The anticipation was palpable Friday night as a room of coffee producers from across Costa Rica met at the Costa Rican Coffee Institute’s field office in San Pedro de Barva, Heredia, to hear who would win the honor of the best coffee in a country renowned for its high quality beans.
The producers had all submitted coffee for the 2014 Cup of Excellence competition, an Olympics of coffee that could transform the coffee of a small producer into one of the most coveted lots in the world.
Rafael Hernández, the president of the Specialty Coffee Association of Costa Rica, which organized the annual Cup of Excellence competition, listed off the top 25 finalists, pausing for effect as he passed the top 10 and approached the final three.
“Should we take a 15-minute break?” he asked to groans from the crowd, eager to know who would win the title.
Some of the international judges bounced in their seats as the scores rolled and producers wrung their hands around their ball caps, eyes fixed on Hernández, who stood behind a podium at the front of the room.
Finally, Hernández called out Luis Enrique Navarro of La Mesa farm in Dota, Tarrazú, as the winner of the 2014 Cup of Excellence. The Navarro family also took second place, sweeping the top accolades.
Luis Enrique Navarro, Jr., 22, told The Tico Times, “When we started this project, the micro mill, we had goals and dreams. I think it’s the conclusion of a project years in the making.”
“God has blessed us. I think the secret, if there is a secret, is to approach coffee with love and passion. Give it your all every day, dedicate yourself to the coffee,” said Navarro, who grew up helping on his family’s farm, which is 1,900 meters above sea level.
Sue Spindler, executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence and founder of Cup of Excellence, told The Tico Times the winning coffee was super-sweet, well balanced, structured and complex.
“That was a blow out coffee, those scores don’t happen everyday,” Spindler observed. The lot from La Mesa came in at 92.67, more than two points higher than the second place lot, which scored 90.03.
The Cup of Excellence founder highlighted Costa Rica as an innovative coffee producer.
“[Costa Rica] is the micro mill country. They have gone from huge commercial mills to micro mills that are experimenting with varietals, processing, drying, harvesting. We literally had a coffee on the table that I think no one had ever cupped a flavor profile like that before.”
The 25 lots that passed on to the international auction will go up for bid on June 24.
Spindler said that the competition, which started in Brazil in 1999, has helped turn the traditional coffee market on its head, allowing producers to develop their own businesses and cut out middlemen by directly trading with buyers from around the world eager for unique and interesting coffees.
“Their lives are never going to be the same again,” she said.