spe­cialty Robustas help increase the amount of avail­able spe­cialty coffee?

While the sim­ple answer is “yes” – more of any spe­cialty cof­fee will add to sup­ply – the hope is a false one since increas­ing the sup­ply of spe­cialty Arabica can be solved just as eas­ily as adding spe­cialty Robusta to the mix. Better farm­ing prac­tices (more nutri­ent and water input along with bet­ter prun­ing, pro­cess­ing, and stor­age) could prob­a­bly increase spe­cialty Arabica yields 2–5 times their cur­rent lev­els!  Yet, this hasn’t been done nor is it widely advo­cated. To sus­pect that appre­cia­ble amounts of spe­cialty Robusta will be pro­duced and dis­cov­ered with­out appre­cia­bly increas­ing their cost while hav­ing sub­stan­tially equiv­a­lent qual­ity to Arabica is unlikely. A new species is not the imme­di­ate solu­tion, bet­ter farm­ing is.

Can Robustas be mar­keted suc­cess­fully after so many years of neg­a­tive publicity?

Convincing spe­cialty cof­fee roast­ers and con­sumers that Robustas are now worth drink­ing is a dif­fi­cult and tricky ven­ture. Poor mar­ket­ing will lead to all Robustas being hijacked and cel­e­brated by the large cof­fee con­glom­er­ates, much as “100% Arabica” has been. Selling a con­sumer on a more expen­sive Robusta will be a huge chal­lenge: you need to quickly and eas­ily teach peo­ple why and how Robustas are now drink­able when yes­ter­day they were not while dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing them from their cheaper coun­ter­parts sold by the con­glom­er­ates and still com­ing across as hav­ing integrity. It is not that it can­not be done, only that it will not be easy.

The estab­lish­ment of the “R-Grading System” might have already jeop­ar­dized the pro­mo­tion of spe­cialty Robustas. The R-Grader System’s very exis­tence says that Robutas are not sub­stan­tially equiv­a­lent to Arabicas. If the Q– Grader System – whose pur­pose is to define spe­cialty cof­fee – can­not grade Robustas, then either they are not spe­cialty or the Q– Grader System is dys­func­tional (a very real pos­si­bil­ity, but one not to be dis­cussed here). The R-Grader System appears to be a smoke– and-mirror trick to con­vince every­one that Robustas are spe­cialty with­out mak­ing them succeed-by-trial in the Q-Grading System.

I can­not pre­dict whether spe­cialty Robustas will be adopted by the spe­cialty cof­fee indus­try as a whole but I think the attempt to get them adopted will be, for­give the pun, robust. Personally, I sup­port the search for them. I cel­e­brate the diver­sity of the cof­fee taste spec­trum and I delight in the dis­cov­ery of new, inter­est­ing cup pro­files. There is no rea­son Robustas have to be equiv­a­lent in any way to Arabicas.

That said, we must be hon­est with our­selves and con­sumers about what we are dis­cov­er­ing and pro­mot­ing, and why. It is ok to change our pref­er­ences and widen our hori­zons. However, we should admit that we are explor­ing some­thing we’ve spent decades decry­ing and rec­og­nize it is going to be a bumpy road we jour­ney upon. Not every­one has to embrace spe­cialty Robustas. Those that do, how­ever, should do so in a way that doesn’t dimin­ish the cred­itabil­ity spe­cialty cof­fee has worked so hard to gain nor in a way that will dam­age some­one else.

12_12 12-AShawn Steiman, PhD, is a cof­fee sci­en­tist and con­sul­tant.  He has authored numer­ous books and arti­cles on a range of cof­fee related top­ics. He spe­cial­izes in cof­fee pro­duc­tion, qual­ity, and edu­ca­tion.  He can be reached at steiman@coffeaconsulting.com.

This mod­i­fied ver­sion is reprinted with per­mis­sion from The Coffee Store (www.mauicoffee.com).

For 2013, Quality is still the Key

Categories: 2012, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

12_12 15-A At the Coffee Quality Institute, we have expressed since 1996 that the best sus­tain­abil­ity project is one that improves and rewards qual­ity. It is just as true today as it was then. CQI con­tin­ues to build on over a decade of suc­cess in the pro­mo­tion and edu­ca­tion about qual­ity cof­fee. 2013 will be a record year for lives helped through our efforts.

Improving Quality Improves Lives!
When founded, CQI had a strong focus on the sci­ence of taste for­ma­tion and eval­u­a­tion of cof­fee. It was deter­mined that this sci­ence could be the most use­ful if the entire sup­ply chain spoke the same lan­guage and were cal­i­brated on fla­vor attrib­utes. From this, the Q-Grader Certification was born. Since then, the world has been pop­u­lated with over 2,100 Q-Graders in 59 Countries. The edu­ca­tion com­po­nent con­tin­ues to improve and the value to the stu­dent grows each year. The release of the lat­est ver­sion of the Q-Grader course mate­r­ial in early 2013 will be one of our first great achieve­ments for the year.

12_12 15-DWhat may not be so well known about CQI are the many other areas where we serve the cof­fee sup­ply chain. Technical assis­tance has been given in the areas of pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing, qual­ity improve­ment and increased inter­nal con­sump­tion. Many pro­duc­ers are unaware of mar­ket­ing tools, geo­graph­i­cal iden­tity of pro­duc­tion zones and use of cup pro­files. We find that pro­duc­ers are eager to learn about qual­ity improve­ments and mar­ket­ing of spe­cialty cof­fees. CQI has an inti­mate under­stand­ing of cof­fee indus­try needs and has years of expe­ri­ence in the devel­op­ment of effi­cient cof­fee mar­ket link­ages, tech­ni­cal assis­tance, mar­ket devel­op­ment, and capac­ity build­ing in devel­op­ing countries.

A great exam­ple of help­ing to cre­ate a mar­ket for spe­cialty cof­fee was our efforts to help the Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia bring some of their best cof­fees directly to the spe­cialty roaster with a cof­fee auc­tion. CQI was able to lend exper­tise in grad­ing, select­ing and prepar­ing for the auc­tion as well as pro­vided an auc­tion­eer to help boost the prices. All cof­fees received higher than mar­ket prices by being in the auc­tion! Over seven times mar­ket in some cases!

12_12 15-CCQI’s Coffee Corps™ vol­un­teer pro­gram matches coffee-industry experts with farm­ers and asso­ci­a­tions at ori­gin. The Coffee Corps is a group of vol­un­teers pas­sion­ate about cof­fee and will­ing to share their time and tal­ents with cof­fee farm­ers and cof­fee com­mu­ni­ties. These vol­un­teers help grow­ers improve their pro­duc­tion meth­ods and pro­cess­ing, and train labs, roast­ers, pack­agers, exporters, baris­tas and café own­ers about qual­ity con­trol processes and marketing.

A well-received class in 2012 was the ‘Honey and Naturals Processing Class’ in Ethiopia run by CoffeeCorps Volunteers.

The lat­est new pro­gram for CQI is the R-Grader pro­gram. This is sim­i­lar to the Q-Grader pro­gram but focuses on Robusta cof­fee and the farm­ers that pro­duce this mis­un­der­stood crop. It is entirely pos­si­ble that a whole new com­mu­nity will be able to ben­e­fit from the increased edu­ca­tion and qual­ity pro­grams ini­ti­ated by CQI. When you think about it: Quality Improvement is Quality Improvement, and Lives are Lives; there­fore, regard­less of plant species Improved Quality = Improved Lives.

As we look ahead to 2013 we see more con­tracts in place to do good work and pur­sue new research. We see pro­grams grow­ing on their own so we can focus on oth­ers that need more atten­tion. We pre­dict that there will be more lives helped by CQI than any other year in our his­tory! Bring on 2013!

12_12 15-BCoffee Corps Volunteer Coördinator, Coffee Quality Institute

Joan is orig­i­nally from Wyoming, grow­ing up in Cheyenne and grad­u­at­ing from the University of Wyoming in Laramie in 1976.  She grew up in the travel agency busi­ness that her dad started in 1949, learn­ing from him after school and dur­ing sum­mer breaks. She spent sev­eral years in the hos­pi­tal­ity indus­try as a sales man­ager for a resort hotel in Hood River fol­lowed by five years as Administrative Assistant at a small hos­pi­tal in the area.

Joan has trav­eled exten­sively and brings a good deal of expe­ri­ence to man­ag­ing logis­tics for the Coffee Corps Volunteers and Consultants.  She also assists with pro­posal devel­op­ment, report gen­er­a­tion and train­ing activities.

Coffee Corps Wants You! New Database Online

Categories: 2012, JulyTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

Project Description

The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is an inter­na­tional non-profit orga­ni­za­tion with an inti­mate under­stand­ing of cof­fee indus­try needs and years of expe­ri­ence in the devel­op­ment of effi­cient cof­fee mar­ket link­ages, tech­ni­cal assis­tance, mar­ket devel­op­ment, and capac­ity build­ing in devel­op­ing coun­tries. Our tech­ni­cal assis­tance, busi­ness solu­tions and inno­v­a­tive approaches to eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity allow cof­fee pro­duc­ers to not only improve their income today but to make invest­ments for the future and the future of their communities.

CQI’s Coffee Corps™ Volunteer Program, estab­lished in 2003, pro­vides train­ing and tech­ni­cal assis­tance to small-to-medium sized pro­duc­ers by match­ing coffee-industry experts with farm­ers and asso­ci­a­tions at ori­gin. These highly skilled pro­fes­sion­als are will­ing to donate their time and exper­tise to pro­vide train­ing aimed at improv­ing the qual­ity of cof­fee as well as the lives of the peo­ple who pro­duce it. These vol­un­teers help grow­ers improve their pro­duc­tion and pro­cess­ing meth­ods, and train roast­ers, pack­agers, exporters, baris­tas and café own­ers about qual­ity con­trol processes and marketing.

The mis­sion of the Coffee Corps is to enhance the liveli­hoods of cof­fee farm­ers, work­ers and entre­pre­neurs in devel­op­ing coun­tries and to help ensure a reli­able sup­ply of qual­ity cof­fee prod­ucts for the world. The Coffee Corps brand and logo is a trade­mark of the Coffee Quality Institute.

NEW APPLICATION: A new Coffee Corps data­base has been devel­oped and all new and cur­rent vol­un­teers are required to com­plete a new appli­ca­tion to stay active in the pro­gram. The appli­ca­tion is avail­able under Coffee Corps on the CQI web­site www.coffeeinstitute.org.

Coffee Corps vol­un­teers are deployed to ori­gin to help address locally iden­ti­fied needs in a vari­ety of ways, includ­ing pro­fes­sional train­ing in the fol­low­ing areas: cof­fee cup­ping and qual­ity assess­ment, roast­ing, pro­cess­ing, qual­ity con­trol, mar­ket­ing, barista skills, cof­fee lab devel­op­ment as well agro­nomic and envi­ron­men­tal issues. Coffee Corps vol­un­teers have worked in most of the cof­fee pro­duc­ing coun­tries in Central and South America, Indonesia and East Africa.

How Can I Help?

The Coffee Quality Institute and Coffee Corps do not pro­vide direct financ­ing for any projects. Our activ­i­ties and project sched­ules are deter­mined not only by need, but fund­ing sources and oppor­tu­ni­ties. The strength of our pro­gram is the cal­iber and deter­mi­na­tion of our vol­un­teers and their will­ing­ness to pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant pro­fes­sional train­ing and con­sul­ta­tion. For more infor­ma­tion please visit www.coffeeinstitute.org.

I found my “Roots” to coffee in Africa

Categories: 2012, MarchTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

This is not a story of an epic jour­ney like Alex Haley’s to find his ances­try, but I did dis­cover a pretty cool tie to my present sit­u­a­tion in the cof­fee world and to a shrubby lit­tle cof­fee plant in Kenya.

If you were to really do the in-depth research, like Mr. Haley did in his book, ‘Roots’, the cof­fee per­son would find them­selves embrac­ing their ances­try in Ethiopia where cof­fee began. That is assum­ing of course your fam­ily his­tory included the Arabica ances­try. If you were of the Robusta lin­eage, your genealog­i­cal jour­ney would end in Uganda. My rev­e­la­tion only dates back about one gen­er­a­tion and lands me in a lit­tle town called Ruiru about an hour out­side of Nairobi, Kenya.

In the SPECIALTY cof­fee fam­ily, specif­i­cally the Coffee Quality Institute clan, there is a key fig­ure in the fam­ily. Let me intro­duce you to Ruiru 11. This scrubby lit­tle guy is about 4 feet tall. Don’t let its small size fool you. It was built to be resistent to CBD (cof­fee berry dis­ease), which is a big prob­lem for Kenya Coffee Farmers. It is the cre­ation of the Coffee Research Fondation located in Ruiru. The prob­lem was the mixed reviews it was get­ting for cup qual­ity. It was at this moment that MY roots in cof­fee begin.

The Coffee Reasearch Foundation needed some objec­tive help to define the fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics of Kenyan Coffee so they could com­pare the Ruiru 11 to those norms. Then they could say once and for all if the taste char­ac­ter­is­tics were bet­ter / same / worse.

They found an upstart orga­ni­za­tion, a com­mit­tee really, under the SCAA called the Specialty Coffee Institute. It was co-founded by Ted Lingle who was then the Executive Director of SCAA. The one employee they had, Joseph Rivera, was charged with doing research for the group. He was put on this project as well.

Joseph used sev­eral cof­fees from Kenya. This included a lot that just gar­nered a supe­rior price at auc­tion, some SL28 and Ruiru11. The goal was to do an analy­sis of the organic acid makeup of this cof­fee and to try and com­pare it to other cof­fees. Thereby an under­stand­ing of the fla­vor dif­fer­ences in the cof­fee cre­ated by the var­i­ous organic acids might be achieved. This research became one of the cor­ner­stones to under­stand­ing qual­ity in cof­fee and led to addi­tional research as to how to develop cer­tain acids in coffee.

Some Science & Coffee

Here are some things that we know as a result of the research and sub­se­quent stud­ies. The acids that cre­ated the biggest pos­i­tive changes in the Kenyan cof­fee were Phosphoric and Malic acids. Let’s look at each one, how they are cre­ated, and there effect on cof­fee flavor.

Malic Acid is the “apple acid” as it can con­tribute to the per­cep­tion of green apple tart­ness and sweet­ness in the fla­vor of cof­fee. It is pro­duced when the cof­fee matures more slowly. Higher alti­tudes and shady con­di­tions will allow a cof­fee to mature at a reduced pace due to lower tem­per­a­tures. If the cof­fee has time to ripen slowly, the acidic devel­op­ment is greatly enhanced as the ‘cit­ric acid cycle’ is allowed to con­tinue and the plant will pro­duce more acids.

Phosphoric acid is devel­oped when cof­fee absorbs phos­phates in the soil. These can be nat­u­rally occur­ring or added to the soil through fer­til­iz­ers. The most notable fea­ture of phos­phoric acid is that is does not have a taste per se, but it adds to the bright­ness or the per­cep­tion of acid­ity in the taste. Phosphates also make the bub­bles in sodas. This adds to the ‘excite­ment’ of the soda but does not affect the fla­vor. (If you let a soda go flat, it still tastes the same, but its taste is bor­ing or stale.) The inter­est­ing thing about these two acids is that they each have very small amounts in cof­fee com­pared to other acids. They are the small­est acids hav­ing the best impact on flavor.

So why was the Kenyan Coffee so dif­fer­ent? The study con­cluded that the Kenyan cof­fees had more phoshoric and malic acid than a washed Colombian used in the study. You can imag­ine that this had a dra­matic impact on the cof­fee. WARNING: It would be fool­ish to assume that ALL Kenyan cof­fees have this trait any­more than you can say that ALL Indonesians have lower body. Some gen­er­al­iza­tions are help­ful but it all comes down to the indi­vid­ual lots. As we just demon­strated, dif­fer­ent grow­ing con­di­tions and dif­fer­ent soil make up can cause a cof­fee to have a dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent pro­file than other cof­fees of the same coun­try. Joseph Rivera sum­ma­rized, “The study really shed the light on the role of acids and how they inter­act to effect cof­fee fla­vor. It’s amaz­ing how rel­a­tively small changes in cof­fee brew com­po­si­tions can bring about entirely new fla­vor pro­files, even within the same coffee.”

So how does this relate to MY cof­fee roots? Rivera shared this with me, “I think the study played a huge role in ini­tially bring­ing about a greater level of aware­ness to the whole issue of cof­fee chem­istry. Since then, we have seen the devel­op­ment of the Q-Program, sen­sory tests, as well as sev­eral tools in an effort to objec­tively assess cof­fee qual­ity. Prior to this, I think the indus­try was more of an ‘art’ with lit­tle to any ‘science’.”

Specialty Coffee Institute soon became CQI. CQI had a new mis­sion: The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is a non­profit orga­ni­za­tion work­ing inter­na­tion­ally to improve the qual­ity of cof­fee and the lives of the peo­ple who pro­duce it. The Q-Coffee sys­tem, the Q-Grader course, and the sci­ence that sup­ports it man­i­fested from this orig­i­nal research.

I became a Q-Grader instruc­tor in 2010 and I now travel the world shar­ing this infor­ma­tion. And only coin­ci­dently I ended up teach­ing at the Coffee Research Foundation in Ruiru, Kenya, the very lab in which Ruiru 11 was cre­ated. I was back to my cof­fee roots.

I would like to per­son­ally thank the Coffee Research Foundation and Coffee Quality Institute for their research and desire to improve qual­ity in the sup­ply chain. Because of them, I get to do what I do! Oh and just to beat the ‘Roots’ theme to death: “I FOUND you! Ruiru11 I FOUND you.”

What about the other 50 million? Achieving sustainability through Robusta

Categories: 2011, DecemberTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The mis­sion of the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is to improve the qual­ity of cof­fee and the lives of peo­ple who pro­duce it. You may notice that no lim­its are spec­i­fied in our mis­sion. While we often think of spe­cialty cof­fees, and almost always think of Arabica cof­fees in this con­text, here at CQI we are inter­ested in help­ing all cof­fee farm­ers suc­ceed. We have been able to build a suc­cess­ful pro­gram around Arabica cof­fee that has trans­formed the way actors in the sup­ply chain talk about qual­ity. To date, we have cer­ti­fied over 1,300 “Q” Graders who are dis­cussing qual­ity cof­fee in a more sys­tem­atic and sci­en­tific man­ner. The pro­gram has been used for var­i­ous pur­poses, but most impor­tantly, it has allowed more peo­ple at ori­gin to dis­cover, sep­a­rate and sell higher qual­ity cof­fee, and pro­vide insight into those lots that have the poten­tial for higher pre­mi­ums. With 50 mil­lion bags of Robusta pro­duced in 2010, and with mil­lions of farm­ers depen­dant on its suc­cess, we think it’s well worth a try.

When we started announc­ing the devel­op­ment of a new pro­gram for Robusta cof­fee, “R” Coffee, there was a lot of dis­be­lief, and even some anger. How could the Coffee Quality Institute be focused on a species of cof­fee that is asso­ci­ated with lower qual­ity and higher envi­ron­men­tal impact? How could we pos­si­bly turn to Robusta know­ing very well that there is not a space for it in the spe­cialty world? The answer is sim­ple – with the cur­rent shape of the mar­ket, and with numer­ous fac­tors affect­ing sup­ply, it is very likely that higher qual­ity Robusta could relieve some sup­ply short­ages for the spe­cialty mar­ket. Even though there are some notable fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics that dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from Arabica (some might say very notable), Fine Robusta cof­fee may even find a cozy home with con­sumers who appre­ci­ate lower acid­ity, or with roast­ers look­ing for a dif­fer­ent qual­ity cof­fee to com­ple­ment a blend.

In order to make Robusta palat­able for the spe­cialty drinker, a whole lot needs to be improved first. CQI has started to develop Fine Robusta stan­dards, much like those of Arabica, which will help build qual­ity aware­ness among Robusta pro­duc­ers and lead to a more sus­tain­able sup­ply of high qual­ity Robustas. The Robusta Program, now inte­grated with our Q Coffee System, has made some sig­nif­i­cant process in just over a year and a half. We have over 15 cer­ti­fied “R” Graders and will con­tinue to host Fine Robusta work­shops in Uganda, Brazil and Indonesia, with the hopes of expand­ing to Vietnam and India in the near future. Ted Lingle, exec­u­tive direc­tor of CQI, expands, “The suc­cess of the Fine Robusta Coffee Workshops can­not be over­stated. It clearly iden­ti­fied the poten­tial for huge growth in the mar­ket place for this cat­e­gory of cof­fee; growth based on qual­ity not price. The suc­cess also clearly iden­ti­fied the road­block to improved Robusta prices: DEFECTS. All of the cof­fees cupped dur­ing the Workshops had been cleaned and graded so that the defect counts were com­pa­ra­ble to those for spe­cialty Arabica grades, and con­se­quently the fla­vor improve­ments in the Robusta cof­fees were strik­ing. As a by-product of these work­shops, the cof­fee indus­try now has a set of train­ing mate­ri­als to use in a sys­tem­atic approach for qual­ity improve­ment in the Robusta cof­fee sup­ply chain.”

Tackling the qual­ity issues inher­ent in the har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing of Robusta cof­fees is the very first step and then it is nec­es­sary for Fine Robusta stan­dards to become inte­grated into the sup­ply chain, just like SCAA’s Arabica stan­dards. Investments, part­ner­ships, and long-term strate­gies will be vital to cul­ti­vat­ing a steady sup­ply of Fine Robustas, and sev­eral orga­ni­za­tions have also started to focus on Robusta, includ­ing Catholic Relief Services, Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). While the Fine Robusta stan­dards con­tinue to be adjusted and refined, and as we move for­ward with the intro­duc­tion of this pro­gram into Robusta-growing regions, we under­stand the chal­lenge and effort needed to make this suc­cess­ful for every­one. Once the indus­try is ready to embrace this lesser loved bean, Robusta will be there wait­ing with open arms.

Alexandra Katona-Carroll is the pro­grams man­ager for the Coffee Quality Institute. She is respon­si­ble for the devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of CQI’s new data­base, along with mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. She’s cur­rently a mem­ber of SCAA’s Sustainability Council and is flu­ent in Spanish.

NOT cup?">Why does a roaster NOT cup?

Categories: 2011, MayTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

On a casual inquiry of those that roast, espe­cially the micro-roasters, every one will say that they cup cof­fee on a reg­u­lar basis. Dig a lit­tle deeper and one is sur­prised that many of these roast­ers mean that they drink cof­fee on a reg­u­lar basis. They do not have a for­mal cup­ping pol­icy or pro­ce­dure. Why in the world not?

To start to answer this ques­tion I did some per­sonal reflec­tion. I started a roast­ing com­pany in 1997 on a shoe­string. Since I wore almost all the hats and was respon­si­ble for get­ting the money in and pay­roll out, I made choices about how to spend my 15 hour days. Cupping was a task I was unfa­mil­iar with and I did not under­stand its value so I pushed it to the bot­tom of the four-page to-do list. Does this sound famil­iar? We all tend to avoid the uncom­fort­able and con­cen­trate on that imme­di­ate task in front of us.

Despite a lack of time and knowl­edge, it is time to get the cup­ping pro­gram in place. To start, let’s explore why to have one. Then we can move on to how.

Why does a roaster cup?

We cup for two rea­sons: The first is to find out what is wrong with a cof­fee. The sec­ond is to find out what is beau­ti­ful about a cof­fee. They are done the same way but at dif­fer­ent times.

When mak­ing a buy­ing deci­sion on green cof­fee a roaster should cup each lot before mak­ing a buy­ing deci­sion. If there is some­thing wrong with the lot you want to dis­cover it before you buy it. I know that when you are a small roaster you rely on your bro­ker to do a lot of this work for you. And they should. But you should use the old Ronald Reagan the­ory of, “Trust but ver­ify” and cup the prod­uct your­self. If the green you are buy­ing for a blend com­po­nent has to have a par­tic­u­lar fla­vor pro­file you need to ver­ify that it shows in the cup. If you are try­ing to offer a sin­gle vari­etal that sings and dances in the cup by itself, you need to ver­ify that it shows up in the cup. Later, when we dis­cuss record keep­ing we will touch on sea­sonal vari­ances of taste characteristics.

When mak­ing fin­ished prod­uct deci­sions on sin­gle vari­etals and blends you are explor­ing your own skills and processes. I learned as my busi­ness grew that I had to do what I feared most and hand over con­trol of cer­tain processes to oth­ers. Things like roast­ing and blend­ing. In order to keep con­trol of these essen­tial processes, cup­ping is the essen­tial tool. In a short and pre­cise exer­cise you can see if your staff is real­iz­ing the cup results you want. You will also be able to cri­tique new blends that are now being invented by your team and dis­cuss them in tan­gi­ble terms to get to a new product.

How do I set up my cup­ping plan?

You can cup fin­ished prod­ucts in the same way you do green eval­u­a­tion. The tools are sim­ple but the tech­nique takes prac­tice. Below is a list of tools. What you need now is a process. I sug­gest the fol­low­ing steps:

1)    Buy the tools and get set up.

2)    Take a cup­ping class or get some­one to come show you SCAA cup­ping protocols

3)    Set a time each week, (mov­ing towards daily) to cup. No excep­tions. For about 3 hours.

4)    Always cup with oth­ers from your team so you begin to calibrate.

5)    Keep a log of every­thing you cup. History is very important.

6)    As you advance, get your Q-Grader cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from Coffee Quality Institute so you will be cal­i­brated with oth­ers in the cof­fee sup­ply chain.

So why are you resis­tant to start­ing a plan?

If you do not have a cup­ping plan I am going to share some­thing with you, which you know to be true deep down in your soul… You are a big chicken! You are not sure if you are as good as the mar­ket­ing you put out as hav­ing, “The best cof­fee in the world”. If you put a sys­tem in place you will have to prove to your­self, and your staff, that you know what you are talk­ing about. More than that, your cus­tomers may find out!

Well guess what? You are that good! Now you can just set up a sys­tem to show oth­ers. I had an AHA! moment when I took my first cup­ping class at a con­ven­tion. All of a sud­den there was a lan­guage that oth­ers spoke that said what I tasted!  I could speak up and cal­i­brate what I tasted with oth­ers. They knew what I was say­ing! A cup­ping pro­gram does this for all mem­bers of your com­pany. The tool frees you to make advances in blends, roast­ing tech­niques and mar­ket­ing. You can even edu­cate your cus­tomers to cre­ate a stronger bond.

So, bot­tom line: Get over your fear of being ‘found out’, take a class, buy the tools, set up the process and cup with your staff. You will get bet­ter at cup­ping and more impor­tantly you will improve both your buy­ing prac­tices and fin­ished product.