The Cup Score Conundrum
We’ve come a long way from the days of commodity coffee. But, in pursuit of the highest quality, the specialty coffee industry has become so narrowly focused on the cup score that it often overlooks the longterm success and stability of the people who produce it. Here, we look into the gaps that have been made in the race for the “best” cup and how we’re aiming to add another of support for coffee producers.
In the specialty coffee supply chain, coffee producers are paid based on their cupping score.
A score of 84 or below typically means these coffees are destined only for the conventional sales channels, to be sold at or below the market price. This almost certainly doesn’t offer a price that can cover a smallholder’s costs.
At 85-86, it’s possible a producer will receive a premium that will pass into the realm of profitability.
And if they manage to break into the rarefied air of 88 - 90+ coffees, they can potentially achieve a windfall profit via auction systems that can offer massive premiums. Nowadays, with the challenges of climate change and decades of struggle without access to consistently profitable prices, reaching 88+ is almost impossible for the smallholders we work with.
In the past, for example, many of the San Agustin growers we work with were able to produce high-quality coffee with little effort. As weather patterns have changed and crop diseases have spread, these scores become fewer and further between.
So how did we get here?
In part, it’s due to extenuating circumstances like changing weather patterns, but it’s also the result of the standard specialty buying model that seeks to only reward the best of the best. In essence, extracting that which serves us as buyers and consumers and leaving the rest behind. The result is the ability to say a coffee was purchased at a potentially soaring price for a single lot, without considering the overall profitability and sustainability of the farm from which it came.
Supporting Coffee Producers with Community Blends
With our new series called Community Blends, we’re taking into consideration a greater scope of smallholder production, and seeking to be better partners. The result is a series of beautiful lots that might not have jumped out alone but when united create a harmonious and beautiful cup, scoring around 85-86 points*, and most importantly, are purchased at prices that can still generate financial stability and profitability.
P.S.: Scoring around 85-86 points still places these coffees in probably the top 1% of quality coffees available in the world!