Every year the Kona Coffee Festival includes a coffee contest to determine the best Kona coffees. For the past several years the KCF has employed professional cuppers who used world standard coffee protocols. Since these protocols are used by coffee companies and contests all over the world, a Kona farmer could determine how well he did against other Kona coffees and also against world coffees. The result has been that Kona coffee farmers have produced better coffees each year.
This year the KCF was approached by a local scientist who offered to do the contest for free. The KCF Board saw an opportunity to run the contest on the cheap and grabbed the offer – Hey! Free Lunch! The result was a disaster.
The scientist created a new cupping protocol. No one had ever seen or tried this protocol before. It was never published before or peer reviewed. A farmer getting a score from this protocol would have no idea how his coffee scored compared to prior years or to other world coffees. .
The scientist then touted this new protocol with his name and his restaurant’s name prominently displayed in coffee publications as a new way to test coffees that had been adopted by the Kona Coffee Festival Contest.
The scientist gathered a group of Kona farmers together and asked them to describe for him the characteristics of Kona coffee. (Similar to the progressive professor who lets his snowflakes make up their own final exam.) They came up with attributes like “floral” and “coffeeness.” They also came up with intensity ratings, so for example, heritage coffees should not have any floral intensity but artisan coffees should have an intensity of 7 on a 10 scale.
No one stopped to consider that Kona farmers are growing more than one variety of coffee, all of which have different taste profiles including, Pacamara, Catuai, Geisha, Bourbon, and Maragogipe. None of those outstanding coffees matched the scientist’s profiles. The result in the contest was that amazing coffees that should have been ranked at the top of the contest were rejected.
In addition, some contestants entered who were not qualified and some contestants were allowed to submit multiple entries, even though it was against the rules. After the fact, one contestant, who won, was disqualified. The free lunch turned into a mess.
The only real winner in this contest was the scientist who put his name and the name of his restaurant over and over on websites and press releases regarding the contest.
Perhaps the Kona Coffee Festival Board will wake up next year and realize that there are no free lunches, even in Kona.