Rainforest Alliance Cupping Recognizes Sustainable Coffees' Quality

Jan. 10, 2013

Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms in Kenya, Peru and Colombia earned top scores at the Rainforest Alliance’s December Cupping for Quality, held at the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Lab in Long Beach, Calif. This marks the tenth year that the Rainforest Alliance has hosted coffee cuppings to recognize farmers for their hard work producing high quality, sustainable coffees.

A total of 51 coffees from nine origins were submitted to the December event, including the first-ever sample from Malawi. The highest score -- 87.1 points -- went to the Ndumberi Factory, a cooperative of smallholder farmers located in the Kiambu region of Kenya. Through Rainforest Alliance certification, the cooperative has adopted a systemized approach to training, which has improved the sustainability and quality of its production. Ndumberi is also unique in having its own wet mill with a cupping lab, allowing cooperative members to analyze quality and focus on quality control in tandem with sustainable production. 

More than 90 percent of the samples received scores above 80, the threshold for specialty coffee categorization according to the SCAA cupping protocol. This indicates that sustainable farming practices can contribute to the production of high-quality beans that brew a better tasting cup of coffee. Rainforest Alliance certification requires the adoption of a holistic set of standards that address social, environmental, and economic issues on farms. 

“It’s very gratifying to see that sustainability and ever-improving quality can go hand-in-hand,” said Stephen Leach, cupper and global coffee procurement manager at Maranatha Import Export, in a prepared statement. Maranatha Import Export owns both the Gloria Jeans and It’s A Grind brands. “On farms that follow the principals of Rainforest Alliance certification, I have seen greater attention paid at every step along the way to produce green coffee. Quality, by default, improves,” Leach added.

“The cupping is a great conduit for feedback to the farmers. I am happy to see that the trend upward in cup quality has continued year over year,” said Jeff Chean, cupper and founder of Groundwork Coffee, a specialty and organic roaster based in Los Angeles.

Full results. 

A panel of 15 expert cuppers, representing North American coffee importers, roasters, and retailers, evaluated the profile of each coffee according to aroma, acidity, uniformity and balance. Samples were roasted and prepared by Ted Vautrinot and Shawn Anderson of Kean Coffee and Andrew Phillips of Rose Park Roasters.