Cup of Excellence
Alliance for Coffee Excellence
An Excellent coffee experience for everyone
To start off, could you explain what Alliance for Coffee Excellence and Cup Of Excellence are?
COE is an annual competition to identify the highest quality coffees in the world.
COE has pioneered the coffee industry in terms of transparency and integrity for the last 20 years. The goal is to set standards for premiums for producers, to discover quality coffee, and serve as an economic model for how coffee farmers are paid.
The coffees that are submitted go through a crazy level of scrutiny.
We are not only a premier coffee competition, but also have a premier education arm. We provide a lot of sensory education training, and we currently have a virtual calibration class.
Those classes are helpful to grow the group of future coffee tasters. So we are basically working on many side projects that are related to our goal of discovering and rewarding premier coffee, and building individual recognition of farmers.
Anna, what role do you play in those activities?
My role is marketing and communications for both COE and ACE, which organizes COE. And I'm also in charge of membership for ACE. I think that what that boils down to is that marketing is motivating someone to do something.
ACE and COE are both non-profit organizations and they both have the same dedication to discovering and appreciating coffee and rewarding the producers who are behind it.
ACE takes over anything after the competition, everything from promoting cuppings, organizing cuppings, to the auction. That's sort of in ACE’s wheelhouse. ACE runs not only COE but also National Winner Auction--which is basically the semifinalists for COE--and a private collection auction as well.
In any project, ACE’s speciality is discovering new origins and new producers in various countries.
ACE is an organization that is formed by our members and we have members from over 40 countries right now. We need our members, because without them, we wouldn't be able to exist, and we wouldn't have bidders for COE.
So our members and their support are very important for both organizations.
However, I'm not only trying to market to our members to help encourage them to participate in our auctions, but I serve as the hypebeast for farmers.
Because the more I can get the everyday coffee drinker interested in those farmers or in their coffee, the more we can raise demand, the more interested bidders we can get involved in the auction, and thereby get higher prices for coffee and keep drinking better coffee.
So my role is to share stories of farmers and to get people excited about this amazing life changing coffee.
And then in terms of membership, if we didn't have our members, we wouldn't have bidders, and we wouldn't have auctions.
So, our members are really like a community and a lot of them have known each other since before they joined ACE. They’ve formed bonds through serving as juries and as bidders.
I'm there to help give them information and grow membership as a kind of community organizer. Our members are always helping to bring new members and they really have helped to build the value of COE.
But we are a really small organization. We have only five full-time employees, so we're all hands on deck. Sometimes I'm doing other things. I'm doing the Cupping Lab Manager as well. Whatever, wherever they need me, I will be there.
I'm sort of like a utility player at COE and ACE, so anywhere I can give value, I will jump in, and it's great that way.
As a follow-on question, I would like to ask you about communication with ACE’s members and producers. With the spread of COVID-19 still such a serious problem in the world, how do you think you can maintain and improve communication under such tough circumstances?
I think it's a tricky problem.
You don't want to over-communicate, because now people are all in front of their screens all the time. It's hard for them to read all the content delivered to them.
I think that trying to figure out how to deliver content where it's easily absorbed and easily metabolized is important.
Everyone is very busy and there is so much information out there and not everyone has attention span.
Everyone is fighting for attention.
So I’m trying to communicate in a way that is easy to understand.
Our audience speaks many languages, so I’m trying to communicate in a way that is as universal and easily understood as possible.
Most of it is in English but I’m trying to not over-complicate things. We want to make things easy for people to understand and also be as inclusive as possible.
How are you and the ORIGAMI Team changing communication during COVID?
Before COVID, we went to China, Taiwan and other countries. We also participated in the WBC event, but all those visits are gone now and most of our communication has moved online. It's convenient, but we also feel a need for offline communications. Foreign International customers used to come to our factory to see how we produce our cups. We can send photos and videos of the production or post them on social media, but it’s also important for them to come and see first-hand because it’s hard to convey the atmosphere of the factory through photos and videos. We would like to invite your team to our factory, but it’s a pity that we cannot do that.
It's very tough. It's like a visceral experience where you can smell the factory and see the shiny glass and touch something.
That creates memory and helps to create a relationship.
We are struggling with that same thing. We usually would have international juries at the origin of coffee, and that's where they would go and they would be tasting the coffee. In a beautiful country like Brazil, for example, juries used to enjoy pao de queijo and papaya for breakfast in a romantic environment. Now where are they going? Instead, they're cupping Brazilian coffee at their office as part of their usual everyday routine. So we've been trying to do things like sharing and playing the same Brazilian music by putting together a playlist and sending it to our Global Coffee Centers. We ask our partners to bring in all their trinkets from when they last went to Brazil and also decorate their office to get into the mood a little bit. But it's hard. It's not going to replace the real experience. I feel like there have been some good things that we've found by pushing ourselves, and we have maybe gained some efficiencies, but something just can't be replaced. Physically visiting a place and watching videos of the place are not the same.
Especially in the coffee industry, it’s very important to visit directly and talk to the people over there.
I think that one thing that we've noticed is that a lot of coffee buyers trust their colleagues. Rather than GCC’s scores and juries’ evaluations, they trust their own experiences and the people they have met in person. There are always personal statements like “I trust those people because I've been to the origin with them and cupped with them.” They always say I know this person here and this person over there. I know who they are. I know this group of people. I know they're great judges… Coffee buyers create business opportunities and human networks using their own experiences and insights.
If there had been no COVID outbreak, you would have been traveling all over the world right now.
Yes, I was hoping to. I'm definitely a traveler. I think we've all been kind of itchy because we have so many friends and contacts around the world and we all want to see each other. The screen is nice but it's not the same.
After COVID settles down, will you guys be traveling a lot again? Normally would you be traveling to visit customers, or would they mostly come to you?
We travel, but our clients also come visit us well.I miss the time when we could freely have domestic and international trips.
ACE’s offices are in Portland and we would love to visit you once COVID is over, but you would be traveling all over the world and might not be at the office.
I hope so, but if you ever come to Portland we will be here for you.
Cupping Bowls that deepen everyone’s understanding of coffee
The next question is about your impression of ORIGAMI. I appreciate that you already knew about ORIGAMI on Instagram, but I’m curious if you developed any different impressions after you starting working with us.
I always find something new and exciting on your Instagram. I think it is great that you share so many attractive concepts.
Thank you very much. We appreciate that you always like our posts and give comments.
That's how we met each other. I think how I found out about ORIGAMI was through instagram. I was on COE’s feed and just scrolling through photos. We obviously follow tons of people in the coffee industry but I kept seeing the beautiful photos of ORIGAMI drippers. They're so graceful and I was like “What is this?”, “What is this brand?” And that's really how I first discovered ORIGAMI through all the excitement.
I guess it was the beginning of 2012 when you first gave us a message through Instagram.
Yes. We were planning the Maruyama Coffee event and we were looking for sponsorship for the trip. And I remember thinking “Oh what if we reach out to this brand? They make some amazing drippers.” And I sent a message without knowing who I was talking to. But you responded quickly and I felt “Wow! This is fantastic!” Thank you for the great job checking. I was really excited. I think it was like Friday night and I sent my boss a message saying “Oh my god! They wrote us back!”
We were also surprised to get a direct message from COE. That was amazing and we were happy to be able to connect with you.
I was seeing all the photos on Instagram and seeing the beautiful colors and all these people in the coffee industry. I was specifically looking for an Instagram shot with the brewer. ORIGAMI is a really exciting brand that makes amazing products. I think that was my first impression and still is my impression.
What are you hoping for from the COE+ORIGAMI cupping bowls and the collaboration with ORIGAMI?
I think ORIGAMI is our kindred spirit in terms of obsession with quality and creating something that's the best in the industry. So I think it's a natural collaboration.
And one of the most important parts of COE is our protocol. It’s the first time for us to have a coffee vessel that is specifically made for our cupping, which is something very important for us. I think it's going to help us level up our activities and it would help anyone else who wants to do the same. This is a really exciting collaboration. Our partners are very excited and both of our communities (ACE and COE) are very excited from what I've seen and the reactions that I've had. So I think this is something we can all share together and I think in general coffee tasters are going to really enjoy this cupping bowl.
You must be excited to see the customer reactions. We’re glad that more people are getting interested in cupping and cupping bowls now. Cupping is very important for the coffee industry to calibrate quality, and people are becoming more aware of its importance and are becoming curious to learn about cupping. We have more customers who are interested in our cupping bowls, but not many of them really understand how to use them, such as the SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) Protocol. But once this standardized cupping bowl is released and recognized more widely around the world, I think more people will be interested in learning cupping skills using a common set of cupping bowls. That will stabilize the taste of the coffee and also improve coffee quality and the tasting experience as well.
Yes, that's a great answer. I think it's going to help with the education factor and understanding and appreciation of coffee to bring it to everybody. We have our cupping form and we've had some videos on how to use the cupping form. But there is always something that we need to get more information out there about and figure out ways to see how people can get excited about evaluating coffee using the right form and the right equipment. We're doing classes like the sensory education class. A lot of students are cupping at home so we see they set up different kinds of cupping vessels. It'll be interesting to see more of that, just like other everyday household goods.
We posted pictures of our new cupping bowls on social media and everyone is loving the black ones.
We’re hoping many people will learn about the COE through the cupping bowls.
Definitely. We have the cuppers and all the other necessary equipment, as well as cupping bowls.
Thank you. It's been fantastic working with you guys as well.
We think your ideas and point of view are very attractive and show us a new perspective. We hope to continue this good relationship
Yes, definitely. We're looking forward to that. I think we have similar but different audiences and we want to make sure everyone is connected.