Cup of Excellence Diaries: Costa Rica 2013, Part I

Matt Swenson, our Director of Coffee, recently headed down to Costa Rica for their annual Cup of Excellence competition. Here is his first postcard home.


After years of tasting brilliant coffees from past competitions, hearing adventurous tales from afar and seeing pictures of humbled farmers after taking the prized achievement, I boarded an insanely early flight in hopes that my first Cup of Excellence trip would be an unforgettable learning experience.

After checking into the hotel and meeting up with Ed Kaufmann, a fellow New Yorker, more judges from the US, England, Australia, Italy, Germany, Norway, South Korea, and Japan began to arrive. This is when the great sense of reality began to set in. Not only were we in Costa Rica, we were going to be judging and tasting the most prestigious coffee competition in the country, surrounded by some of the most talented people in the industry. With all of the talent, there is an amazing sense of humbleness among all of the judges, organizers and everyone else putting the event on. This is what makes COE special.

The day started off with a nice Costa Rican breakfast. We listened to a few key speeches by the guys at Exclusive Coffees and Nature’s Best, who have been a great sponsors, as well as Susie Spindler, the Executive Director of Alliance for Coffee Excellence.

After a brief introductory slideshow, we were off doing an acid calibration. Nine cups were on the table with varying amounts of acidity, sweetness, mouthfeel, astringency…and one in which I am convinced had slime in it.

A few rounds of coffee calibrations later, we broke for lunch and then headed to our day’s field trip. First stop: Micro Plantas. Micro Plantas is a company that specializes in plant tissue cultivation. What this means is that they can take a leaf from any coffee plant in the world, and through many cellular level maneuvers, they can genetically clone the plant. Brilliant. Let’s take the world’s best Geisha variety, clone it and plant it everywhere. In three to five years, the entire world is going to have La Esmeralda Geisha fantasy-level coffee, right? Although this seems delicious in theory, my past experiences researching in a plant pathology lab make me very skeptical of the long term viability. All skepticism aside, much of this research seems cutting edge and well financed, so I’m excited to continue to follow this project over the next few years.


After a quick tour of Exclusive Coffee, a major exporter of great micro-lots throughout Costa Rica, we went to a dinner party hosted by Exclusive. We first saw a great presentation by Wayner Jimenez of Exclusive regarding plant varietals and how their cup score correlates to varying altitudes. It was really incredible information for any coffee buyer or producer.

The first day for me was an incredible sensory overload with amazing people that could only be the start of a truly memorable experience.

Matt’s Costa Rica Cup of Excellence Diary will be continued!