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430. The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings

2014-11-03 Comments Off on 430. The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings

Readers of this blog will know that we have partered with World Coffee Research (WCR) and some of the brightest lights in specialty coffee, research and philanthropy on the Colombia Sensory Trial–a side-by-side sensory comparison of Castillo- and Caturra-variety coffee samples taken from farms in Colombia growing, harvesting and processing both under virtually identical conditions.  The sample pairs that are part of the Colombia Sensory Trial are being cupped at two centralized events to control as many of the variables as possible that may affect cupping results.  The results of that process will be analyzed by researchers and practitioners and presented during the 2015 SCAA Expo in Seattle.

Parallel to that process, CRS has also made available smaller flights of sample pairs from the same farms to select roasters in the United States and Europe for cupping in their own labs.  The results of these decentralized cupping events will NOT be included in the Colombia Sensory Trial analysis, but will be reported each week here over the next few months, beginning tomorrow.

Today I explain the format for the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings.


  • In the field.
    CRS staff and partners working on the Borderlands Coffee Project worked with researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and WCR to identify through field logs and the project database farms that reported growing both Castillo and Caturra samples.  More than 70 were identified.  Project partner staff visited each of those farms to confirm that plants of both varieties were present, productive, growing under highly similar agroecological conditions, and physically separated to ensure strict traceability of samples of each variety throughout the harvest and post-harvest processes.  A number of farms were eliminated on the basis of this filter. CRS collected samples from the remaining farms and these were filtered twice by CRS cuppers and a third time by specialty exporter Virmax in Bogota, which handled all the logistics and shipping of samples for both the Colombia Sensory Trial and the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings.  More coffees were eliminated as a result of this sensory filter.  The remaining 22 sample pairs were submitted for both processes.
  • In the lab–Before.
    Prior to cupping the samples, participating roasters responded to a brief survey regarding their attitudes on Colombian coffee varieties, their purchasing practices and their expectations for this varietal cupping.
  • In the lab–During.
    We coded the samples so that roasters did not know which were Castillo and which were Caturra.  In all cases, the samples were were cupped blindly.
  • In the lab–After.
    Following the cuppings, roasters submitted their results to CRS.  In return, roasters received detailed information on each of the samples, including information on which samples were Castillo and which were Caturra.  They were also asked to complete a brief post-cupping survey that explored their reactions to the results of the cuppings.  Finally, we interviewed each roaster to get additional perspectives on the experience.

The key results of the cupping, both surveys and the interview will be published here.


It is important to keep in mind that the results of these cuppings are not necessarily representative of the results of the Colombia Sensory Trial.

The cuppings were not subject to the same kinds of rigorous experimental design and statistical analysis that have been applied to the Colombia Sensory Trial results.

The results are not comparable across participating roasters, as storage conditions, roast levels, grind, water quality, water temperature and other variables that impact cup quality were not controlled for, and in many cases cuppers used different forms to score the coffees.

And the results represent the views and tastes of specfic companies that may not be representative of broader sensory trends in the marketplace.


That said, we believe the results and perspectives that will be published here as part of a series on the CRS Colombian varietal cuppings are vitally important.  Why?

Because they reflect the perspectives of some of the most important brands in specialty coffee–companies whose purchasing practices influence the way the industry does business.

Because regardless of the aggregate data and scientific research we will publish together with WCR and other research institutions as part of the Colombia Sensory Trial, specific companies will continue to make purchasing decisions based on the results of cuppings in their own labs–cuppings like the ones whose results we will report on here.

And because in Colombia and throughout the coffeelands everywhere, coffee growers are making decisions that will affect them and their families for 20 years or more–the decision about what coffee variety to plant on their farms.  The market-based perspectives that have informed that decision to date have not been based on sensory analyses as carefully designed as the ones that will be reported on here.

We hope the perspectives we publish here will be constructive contributions to an ongoing conversation among growers, roasters, researchers, coffee institutes, policymakers, nonprofits and others who have a stake in the future of specialty coffee.  A conversation about how to blend concerns about productivity, disease resistance and cup quality so that the future of coffee breeding, extension, farming and trading will meet the needs of everyone along the coffee chain–from smallholder growers to the world’s largest roasters.


The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings series:

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The Colombia Sensory Trial and the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings are supported by a grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.