Specialty Coffee Auctions: The World Cup of Coffee

Soccer fans have the World Cup. Coffee enthusiasts have Specialty Coffee Auctions.

For decades, coffee auctions have been a means of showcasing high-quality coffees to buyers from around the world and discovering what the market is willing to pay for them. The Cup of Excellence is the most famous auction, there are also many others held globally in different cities or producing countries after harvest season every year.

What Is a Specialty Coffee Auction?

Green coffee has been traded at auction for centuries. Exporters and coffee organizations typically host these auctions–on-site or online–to showcase specialty producers, allowing them to reach new buyers across vast, unexplored regions.

A few well-known auctions include Taste of Rwanda, Best of Panama, Best of Guatemala, and the Cup of Excellence.

Virtual vs. On-Site

On-site auctions are usually held by the hosting exporters, NGOs, or other industry stakeholders. They allow producers and buyers to meet in person and get to know their products, usually participants will be invited to participate in farm visits, cupping sessions, and the auction itself.

Although these in-person events can foster new relationships or strengthen existing relationships between producers and buyers, they are often costly. Even if there are no participation fees, farmers potentially lose money while not working on their farms.

Producers have more flexibility to access the international green coffee market with online auctions—buyers from around the world tune in virtually to bid on judged, scored, and awarded coffees. Additionally, roasters can typically order cupping kits, enabling them to sample all the enrolled coffees before the auction so as to make more informed purchases.

While online auctions may lack the personal touch of an on-site convening, they continue to grow in popularity due to the tech-driven world we live in and the expanded opportunity for producers.

The Process of an Online Coffee Auction

Take Cup of Excellence as an example, when a specialty coffee auction takes place in a specific country, coffee producers are asked to participate and submit their beans (with a specific quantity) to a central warehouse. There the beans are classified by their processing method and given a code. Each coded coffee will be cupped (i.e. tasted) blindly and repeatedly at least 20 times (!) by an international panel of experts. The scores from all these tastings are recorded and tallied. With the scores confirmed, the judging panel selects the top 20 coffees that are later auctioned off to the buyers (like us!).

The buyers typically pay $1,000 USD to become a bidding member of the auction. Then another fee of several hundred USD is needed to receive samples of the selections. Finally, once samples are sent out, members can go online to bid against fellow coffee lovers worldwide.

Here’s a play-by-play breakdown:

  1. A CoE (Cup of Excellence) Auction will take place in specific country, and all the coffee producers there will receive invitations to participate.
  2. Producers need to submit approximately 300kg of processed green coffee beans which are stored in a CoE assigned central warehouse.
  3. The beans are split up, classified by their processing methods, then assigned a code.
  4. An international panel of coffee professionals conducts a blind tasting to judge the beans.
  5. A minimum of six to seven blind tasting rounds are setup to quantify ( score / give points ) to the taste profiles and quality.
  6. The scores of each, still coded, coffee are then compared. With the highest twenty scorers being called the finalists. The judges include notes on the flavour profile and the breakdown of awarded points.
  7. A few weeks before the live auction, buyers can pay about $300-600 USD to receive samples of each of the 20 finalists.
  8. We conduct an internal cupping tasting after receiving the samples to determine our own top picks and to double confirm the tasting notes.
  9. Once auction day arrives, we go online and bid against everyone worldwide in real-time.
  10. If we win (fingers crossed!), we will receive the coffee in a few months.

Where to Find Auctioned Specialty Coffee

When we win auctions, we distribute them to all our fellow coffee lovers to enjoy. The BeanCurious Curious Collection has a few auction beans currently available:

Take a sip of our winnings and host your tasting and judging!