Most of the genuinely exceptional coffee farms today sell their coffees at auction. Elite coffee auctions are primarily how coffee competition winning lots are sold off to roasters. Additionally, some auctions are run independently by estates that have won many competitions and earned a reputation across the industry. The following are the coffees that have fetched the highest recorded auction prices to date.
BEST OF PANAMA COMPETITION CHAMPION COFFEE
Highest recorded score: 95.25
Highest price realised: $1300.50/lb
The champions of the Best of Panama competition have set records as the priciest auction lots ever sold. The winners of the last four annual events were Elida Estate, Hacienda La Esmeralda, Finca Sofia and Guarumo Coffee. All the winning lots were Geisha varietals. These coffees are so rare that they’re typically sold in a single portion. In 2019, Klatch Coffee offered a tasting of one of these champion coffees for $100 per cup!
HACIENDA LA ESMERALDA – SPECIAL AUCTION COFFEE
Highest recorded score: 94+
Highest price realised: $601/lb at Best of Panama
Hacienda La Esmeralda is the legendary estate in the highlands of Boquete that discovered the Geisha variety in 2004. It is so renowned in the coffee industry that the estate holds its own special auction, selling its 90+ scoring micro lots to fewer than 50 roasters a year. One Hacienda La Esmeralda auction made history by winning the highest price ever at an auction held outside of a competition – an incredible $340/lb.
CUP OF EXCELLENCE CHAMPION LOTS
Highest recorded scores: 92.71
Highest price realised: $300.09/lb
The Cup of Excellence is the most prestigious competition – more accurately numerous competitions – in the specialty coffee world. The event’s Presidential Award is its highest honour, awarded to 90+ scoring coffees, with winners often setting record high prices at auction. Lots 1, the competitions’ Champion coffees, are rare and highly sought after, and prices can really vary. The 2020 Ethiopia Cup of Excellence champion coffee made headlines when Queens of Mayfair (Link) in London offered an exclusive tasting experience for $65 per cup. Conscientious coffee drinkers should be pleased to know that all the money paid at auction for Cup of Excellence winners goes directly to the farmers. It’s a deal that goes above and beyond fair trade.
HACIENDA EL ROBLE HR61 – GROUNDS FOR HEALTH AUCTION LOT
Highest recorded score: 93
Highest price realised: $150.10/lb
It’s a rare occurrence in the coffee world when an estate claims a unique and exclusive new varietal. That’s why the Colombian producer Hacienda El Roble made waves with its remarkable HR61 beans. Not only have they achieved a seriously impressive SCA score of 93, they also set a record at the annual Grounds for Health Auction by selling the coffee for $150.10/lb in 2019. Very little of this coffee is produced, and only 25 lbs is made available annually for the charity auction; the rest is consumed at origin. Only very few, very lucky coffee lovers will ever taste this drink.
Highest recorded score: 92.6 at Cup of Excellence
Highest price realised: $500.50/lb
In 2012, El Injerto received an unbelievable $500.50/lb for an 8-lb nano lot of its finest coffee. Such a price was unheard of at the time. The family-owned estate in Guatemala dates back to 1874, so there’s more than a century of experience behind its high-quality coffees. El Injerto is a multi-award winning estate at the annual Cup of Excellence competition, having won more times than any other estate in Guatemala.
PORT OF MOKHA SCA
Highest price realised: $300 per pound
Port of Mokah, a specialty coffee company based in Yemen, got a major publicity boost from the bestselling nonfiction book “The Monk of Mokha” by Dave Eggers. It tells the story of Port of Mokah’s founder Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a San Francisco-raised Yemeni-American who embarked upon a mission to revive Yemen’s coffee trade. The quality of the brand’s naturally processed Udaini varietal needs no such novelty to stand out as one of the world’s best coffees. In 2018 it generated $100/lb at auction, putting it among the most expensive ever sold.
There are a few famous terroirs around the world responsible for producing the most exceptional beans. These coffees are typically marketed as single origin, rather than single estate coffees, so it is difficult to rank their quality and price using statistics alone. However, we can offer some useful information about these regions and types of coffees, and why we consider them some of the best in the world. Try them for yourself and see if you agree!
WILD KOPI LUWAK
True Kopi Luwak is a wild coffee, which means its price is greatly determined by the grade of the beans past the end of the sorting stage of production. Due to the rarity of this coffee, the price commanded by roasters may reach, or even exceed $1,100/lb. Be careful not to get confused by marketing gimmicks such as “Ivory Coffee.” Unlike the wild civets of Indonesia whose natural diet includes coffee cherries, this copycat product involves feeding coffee cherries of random quality to captive elephants. Coffee cherries are not part of the elephants’ natural diet, and the resulting coffee isn’t nearly as tasty as its producers claim. Also beware non-wild Luwak, which is another fake version of the real thing. Genuine wild Kopi Luwak, in contrast, tastes incredible. Make sure to only buy Specialty grade.
JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN
No rare coffee list would be complete without Jamaica Blue Mountain. Of all the coffee terroirs in the world, this is probably the best known and most coveted by coffee connoisseurs. There are no competitions held in Jamaica, so the quality of the coffee that ends up being sold varies considerably from really poor to very, very good. The best of it all fetches prices as high as $400/lb roasted. Discerning buyers should look for genuine, certified Specialty grade Jamaica Blue Mountain beans and avoid any misleading blends with similar sounding names.
The coffee belt in the Kona region of Hawaii is relatively small but famous for its fantastic coffees. The best of the Big Island of Hawaii’s beans compete at the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival’s Cupping Competition, and the champion estates sell directly to roasters. Due to their rarity, champion estates’ lots can reach prices of $295/lb roasted. Be sure to buy beans sources from winning estates, and don’t be misled by cheaper blends containing very little genuine Kona.
ST HELENA COFFEE
Helena, a tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean, started growing coffee in the early 1700s. In an 18th-century version of “going viral,” Napoleon Bonaparte raved about the coffee while exiled on the island. St Helena Coffee has been coveted around the globe ever since! Production remains small, however, and so this rare coffee usually commands a high premium at retail. Little is known about the cupping score of the coffee, but Starbucks did sell it for $145/lb in recent years. According to Starbucks Reserve (the specialty arm of Starbucks) the annual output of the crop is 660 lb per year. We think that estimate sounds a bit low, but there’s no doubt that St. Helena coffee belongs on any list of the best rare coffees in the world.