Rusty’s Hawaiian 100% Ka’u Coffee was named Grand Champion for a second consecutive year at this weekend’s annual statewide cupping competition organized and hosted by the Hawaii Coffee Association.

More than 50 coffees from across the islands were submitted for this year’s event and evaluated in multiple stages by an impressive panel of coffee cuppers including Shawn Hamilton of Java City, Paul Thornton of Coffee Bean International and Lindsey Bolger from Green Mountain Coffee Roasters.

In an afternoon award ceremony held at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii’s Big Island all members of the cupping panel stressed the substantial quality improvements that they have witnessed over 3 years of cupping competition in Hawaii, crediting feedback received from independent evaluation of coffees and a newfound spirit of horticulture and process experimentation across the state.

Shawn Hamilton expertly likened the situation in Hawaii as being similar to Colombia, where government cooperatives worked for decades to create a homogenized coffee flavor profile and have only recently begun to “unwind that work,” by separating and accentuate unique characteristics of micro-regions and individual estates. Many on the panel commented about new market opportunities for Hawaiian coffees with rare and distinctive characteristics differing from traditional island flavor profiles.

Rusty’s Hawaiian Ka’u Coffee

Lorie Obra and family (including honorary family member Miguel Meza) from Rusty’s Hawaiian were on-hand yesterday to hear the Grand Champion announcement and accept the award personally from Hawaii’s favorite news reporter Howard Dicus at a dinner ceremony. Rusty’s Hawaiian has won the top prize twice in the three years that the HCA has organized the event.

In a highly disappointing departure from last year’s competition, the HCA has decided to not publish a list of point scores or ranking of the top ten coffees statewide. Only the top three farms from each district will be named, a move that we speculate was made after last year’s event where only 1 Kona coffee placed in the list of top 5 Hawaiian coffees.

Bowing to fragile egos and political pressure to not disclose fairly and objectively collected quality ranking data undermines the core value of competition and discredits those who excel. Most egregiously, the association announced at its award ceremony that every farm submitting a sample will receive a certificate imprinted with only the positive cupping characteristics of their coffee — criticism and constructive comments would arrive separately in a private letter.

In a contest where everyone is a winner what is the incentive to improve? Are Hawaii’s farms submitting coffees to improve their chances of survival in competition with others from around the world or are they just looking for a shiny new plaque to place on the wall of a visitor center to (falsely) impress the next boatload of tourists?

Update 19:35: rumors surface that, under pressure from contestants, the HCA will release the top 10 scores in a press release. If so, we will post that list as soon as possible.

Update Tuesday, July 12 18:30: HCA posts

[embeddoc url=”” viewer=google] 2011 Hawaii cupping contest results to its website. The document does not include top 10 scores or statewide ranking.