By: CQI Consultant Todd Arnette, Academy of Coffee Excellence In my years since becoming a Q Grader and Q Instructor for Coffee Quality Institute...Read the Whole Stories from the Field Post
When Myanmar (Burma) came out of isolation, about five years ago, international agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) began working to help this country succeed with growth and development goals.
Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is currently working with Winrock International on the USAID Value Chains for Rural Development project (VC-RD). This project includes other crop such as beans and vegetables, but it also includes coffee for smallholders’ producers in Shan State. The project’s objectives are to improve agricultural productivity, strengthen linkages and competitiveness, and enhance private sector engagement within Myanmar’s smallholder communities. CQI’s role is to help stakeholders produce, identify and differentiate quality coffees and develop Myanmar as a known country of origin for distinct specialty grade Arabica coffees. Part of the strategy to achieve these goals has been to introduce the concept of the green coffee quality competition; the first competition occurred in Yangon in mid-2015.
The Myanmar Coffee Competition has now become an annual event that is providing all stakeholders the opportunity to participate and benefit from it, based on unified, national sector goals. This third edition of the national coffee quality competition has continued the process of rewarding producers for quality production based on internationally recognized coffee standards, thereby building awareness amongst domestic and international buyers that Myanmar coffees have unique and positive attributes and profiles and meet high quality standards.
The head judge for this year’s competition was Sunalini Menon of CoffeeLab in India. Sunalini is a well know quality expert in the coffee industry; she was awarded the CQI Leadership Medal of Merit in 2010 for a lifetime of work promoting quality coffee in India. Sunalini is a long time Coffee Corps volunteer, CQI consultant, and a Q Arabica and Q Robusta grader. From her experience judging this year’s competition, she remarks that, “the coffees were absolutely outstanding. The naturals were explosive with complex flavours, sweetness and the beans even looked like washed beans. The washed were equally good.”
The improvement Myanmar has made in the specialty coffee sector since their first coffee competition in 2015 is astonishing. Three years ago, the highest scoring coffee was 84.25. The following year, 2016, the highest scoring coffee was 87.08. This year the highest scoring coffee was 89.58.
Of the 200 samples submitted, 72 were considered specialty and were included in the competition. Of these coffees, 26 achieved 85 points or better on the 100 point scale. The highest scoring coffee, nearly reaching 90, was a Ywangan micro-lot whose coffees were described by the judges as clean and complex, with flavors of jasmine, strawberry and red currant.
Top-scoring samples from the competition will be on-hand to taste at the London Coffee Festival, and the SCA Global Coffee Expo in Seattle on Saturday, April 22nd from 3:45pm until 5:00pm in the Cupping Exchange area. Raw Material Coffee will be presenting at the London Coffee Festival and CQI will be presenting these coffees at the SCA Expo.
Coffee Corps Volunteer Richard Corney, from Raw Material Coffee in New Zealand, served as a competition judge. After the event he reported that “some of the coffee we tasted in the last 3 days are on par with some of the best I've tasted from well established producing origins.”
Growing and processing conditions make Myanmar an excellent place for high quality natural coffee production. Its elevation of 1200 to 1400 meters above sea level at 21°N, good cupping varieties like Catuaí, and dry, clear weather during harvest season weather are all factors that favor high quality naturals, but are not the main reason why they’re achieving such high quality. It’s mostly because of their excellent picking and processing practices. CQI’s Technical Director, Mario Fernandez-Alduenda, states, “In few other countries of the world can you see such picking quality of fully red cherries. The producers are organized by villages and have eagerly accepted suggestions to improve quality. Their communal effort for picking the perfectly ripe cherry and looking after the village’s drying beds during drying is something that is seldom seen elsewhere.”
CQI can’t wait to see what the future brings for this coffee origin.
“I learnt a great deal from the exercise and most importantly appreciate and understand the difficulties that these coffee farmers face in Myanmar. The people are so warm, so hard working and so kind. They give whatever they have, with warmth and kindness. I am sure that with concerted efforts Myanmar coffees will reach even greater heights.”
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