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Coffee has been cultivated around the world for hundreds of years by producers with varying harvesting practices in microclimates with unique terroir. For a long time, coffee was seen as merely a commodity and supply needed to meet the high demand. However, there were small coffee producers doing incredibly intentional practices, cultivating exceptional coffees that deserved recognition and compensation. With these producers in mind, the Cup of Excellence (COE) was founded in 1999.

Coffee drying in El Salvador

The COE originated in Brazil with the intention of highlighting specialty coffee producers who were often overlooked for the farms producing higher volumes of coffee. This made it challenging for the smaller producers to find a proper market to sell their coffees at a respectable price point. The COE created an auction format where producers submit their coffee to be professionally cupped and scored, and then placed in an auction. This system allows producers to gain recognition for their hard work and to receive premiums for their product. The success of this auction encouraged the platform to spread into over a dozen coffee growing countries.

Producers can submit coffee scoring 86+ points (for reference, specialty coffee is considered 80+ points out of 100). Once submitted, a team of professionals cup the coffees without knowing any information about them. The top 30 coffees are submitted to be entered into the Cup of Excellence for their specific country. From here, the coffee is cupped 6 different times by a National Jury and an International Jury.

Madcap team cupping coffee in El Salvador

Madcap has been participating in the Cup of Excellence since we began. In 2008, Gloria Rodriguez’s coffee, El Porvenir, placed as a top scoring coffee in the El Salvadorian COE. Her coffee and story were truly inspirational, so we were honored to buy her coffee as the first ever coffee purchased by Madcap. Fast forward 15 years and the Rodriguez family continues to find success with their coffees in the COE.

Coffee plant seedlings

Earlier this year, the family submitted a separation of their unique Elefante varietal to the Cup of Excellence, placing 6th overall and ranking as the highest fully washed processed coffee from El Salvador. The origins of this varietal were unknown until recent genetic testing has discovered Elefante to be a combination of an unknown Ethiopian Landrace and the world-famous Bourbon. Over the years, the Rodriguez family has planted many seedlings of these trees and heavily invested in research into it. This varietal has been a favorite of ours for over a decade and one we were eager to bid on in the auction. All bidding begins at $6.50/lb, with each bid increasing in $0.10 increments. Madcap is honored to have won the auction, paying $12.70/lb.

Madcap team looking at coffee

As a company, we strive to pay producers a premium for the hard work and excellent product they harvest, which averages around $4.50/lb — double Fair Trade pricing. In comparison, we paid $9.07/lb for the Elefante lot that we contract each season. Having partnered with the Rodriguez family since the beginning of Madcap, winning the bid on this COE separation of Elefante is a memorable experience for us all. In the cup, look for notes of juicy lychee, jasmine blossom, and turbinado sugar, with stunning clarity and a soft, velvety mouthfeel.

Elefante coffee Cup of Excellence winner from El Salvador
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