Counter Culture Coffee

Transparency Report

Why Transparency

At Counter Culture, we take a unique approach to buying coffee. Not only do we work hard to build relationships in our supply chain, we share information to promote transparency along that supply chain, as well. This information flow is far from normal in the coffee industry, but it helps us to improve coffee quality, as well as build trust in our relationships. We could share our opinion of how things are going, especially as it relates to the core of our business—sourcing coffee—but we think it's more valuable to show our progress by sharing actual data.

We've reworked our reporting section and titled it "Transparency" because we see this page as a one-stop shop for sharing everything about how we do business. Think of it as a super-detailed About Us page that includes information about our company, our operations, and how we buy coffee.

A Letter from our President

In 1996, my partner Fred Houk and I attended the Sustainable Coffee Congress hosted by the Smithsonian. Over the course of the three-day event we shared thoughts with more than 250 other members of the coffee community on building a sustainable supply chain. Ultimately, the conversation resulted in universal agreement that building a sustainable future for coffee meant that we must focus on environmental, social, and economic issues. Thus my introduction to what we now call the triple-bottom-line and, for me, the foundation for my attitude about business for the next 20 years.

After this conference, I realized that a focus on sustainability is not charity and not just about the environment. Instead, I realized it was the best business model for Counter Culture to embrace in order to accomplish consistent, long-term success. It is not an either/or proposition: either we ignore sustainability and make profits OR we embrace sustainability and sacrifice profits. Ultimately, I firmly believe that business decisions made through the lens of sustainability result in greater profitability over an extended period of time.

As part of our efforts to build a business through the lens of sustainability we first made it a part of vision statement. By clearly stating, “Counter Culture is committed to real social, environmental and fiscal sustainability” we made it real. From the supply chain, to the building materials used in our facilities, to employee benefits, we have tried to filter our decisions through the sustainability lens. When balanced properly, the results have been long-lasting and beneficial for the business. Asking ourselves how we can continue to do this with our supply—all people with whom we interact—in a profitable way has resulted in 21 years of consistent growth, an incredibly deep and wide supply chain, an inviting and engaging company culture, excellent customer loyalty, national brand recognition, and more than 10 years of quarterly profit sharing.

Early in building our business we realized that a critical component of achieving our sustainability goals is transparency. The basic premise is that we are working together to create mutually beneficial partnerships where the needs of both parties are met. Whether the focus is financial, environmental, or the burden of bearing risk, a commitment to open, honest communication ensures a better outcome.

In addition to the importance of transparency, we also realized we will never reach a finish line for sustainability. Pursuing a sustainable balance in business means that we will always push for more-environmentally-sensitive coffee, less waste, stronger relationships and better, longer-term solutions to the challenges we will face.

There is no finish line.

At the end of the day, this helps us be a better business today, tomorrow, and in the future.

Brett Smith

Our Internal Operations

About Us

2015 was a momentous year for Counter Culture Coffee. Not only did we become a bi-coastal roastery with the opening of our Emeryville, CA, location, we grew our internal operations, capacity, and team, as well. We educated coffee communities in 11 regions and invested in the partnerships that help make our supply chain stronger, more transparent, and quality-focused. Below are nine metrics that put 2015 at Counter Culture into perspective.

Green Spending

In an effort to support the sustainability efforts of our staff, Counter Culture provides up to $500 in matching funds per employee annually for individual projects that contribute to environmental or personal well-being. In 2015, $17,554.43 was distributed through the Green Fund—an increase of 67% over 2014.


Counter Culture employees spent 3,705 hours educating baristas and home enthusiasts about coffee in 2015. We sent 2,482 people out into the world in 2015 with knowledge from the 475 labs we taught at our regional training centers.

78.9% Organic

Our commitment to buying organic coffee remains strong, as does our commitment to our coffee-producing partners as they continue to explore and adopt increasingly sustainable agricultural practices. In 2015, 78.9% of the 2,280,270 pounds we purchased was certified organic.

Certified Coffee Professionals

For baristas looking to put their coffee knowledge to the test, we offer barista and coffee steward certifications for Certified Coffee Professionals (CCP), both of which require lab-based written and practical exams. In 2015, we certified 65 baristas and 22 coffee stewards—compared against 2014's 67 and 19, respectively.

Barista Training

2015 brought Counter Culture Training and Education to two new communities—Charleston, SC, and Emeryville, CA—bringing our training center count to 10 across the country.

West Coast Roasting

Since opening the Emeryville roastery in July 2015, we have roasted 65,220 pounds serving 22 wholesale accounts in LA, 6 in Seattle, and 16 in San Francisco. Watch out East Coast! The West is coming for you!

Industry Outreach

We examine not only our own operations and sustainability footprint, but also our contributions to greater industry-wide efforts. Last year, we donated our time as board members and volunteers for World Coffee Research, the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Sustainability Council, the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, the Coalition for Coffee Communities, and the CRS Borderlands Advisory Council.


We allocated almost $30,000 last year to support projects undertaken by the farmers and co-ops we work with, including housing for teachers in Papua New Guinea and organic composting programs in Burundi and Guatemala. Recognizing the importance of a resilient global coffee market in a broader sense, we also gave $12,063.41 to support World Coffee Research and $5,000 to support the Coalition for Coffee Communities.

Technical Support

Our talented team of 11 customer support technicians performed 1,287 preventative maintenance services and serviced 471 espresso machines at our cafe and restaurant customers across the country.

Our Carbon Footprint

We're always working on ways to make our operations more sustainable, a goal that becomes more challenging but also more important as we add more staff and locations around the U.S. 2015 was a big year for us with our Emeryville roastery opening, but we managed to make some small gains in efficiency while roasting about 20% more coffee. With a new headquarters and multiple new training centers on the horizon, our 2016 focus has been on building out more efficient spaces. With each build-out, we learn more about what we can do to reduce the carbon footprint of our existing spaces.

2015 Total Emissions by Type (Tonnes CO2e)


Wind Energy

In November 2015, we started offsetting the electricity portion of our carbon footprint in real-time by purchasing wind energy credits. We offset 45 tonnes of CO2e this way last year, and plan to offset the remaining emissions through support of forestry projects in coffee-growing regions.

Gaining Efficiency

Our largest reductions were in electricity use and commuting emissions- reductions resulting from behavior changes that speak to our staff’s commitment to sustainability.

Biggest Source

Our single biggest source of emissions in 2015 was the transportation of our staff. We opened on the West Coast as well as added a staff member in Ethiopia, contributing to a significant increase in our emissions from long-haul flights.

Shipping emissions

We opened our West Coast roastery in Emeryville in June of last year, bringing our roasted beans much closer to our expanding West Coast customer base. Our biggest source of emissions in 2014 was UPS shipping, but this year our shipping emissions per pound are down, especially for air freight.

2014 v 2015

In 2014, we made some big changes in the way we collect data and that made our reporting more accurate. We carried these changes through to our 2015 data collection, making the two years easier to compare and find areas for improvement.

Carbon Offsets

The carbon market has come a long way since we first started offsetting our energy consumption in 2010; and for the first time, last year we were able to purchase certified carbon offsets within the coffee supply chain. Our purchase last year offset two years worth of consumption by planting trees and sustainably managing forests on 10 hectares of coffee farms in Chiapas, Mexico, a land area equivalent to 18.5 U.S. football fields.

Waste Diversion

We're diverting approximately 48% of our production waste stream at our Durham HQ. For 2016, our goal is to divert 75% and we've installed a new sorting system to help us get there.

2014 Greenhouse Gas Report

In 2014, we made some big changes in the way we collect data and that made our reporting more accurate. We carried these changes through to our 2015 data collection, making the two years easier to compare and find areas for improvement.

How We Buy Coffee

We take a unique approach to buying coffee at Counter Culture. In general, we make detailed contracts with each of our partners before their harvest even begins, a process requires a lot of planning and communication. Working together, we set specific goals and projects for that harvest, which include things like processing experiments, lot separations, and target bean-moisture levels. Going forward, we'll be adding sustainability aspects to these goals, as well. In contrast to selecting which coffees to buy while visiting origin, this planning process gives both our partners and us added predictability, the ability to plan financially, and the freedom to experiment. As reflected in the Stories section below, things don't always go according to plan, but working through those hiccups is what good partnership is all about.

The information included in this year's report is another step in our journey to provide the data that most-accurately reflects how we buy coffee. There are two important distinctions from the data we shared in our 2014 Transparency. We're including all coffees instead of just single-origin coffees, and we're reporting on coffees we contracted in 2015 instead of just coffees we ended up selling in 2015. And we decided to make this switch because it's more representative of our intentions and more accurately reflects the reality of coffee-buying.

We're sharing this information in large part because we want to have the data to back up what we say about how we buy coffee. To put it another way, we should be able to look at this data and have evidence as to whether our coffee-buying philosophy is actually working, right? Yes, eventually. With one year of data—two for most of our single-origin coffees—we can easily calculate metrics like average FOB and cupping score that give us a general picture of the coffee we buy. However, all of our coffee-buying partnerships are different—from growing climates, to varieties, to country-specific regulations on markets. This makes it very challenging to compare the metrics of a coffee from Honduras to a coffee from Ethiopia, for example, and glean anything meaningful. What's more indicative of whether or not our purchasing principles are actually working is to look at data for each partnership over time. In other words, to compare the metrics for a specific coffee now with the metrics for that same coffee five years ago.

In this sense, 2015 serves as a baseline year for us. Now that we're tracking all of this information for all of our coffees, we'll be able to look back five years from now and see what the trends in the data tell us about how well our purchasing philosophy is working.

Key Takeaways

Can You “Spot” the Difference?

Only 3% of coffee bought in 2015 was spot! Every year we do our best to buy great coffees from our partners, but in certain circumstances we buy coffee that is not part of a planned contract, otherwise known as “spot coffee.”

Lucky 13!

2015 was the 13th year we worked with Roberto Salazar at Finca Pashapa and was also the first year we purchased from 26 new partners all around the world. Partnerships are the backbone of our purchasing philosophy, and we're happy to have so many long-term relationships alongside the new ones.

FOB Price

In 2015 our average weighted FOB price for all coffees was $2.96/lb. compared to the average arabica market price of $1.30/lb. Our goal is to support farmers not just on environmental and social sustainability issues, but on financial issues, as well.

S-O FOB Price

We think higher quality should be rewarded by higher prices. Our weighted FOB for single-origin coffee was $3.53/lb. in 2015 compared to the commodity market price of $1.30/lb.

Average Cupping Score

In 2015, our average weighted cupping score was 85.45 and our scores ranged from 84–93.5. We partner with producers, co-ops, exporters, and importers who are just as quality-driven as we are and push each other to make coffees better every year.

Mmm S-O Good

Our average weighted single-origin cupping score was 86.45 in 2015. We source the best-tasting coffees, selling them as separate products to highlight their quality and unique characteristics.

Supply Chain

For consumer-ready coffee to be sustainable, all of the practices along the supply chain should be taken into account—from how a coffee is grown to how it's consumed. As a roaster whose primary business is wholesale, we're in a unique position in the coffee supply chain. We rely on other people to grow coffee and on other people to brew and serve our coffee, as well—which means that we can only achieve our quality and sustainability goals by working with our partners. Our position in the supply chain allows us to be an agent of change, but only if we establish strong communication and information-sharing among all of our supply chain partners so that we're all working toward shared objectives. Transparency helps us build the trust that makes this information-sharing possible.


In an effort to make our data more user-friendly this year, we’ve put everything into a map. The countries we purchased from in 2015 are highlighted. Clicking on a country will bring up a list of coffees we contracted in 2015 and clicking on any of those names will bring up information about that coffee, including the product that it was sold as.

To download this same information in a table format, please click here.


We enjoy working with all of our farmer partners and we'd like to share a few stories about those partnerships, both new and old, from 2015.

Nueva Llusta

Nueva Llusta

Read this story


Read this story


Read this story

Baroida, Bonta, Kobuta, Boka

Read this story

Purchasing Principles

Sustainability as it relates to coffee-growing is complex—encompassing both environmental issues, like soil health, as well as social and financial issues, like education and access to credit. To better-reflect this complexity, we're evolving from thinking about sustainability solely in terms of yes/no certifications like Organic or Direct Trade to considering sustainability as movement along a continuum. Which is why full transparency is so important to us: It's how we show movement along a continuum to our customers and partners, and how we hold ourselves accountable for making sure we're buying increasingly sustainable coffee.

What's Next

The future of Counter Culture Coffee is bright. We've moved into a new HQ in Durham and added a brand new highly energy efficient roaster to our fleet. We're also working on creating better feedback loops within our supply chain so that we can strengthen our communication and collaboration with our stakeholders. On the coffee-sourcing side, we'll continue to refine the process of setting yearly quality and sustainability goals with each of our partners.

Our goal is to be the best that we can within our own operations, and be transparent about our work so that others can learn from our successes and failures. Even if we get everything right internally, joining forces with other coffee industry peers and creating common goals are necessary to make large-scale sustainability impacts. No one company or buying relationship or certification is ever going to make coffee a sustainable industry, but we are hopeful that if we put our minds and dollars together, we can start moving along the spectrum towards increased sustainability more deliberately and at an increasing pace.

We have given you a lot of information here with the hopes that you'll both learn more about where coffee comes from and use that understanding to make decisions about the coffee you buy. Please use this report to start conversations and ask questions. "Where does my coffee come from?" seems like a simple question, but the answer can and should be met with a robust answer.

Our Goals

Long-Term Partnerships


80% of the coffee we purchase will come from multi-year partnerships

2015 Result: 66%

Carbon Footprint


We will reduce our carbon footprint by 30% per roasted pound over 2014 levels

2015 Result: Coming Soon!

Employee Sustainability


Will we give $30,000 to employees through our green fund to support personal sustainability projects

2015 Result: $17,554.43 granted



100% of our coffee packaging will be either recyclable or compostable

Measurement in Progress

Climate Change


75% of our producer partners will have a climate change adaptation plan in place

Measurement in Progress

Measuring Quality and Sustainability


100% of our partnerships will have yearly quality and sustainability goals, and progress towards those goals will be measured using objective tools

Measurement in Progress

Frequently Asked Questions

More on Cupping

Cupping coffee is a methodology that people in the coffee industry use to evaluate coffee quality. Scoring includes measurements of both the smell and taste of a coffee. We aim to limit the intrinsic subjectivity of cupping through rigid protocols. When cupping, we are not simply assessing flavors, but, rather, interpreting flavors as representative of factors that contribute to quality. We don't rate coffees from different places or different processing methods on different scales. This doesn't mean that all coffee should taste the same. Rather, it means that there are universal quality characteristics that are present in different flavor profiles from around the world. At Counter Culture, our scores correspond to the following descriptions:

  1. 97-100Near perfect to perfect
  2. 94-96Outstanding
  3. 90-93Excellent
  4. 87-89Very Good
  5. 85-86Good
  6. 83-84OK
  7. 80-82Marginal

Why do we use FOB as our price metric?

FOB stands for "Free On Board," and represents the price paid for a coffee at the point of export, when it is ready to be loaded onto a ship at port. FOB represents the price paid after farming, processing, milling, and preparation for export, but before overseas shipping, importation, and overland transport. The commodity market price for coffee is expressed in terms of FOB, as is the Fair Trade Organization's minimum price. It is the generally accepted measure to talk about coffee prices. This price can create some confusion, as it is neither the true price paid to the farmer nor the true price paid by the roaster, but instead represents a point somewhere in between. For a more in-depth explanation on price transparency, see this post.

Missing Coffees

You may have noticed that some of your favorite coffees aren't in the table or on the map. This just means that we didn't contract those coffees during the 2015 calendar year, even if we had them available on our offering list. In many cases, we contracted coffees late in 2014 and then not again until 2016—not because we skipped buying them for a year, but because coffee contracting can be a little wonky and doesn't always happen at the same time for the same coffee each year.

Our next step will be reporting on coffees by hemisphere, which is a more logical way to segment our information than calendar year since so much of our buying is driven by seasonality. Once we complete our transition to reporting on coffees by hemisphere later this year, you'll be able to see the most up-to-date information about all of our coffees. In the meantime, data from the past crop of most of the coffees missing here, like Idido, Haru, Tairora, Concepción Huista, and Cinco de Junio is available in our 2014 Transparency Report.

Farm Visits

In years past, we've included the date of our last farm visit in our reporting. We continue to visit farms because we think that's a valuable way to begin building a relationship and become familiar with a coffee. Once a relationship is established, however, often the most effective form of communication isn't visiting the farm once every few years, it's emails, skype calls, messaging through phone apps, and phone conversations every few weeks. It's through this sustained back-and-forth contact that farmers can get more immediate feedback and answers to their questions—and how good relationships are built and maintained. Another reason the "farm visits" metric doesn't quite fit anymore is that we've started having more farmers visit us here in Durham. This not only gives them access to our lab and lab equipment, it also lets them take a look at our operations and see how we score, roast, and ship coffee.

Why Some Coffees Appear More Than Once

There are a few reasons that some coffee names appear more than once in the data set, but it's mostly due to the data being based on contracts. Sometimes, we buy multiple containers of coffee from a co-op, for example, and each container is contracted separately. Other times, we happened to make a contract for a coffee twice in 2015, the opposite issue than what's explained in the "missing coffees" note.

Sometimes there are multiple entries for one relationship for a much cooler reason—they're separating out different lots based on farmer, geography, variety, etc., and we bought those lots, often at a higher price, in addition to their main lot. Finca El Puente is a great example. Achieving this degree of separation is an indication of a great partnership, and we hope to see more coffees heading in this direction in the future.

Names of Coffees

In this report, we try to be as accurate about the names of coffees as possible. In most cases, the names here are either names of farmers, farms, geographic locations, or co-ops. Sometimes there is a notation after a name like "A" or "Gr2." These notations mean different things in different partnerships, but generally refer to bean size, level of sorting, or quality.