Cup of Excellence to Host First-Ever Competition in Ethiopia in 2020

The Alliance for Coffee Excellence, which runs Cup of Excellence, will officially announce the partnership bringing CoE to Ethiopia at this weekend’s Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston.


Cover photo courtesy of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence

Since its launch 20 years ago, the Cup of Excellence competition—which rewards coffee farmers with high prices for their high-quality coffee—has had a substantial impact on coffee growers worldwide, holding 140 auctions in more than a dozen countries and raising over $60.3 million in auction revenue.

Cup of Excellence has been running for over 20 years in countries all around the world (above is a competition in Nicaragua). 2020 will be the first time a CoE competition is held in Ethiopia. Photo by Ariel Flores / Alliance for Coffee Excellence.

But in those two decades, Cup of Excellence (CoE) has never held a contest in Ethiopia, the East African country where coffee is said to have originated. However, that will change in 2020, as Cup of Excellence announced last week it will host its first competition in Ethiopia next year, through a partnership between the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (the nonprofit organization that runs CoE), the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority, and USAID’s Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity (FTFE-VCA). A press release from the partners states the initiative has the full support and approval of Ethiopian government ministries and the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange.

Ethiopia is said to be the birthplace of coffee—so bringing the Cup of Excellence, which celebrates exquisite-quality coffees, to Ethiopia will be an exciting addition to the CoE lineup. Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence.

Darrin Daniel, executive director of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE), says the organization has long wanted to bring CoE to Ethiopia, but it was a matter of having the right partners in place and Ethiopia’s coffee sector being on board. “The timing of this has taken nearly two years in order to get all of the right stakeholders at the table,” Darrin says. “It has also come at a time when sweeping, new change has come based on the change in government. Ethiopia has liberalized the coffee sector, which has allowed for Cup of Excellence to properly enter Ethiopia and conduct its rigorous work of rewarding excellence.”

Government changes in Ethiopia and a liberalization of the coffee sector are just some of the reasons why Cup of Excellence is now able to take place in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy of the Alliance for Coffee Excellence.

Ian Chesterman, FTFE-VCA project director, echoes Darrin sentiment that collaboration from a wide variety of stakeholders was key to bringing CoE to Ethiopia. “Buy-in across the country from trading houses, cooperatives, and coffee unions has been swift and positive,” he says in the press release. “Prioritizing open collaboration between the private and public sectors from the start will help ensure the competition benefits all stakeholders, particularly our smallholder clients.”

Ethiopia is the largest producer of coffee in Africa, and the CoE will bring more smallholder farmers to the forefront.

Ethiopia is the largest coffee producer in Africa and the fifth largest in the world, with average annual production exceeding 500,000 tons. Dr. Adugna Debela, director general of the Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Authority, says in the press release that the event will not just open doors for smallholder coffee farmers on the world stage, but it’s also an enormous point of national pride for Ethiopians. “Coffee is not just a cash crop for us,” he says. “It’s part of our tradition and who we are as Ethiopians … the competition is not just a promotional tool for the world market, but also an exciting event for Ethiopians.’’

A scene from the 2018 CoE in Burundi. The Alliance for Coffee Excellence will make an official announcement of the upcoming Ethiopia CoE at this weekend’s Specialty Coffee Expo.

Cup of Excellence’s debut competition in Ethiopia will be officially announced at this weekend’s Specialty Coffee Expo in Boston. At 2 p.m. April 12 at the Ethiopian Lounge, Room 256, Darrin and Dr. Debela will sign the agreement to bring the competition to Ethiopia, and will discuss the partnership, the competition, and the unique characteristics of Ethiopian coffee.

More details about the first Ethiopian Cup of Excellence will be announced in the months ahead. In the meantime, Darrin, ACE, and all partners involved are excited about the competition and the opportunities it will bring to smallholders in Ethiopia. “It goes without saying that Ethiopia is the quintessential origin of not only specialty coffee, but also the culture and history that Ethiopia embodies,” Darrin says. “By bringing the CoE to Ethiopia, it signals a perfect moment for the maturation of our program in concert with the amazing coffee that exists throughout Ethiopia. Since our inception in 1999, it was always the hope that Ethiopia could be a part of our program. For Ethiopia, it is a continuation of one of the the most renowned coffees sectors in the world aligning with our world-class program.”

About Chris Ryan 263 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.