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 the norm in the coffee-buying process, but it helps us to improve coffee quality, as well as build trust in our relationships. We could write a lot about how we buy coffee, but it doesn’t mean much without the data to back it up. We want to share information to help you make more-informed decisions about buying our coffee.

Of course people choose coffees based on taste, but, beyond describing flavors, we have a lot of information about the coffees we buy and the people who produce them. We owe it to you to share as much information as possible—and to put that information into context so that you can choose coffees from a more-informed point of view.

If we want to improve the sustainability of coffee-supply chains in general, sharing information—both with other companies and with consumers—is a crucial step to get everyone on the same page.


$3.37 is weighted average FOB for our 2014 single-origin coffees$2.03 was average commodity market FOB for 2014
(“Free On Board” represents the price paid for a coffee at the point of export.)


87.5 is our weighted average cupping score


12 years is our longest relationship, which is with Finca Pashapa.

What is This Report


Charles and Ramadhan, the owners of Buziraguhindwa, with green buyer Tim Hill. To improve quality and quantity, Charles and Ramadhan paid 20–30% more to the producers than the other washing station in the area.

Reporting on the coffees we buy is nothing new for Counter Culture. We’ve always shared information about the coffees we’re selling and have created formal, end-of-year reports on some of our coffees since we started Direct Trade Certification in 2008.Over time, the type of information we share—and how we share it—has evolved as we’ve refined the way we buy coffee. We started out as storytellers, and, when we were no longer able to capture our coffee-buying philosophy in that format, we codified our purchasing principles in our Direct Trade Certification in 2008. With that certification, we began our path toward increased transparency, sharing more data about the coffees in our annual reporting—including FOB prices and cupping scores.

This 2014 Transparency Report marks the next iteration of how we report on the coffees we buy as we continue to learn and to refine our purchasing practices.

We’re moving away from Direct Trade Certification towards complete transparency in our coffee purchasing. This year, instead of reporting only on the coffees eligible for Direct Trade Certification, we’re reporting on all of the coffees we sold as single-origin in 2014, that does not include blend components—that will have to wait for next year. The 2015 Transparency Report will take this deep dive into data even further by including information on all of the coffees we sold in 2015.

Country Coffee Weight Sold FOBa Co-op Name
(if applicable)
Notes First Year Purchased Cupping Scorec
Bolivia Nueva Llusta 2240 $3.25 CENAPROC For all three of these lots we cupped dozens and dozens of samples from the Cenaproc Cooperative. In 2014, we did an earlier shipment of coffee and a later shipment to get it into the hands of our customers sooner. 2004 87
Bolivia Nueva Llusta – Early Harvest – Farmer Selections 15796 $3.25 CENAPROC 2004 87
Bolivia Nueva Llusta – Late Harvest 17366 $3.25 CENAPROC 2004 87
Bolivia Dionicio Quispe 660 $4.50 CENAPROC One of our favorite single-farmer lots from Cenaproc Cooperative. Dionicio has also been one of the grow 2014transpreporters we spend time with when visiting the cooperative, and he is always full of good humor and charm. 2013 87.5
Bolivia Irene Gomez 329 $4.50 CENAPROC The fruity sweetness of Irene’s coffee was the reason we selected it as a microlot in 2014. 2013 87.5
Bolivia Justina Ramos 1143 $4.50 CENAPROC Justina Ramos produced our favorite coffee from Bolivia in 2014. We believe she pays extra attention to details, and this, along with a high percentage of Typica-variety plants, makes her coffee exceptional. 2012 90
Bolivia Luis Huayhua 696 $4.50 CENAPROC Luis has been a quality leader at the cooperative, and, out of the dozens of samples we tasted, his coffee was selected as one of our favorites. 2013 89
Bolivia Ricardo Patana 465 $4.00 CENAPROC This lot was a single-farmer lot from the Cenaproc Cooperative that we sold as an off-menu product. 2013 87
Bolivia Pedro Quispe 475 $4.00 CENAPROC This was a single-farmer lot from Nueva Llusta that was sold as an off-menu product. 2013 87
Burundi Buziraguhindwa 10893 $2.90 Ramadhan Salum, the owner of Buziraguhindwa, continues to inspire us, and in 2014 we purchased a few unique lots from communities around the washing station. 2010 86.5
Burundi Mpemba 7275 $2.85 Kazoza N’Ikawa Members of Mpemba and farmers from Buziraguhindwa participated in workshops Counter Culture funded in 2014 on organic agricultural practices. Mpemba believes they could do better and get better yields, but is unsure if organic certification will ever be possible. It is this honest and realistic approach that we appreciate in the Kazoza N’Ikawa cooperative. 2012 87.5
Burundi Buziraguhindwa Natural Sundried 6368 $3.30 Every year we buy more and more natural coffees from Buziraguhindwa. Ramadhan and Silas, the washing station manager, produce the best-processed natural sundried coffee in the world in our opinion. 2013 89.5
Colombia La Golondrina 54460 $4.00 Orgánica La Golondrina has struggled with leaf rust the last few years, and this year was the first in which producers felt like the tide was starting to take a positive turn on the health of their farms. 2006 84.5
Colombia Nelson Melo Microlot 31 $7.00 Orgánica Nelson Melo continues to produce our favorite coffee from the Orgánica Cooperative. Nelson and his wife Lilianna are strong forces at the cooperative. 2008 90.5
Colombia Segundo Benjami­n Ruiz 485 $3.93 Orgánica This was a single-farmer lot from Cauca, Colombia, that was sold as an off-menu product. 2013 88
Colombia Nixon Tobar Microlot 50 $7.00 Orgánica This was a single-farmer lot from Cauca, Colombia, that was sold as an off-menu product. 2012 87
Colombia Tito Raul Quelal 165 $4.20 This was a single-farmer lot from Cauca, Colombia, that was sold as an off-menu product. 2013 88
Colombia Manuel Melenje Micolot 20 $4.51 Over the 2013/2014 crop, Manuel Melenje had multiple exceptional lots. That we sold as one of the few La Golondrina Single Farmer selections for this year. 2013 87
Guatemala Decaf Finca Nueva Armenia 508 $3.40 This was the first lot from Finca Nueva Armenia we have ever had as decaf. We were pleased with the results, but will not offer it a decaf single-origin in the future, as we like to use it for blends and other purposes. 2003 84.5
Guatemala Decaf La Voz 6843 $2.75 La Voz que Clama en el Desierto La Voz has been our go-to farmer organization for consistent quality and early shipments from Central America, and this has made them our go-to producer for coffee we send for decaffeination. 2013 85.5
Peru Decaf San Ignacio 458 $2.75 CENFROCAFE While La Voz is our go-to farmer organization for consistent quality and early shipments from Central America, Cenfrocafe in Peru is our go-to for the Southern Hemisphere. We have been working with them on selecting the best lots from the cooperative for our decaf, and this has helped us explore communities all around San Ignacio. 2013 84.5
Peru Decaf Valle del Santuario 5240 $2.70 CENFROCAFE This harvest of Valle del Santuario turned out well, and we were able to separate a small amount of the coffee for decaffeination from the five communities that contribute to this project. 2007 85
Democratic Republic of the Congo Tsheya 8698 $3.15 SOPACDI This lot from the SOPACDI cooperative was actually a mixture of a half-dozen community microlots that we worked on with the cooperative. 2012 88
Democratic Republic of the Congo Kalungu 576 $3.15 SOPACDI This lot is the first community microlot ever separated by the SOPACDI cooperative and was our favorite lot of the many community lots that we bought. 2012 90
Ecuador Luis Camacho 251 $3.93 FAPECAFES This was a single-farmer lot we selected from Fapecafes. This lot was so popular it sold out in about a week. 2013 87
Ecuador Bertha Dolores Ruiz Castillo 134 $3.93 FAPECAFES This was a single-farmer, single-variety lot from Fapecafes in Ecuador that was sold as an off-menu product. 2013 88
Ecuador Sabulon Camacho 90 $3.93 FAPECAFES 2013 87
El Salvador Finca Mauritania 5625 $5.18 Finca Mauritania had one of its worst seasons to date in 2014 because of leaf rust, and production continues to be much lower than we anticipate. Aida Batlle continues to pick coffee in a way that we have never seen anywhere else—an underripe bean never goes into production—it is truly amazing. 2004 85.5
El Salvador Finca Kilimanjaro 806 $10.25 Finca Kilimanjaro also had a very-low production year in 2014, and, while quality is not as good as it has been in past years, Kilimanjaro was still easily one of the best single-origin coffees we carried. 2004 89
El Salvador Finca Los Alpes 265 $8.25 Finca Los Alpes is a coffee we don’t often get access to from Aida Batlle, and this year we bought a small amount. This coffee was sold to a few accounts that have been long supporters of Aida’s coffees. 2004 86.5
El Salvador Aida’s Grand Reserve 221 $20.25 Aida Batlle cups through dozens of lots and then selects out the best ones to blend together. Having a grow 2014transpreporter think like a vintner and crafting flavor is a dream come true for us every year. 2004 88.5
El Salvador Finca Los Alpes Peaberry 72 $10.25 This was a special peaberry-only selection that we sold as an off-menu product. 2010 87
El Salvador Finca Los Alpes Kenya Variety 45 $10.25 Finca Kilimanjaro is known for its blend of Bourbon and Kenya varieties. What a lot of people don’t know is that Finca Los Alpes has a small percentage of Kenya variety, as well. With higher elevations than Kilimanjaro, we wanted to test out how a 100% Kenya variety lot from this farm would taste. This was sold off-menu. 2012 89.5
El Salvador Selva Negra Gesha 45 $7.25 This is from a grow 2014transpreporter Aida Battle is working with, and the first Gesha variety we have bought from El Salvador. This coffee was sold as an off-menu product. 2014 87
El Salvador Natural Sundried Kilimanjaro Peaberry 30 $10.25 Kilimanjaro produces our favorite natural coffee from Central America. We love the way the acidity pops through with this coffee. This was sold as an off-menu selection. 2012 85
El Salvador Finca Kilimanjaro Kenya Process 20 $10.25 We continue to do experimental processing with Aida Batlle, and this Kenya process was super fruity and super sweet. This was sold as an off-menu selection. 2012 89
Ethiopia Kilenso Mokonisa 6860 $4.15 We buy this coffee because it is often one of the best natural coffees that arrives early in the calendar year. 2011 87.5
Ethiopia Idido Special Preparation – Lot 1 25096 $3.55 YCFCU 2014 was our second year of buying specially prepared lots from the Idido Cooperative. We paid a 50-cent-per-pound premium for better cherry selection and better milling for this coffee. We bought two individual lots—one early in the season and one later. 2010 94
Ethiopia Idido Special Preparation – Lot 2 8510 $3.55 YCFCU 2010 94.5
Ethiopia Haru 14152 $2.95 YCFCU 2014 was our second year of buying specially prepared lots from the Haru Cooperative. We paid a 50-cent-per-pound premium for better cherry selection and better milling for this coffee. We only bought one lot of Haru this year. 2010 91
Ethiopia Olke Birre 3470 $4.25 YCFCU Olke Birre was simply our favorite coffee we bought in 2015. We met Olke at an organic workshop that Counter Culture sponsored and were excited to work with him in 2014. 2014 95.5
Ethiopia Mengesha Godi 3618 $3.75 YCFCU Megesha Godi owns a farm in the Wenago area of Yirgacheffe that we were unfamiliar with. We decided not to purchase coffee out of this area in 2015 so that we could focus on small grow 2014transpreporters around the base cooperative from which we source. Mengesha, though, easily found another buyer for his incredible coffee. 2014 93.5
Ethiopia Workiye Shallo 776 $3.75 YCFCU Worikye and her husband are located right next to the Konga Cooperative, and, immediately upon meeting her, we knew she was dedicated to producing incredible coffee. She prioritizes attention to detail at every step. While we currently don’t do a lot of work in the area of Konga, we are looking to pursue a small lot in 2015/16 with the cooperative and, of course, will continue to buy coffee from Workiye. 2014 94
Ethiopia Tegegu Ocholo 7 $3.75 YCFCU Tegegu Ocholo owns a farm in the Wenago area of Yirgacheffe, an area that we were unfamiliar with. We decided not to purchase coffee out of this area in 2015 so that we could focus on small grow 2014transpreporters around the base cooperative from which we source. Tegegu, though, easily found another buyer for his incredible coffee. 2014 90.5
Ethiopia Biloya Natural Sundried 1111 $2.95 YCFCU We have worked with the Biloya Cooperative for two years on natural processed coffees. One of the quality managers at the cooperative, Muji Sali, is also a contributor to this lot. 2011 87
Ethiopia Banko Gotiti Natural Sundried 8321 $3.10 YCFCU We explored working with the Banko Gotiti cooperative in the very southern part of Yirgacheffe to see what sort of potential quality was possible. We love the coffee from the area named Gedeb, but chose in 2014/15 to focus on natural coffees from Haru, Idido, and Biloya. In 2015/16 we will again look into buying coffee from this cooperative. 2013 88
Ethiopia Aleme Wako 4940 $3.75 YCFCU We worked to find grow 2014transpreporters in the Biloya village who were motivated to produce high-quality coffee on their own farms. Of about six grow 2014transpreporters, Aleme Wako and Elias Baneta produced our favorite natural sundried coffees in 2013/14. We are really excited by this project that we started in Biloya and are working to expand it. 2014 90.5
Ethiopia Elias Benata 4851 $3.75 YCFCU 2014 90.5
Ethiopia Idido Natural Sundried 7226 $2.95 YCFCU Idido Natural Sundried continues to be our go-to natural. Idido is one of the most-trained cooperatives on producing this type of coffee. We are looking to increase our purchasing of Idido natural coffee in 2015. 2010 89.5
Ethiopia Reko Ethiopia 4632 $3.25 We bought this coffee “spot” to fill a gap in our single-origin offerings. We initially thought there was opportunity for a longer-term partnership, but did not pursue this coffee in 2015 for a variety of reasons. 2014 92.5
Ethiopia Workiye Shallo 90 $3.75 YCFCU A portion of Workiye’s coffee was roasted to custom specs for an off-menu product. 2014 93
Guatemala Finca Nueva Armenia 1797 $3.40 Finca Nueva Armenia has started experimenting with new varieties of coffee (SL 28 and Gesha) and, while we have seen a quality drop—likely the result to leaf rust—we are hopeful that our very-long-term partners Jorge and Javer Recinos can have some great lots in 2015 or 2016. Most of their coffee the last two years has gone into Big trouble for its nutty-sweet profile. 2003 84.5
Guatemala Concepcion Huista 40993 $2.92 CODECH We love the fruity sweetness the coffee from the CODECH cooperative. We worked with the cooperative in 3 unique small communities and had some really nice lots. We are working to try and identify a group of grow 2014transpreporters we can partner more closely with in 2015. 2010 86
Guatemala La Voz 10246 $2.75 La Voz que Clama en el Desierto We bought and sold a large volume from La Voz, and they continue to be a very consistent cooperative for us. 2012 85.5
Guatemala Sipacapa 16109 $2.65 ACAS/Manos Campesinos This was the second lot of coffee we bought from the ACAS cooperative based in Sipacapa, and was great coffee. The cooperative is working on demonstration plots for their grow 2014transpreporters to show best practices, and we expect better and better coffee because of this. 2013 87.5
Honduras Finca El Puente 32610 $3.20 We bought a few different lots from Finca el Puente in 2014. This year, for much of our coffee, we put our trust in Moisés Caballero to select lots and assemble the best of them for Counter Culture. This coffee really sums our belief that grow 2014transpreporters know what it takes to produce great quality coffee. The idea that coffee buyers have some magical palette that tasters at origin cannot calibrate to is ridiculous. We work toward collaborating with our partners on coffees during production and harvest instead of putting all of our efforts into cupping after the coffees are already done. 2005 85.5
Honduras Finca El Puente Pulp Natural 556 $4.00 This was our first pulp-natural lot from Moisés Caballero and Marysabel Herrera, and we were really impressed by the clarity of flavor and brightness this coffee produced. This lot came to fruition through the ideas of Moisés and Marysabel, and they executed it perfectly. 2005 88
Honduras Finca Pashapa 5500 $3.20 Finca Pashapa is our longest partnership—since 2002. This year, Kim went to Honduras and selected lots with owner Roberto Salazar and we were able to ship the lots very early. 2002 84.5
Honduras Finca Liquidambar 765 $3.05 Cocafelol This is a demonstration plot that the Cocafelol cooperative bought and is trying to farm and manage as a model for their grow 2014transpreporters. It was one of our favorite lots from the cooperative. 2013 85
Honduras Selin Recinos 728 $3.05 Cocafelol Selin Recinos has been one of the most-dedicated grow 2014transpreporters in the Cocafelol cooperative and is known for producing quality. Out of the dozens of samples from this co-op, his coffee was selected out as one of the best. 2013 85.5
Kenya Thiriku 5363 $4.75 Thiriku In 2014, most cooperatives in Nyeri, Kenya, changed who they marketed and exported their coffee through. We were fortunate to have good conversations with all parties during this time of change, and Thiriku’s coffee went through our normal channels in 2014. 2010 92
Kenya Kambarari 563 $5.25 While on a trip to visit others in Kenya, we ended up visiting the family that manages the Kambarari farm this year and their coffee was exceptional. We are basing a lot of our sourcing around the village where this farm is located. 2014 93
Kenya Kinyari 664 $4.75 This is the first time we bought coffee from the Kinyari Estate in Kirinyaga. We are hoping to establish a longer partnership with Stephen, the owner. 2014 89
Kenya Gerald Njagi Chege 39 $5.32 We fly this lot of coffee in from Kenya. Mr. Chege unfortunately passed away recently, and his sons took over the farm management. 2014 93.5
Kenya Ndaroini Peaberry 15 $3.35 Gikanda We sold this really small lot in early 2014 from the 2012/2013 crop. 2012 92.5
Kenya Ngunguru 4320 $4.35 Tekangu In the chaos of the changes happening in Nyeri, we partnered with a new importer to source coffee from the new Kenyan organization working with cooperatives. Ngunguru is an excellent cooperative, but we bought this lot “spot” more to see the milling quality and organization of this new importer and exporter than because of the coffee’s quality or the co-op. 2014 92
Kenya Kambarari 312 $3.75 Working in Kirinyaga and Embu in Kenya, we set out to find producers who were interested in working more-directly with us. The eight brothers who took over the Kambari Estate after their father Gerald Chege passed away really impressed us. 2013 93
Kenya Muso 72 $4.70 Working in Kirinyaga and Embu in Kenya we set out to find producers that were interested in working-more directly with us. One of our favorite coffees came from the Muso estate, and we sold this tiny lot as an off-menu product. 2014 86.5
Kenya Thiriku Peaberry 389 $4.25 Thiriku One of the peaberry lots from Thiriku was offered as an exclusive, off-menu product. 2010 89.5
Kenya Jocha AA 15 $4.57 This single-farmer lot represents our desire to cultivate stronger relationships focused on creating higher-quality coffees in Kenya. A portion of this lot was offered as an off-menu product. 2014 89
Peru Valle del Santuario 6191 $2.70 CENFROCAFE 2014 was one of our best years from the 5 communities that turn in coffee for our Valle del Santuario offering. Coffee was exported relatively quickly and we even received some microlots. 2007 85.5
Peru Chirinos 3883 $2.91 CENFROCAFE Chirinos and Huabal were separations that Cenfrocafe did for us to explore the profile of the areas they are working in. We hope to be able to keep exploring other areas and have more coffees in the future. 2014 84.5
Peru Huabal 3845 $2.91 CENFROCAFE 2014 84.5
Peru Bartolo Concha 429 $4.10 CENFROCAFE This is one of the microlots from the Valle del Santuario communities. 2014 86.5
Peru Moises Vicente 19 $4.10 CENFROCAFE This is one of the microlots from the Valle del Santuario communities. 2014 86.5
Papua New Guinea Baroida 20603 $3.25 The Colbran family continues to be one our most inventive and driven producer partners, and they are continuously improving. We did have some quality issues this year, but are actively working on making this coffee better for 2015. 2010 85.5
Papua New Guinea Tairora Project 38262 $3.25 We love the coffees from the farms all around the Baroida Estate for their elegant citric and sweet notes. In 2014 we refined the lot selections and really had a stunning year for this coffee. 2011 87.5
Rwanda Remera 14747 $3.40 This year we selected lots from a few small communities and worked to refine the areas and producer groups we are buying from. One of the areas we have really like the coffees from is called Gataba. 2005 88
Timor Huapu 868 $3.20 The coffees from the villages of Huapu and Lacau were our first purchases from Timor Leste in years. Our hope is that our exporting partners on this project keep developing better and better lots for us in the future. 2014 84
Timor Lacau 538 $3.20 2014 84
Uganda St. Goret 1630 $3.20 Bukono Joint This was the second time purchasing coffee from the Buthale cooperative, part of the Bukonzo Joint Umbrella cooperative in Western Uganda. We worked with the cooperative and invested in better storage techniques to ensure better quality-stability in 2014. 2013 86.5


Table Summary

Since we’re reporting on more coffees for this 2014 report—and even more coffees for our 2015 report—each of these reports will serve as a new baseline for the metrics related to our coffee-buying practices. In other words, we can’t really compare the average FOB price from our 2013 Direct Trade Transparency Report to the average FOB price in this report, because, by including so many more coffees, we’d be comparing apples to oranges.Even with this challenge that comes as a result of increased transparency, there are still a few key metrics to note:

  • Our average FOB price paid for a single-origin coffee, weighted by poundage, was $3.37. The average commodity market price for coffee in 2014 was $2.03.
  • 97% (by weight) of our single-origin coffee for 2014 came from existing relationships. The longest of those relationships is with Finca Pashapa in Marcala, Honduras. We’ve been buying from Robert Salazar and his family since 2002.
  • Our average cupping score for our single origin coffees, weighted by poundage, was 87.5


How to Use This Information

Our buying relationships are built on communication and that communication shouldn’t stop at Counter Culture.

Our customers and consumers are an integral part of the coffee-supply chain, too, and this report is intended to facilitate the flow of information from Counter Culture to the people who are drinking our coffee.

Knowing the “free on board” (FOB) price, for example, might not change anything for a consumer, but it can start a conversation. We want everyone to want better coffee, and, in order to drive improvement on the consumer end of the coffee-supply chain, we have to provide information so that people can ask better questions.


How We Buy Coffee


Luis Huayhua is an instrumental leader and source of motivation within the CENAPROC cooperative—having had a number of COE wins, traveled to other countries, and served previously as president for a number of years. With 34 years of farming under his belt, he and his wife Zenobia are in alignment with our tireless pursuit of quality.

When we look for new coffees, we don’t look for coffee that’s already nearly perfect. We look for coffees that we think have potential and supply chain participants who are willing to work to develop that potential. Once we find a coffee with these characteristics, we work to build communication along with farmers, co-op management, mill operators, exporters, importers, and other along the supply chain.Through the process of cupping coffee, visiting farms, and talking to the various supply chain participants, we start to identify what changes can be made to improve that coffee. Sometimes these changes are simple, like recalibrating a depulping machine, and, other times, they are much more complex, like the need to replant with different coffee varieties to adapt to climate change.

Sometimes they are changes that have to happen at the farm level, and other times, they have nothing to do with the farming of a coffee and everything to do with how that coffee is processed at the mill. Any of these changes require coordination among the actors in the supply chain and are more likely to happen efficiently and benefit everyone if they happen in the context of an existing relationship with good communication.


Why Transparency is Important

An ideal coffee-supply chain is one in which every entity involved gets paid a fair price, coffee is grown in resilient communities by farmers who are good environmental stewards of their land, and the resulting coffee is high quality.

We believe that the best way to move along the spectrum towards this ideal is to build relationships and share information up and down the supply chain. That sharing of information is what we mean by transparency. In order to have everyone in the supply chain working toward the same goals and implementing equitable solutions, everyone needs to be looking at the same information.

Without this transparency, it’s difficult to build trust, and, without trust, it’s difficult to build relationships that allow movement along the spectrum toward better supply chains.


How This Report Shows Transparency


Justina Ramos succeeded in having two separate lots of her coffee approved as microlot quality within 3 months of one another. She and her husband Isidro Coronel were some of the original members of the CENAPROC cooperative and have been producing coffee together for about 25 years.

The purpose of this report is to provide evidence in support of our coffee-buying philosophy. There’s an important difference that’s worth highlighting here: Transparency in how we buy coffee is different from transparency in how we source coffee. Most specialty coffee roasters, ourselves included, are pretty transparent about where their coffee comes from at this point—often listing farmer and co-op information on the bag itself. Knowing where a coffee comes from is great, but it doesn’t do anything to improve the coffee-supply chain. Long-term relationships, built on trust garnered from transparently sharing information, are where meaningful improvement to the supply chain is made.

This report is meant to offer evidence of how we buy coffee–to go deeper than just where it comes from and into what relationship-based coffee actually means.

It’s challenging to put metrics around this purchasing philosophy that truly reflect what a good relationship coffee looks like. Prices are important, but they don’t capture the whole story. In a perfect world, coffee quality would go up every year, we would pay more every year, and consumers would demand better coffee every year. In reality, coffee is an agricultural product, subject to the ebb and flow of market price, vulnerable to diseases like coffee rust, and subject to the risks of “bad years” without any clear explanation.

This is where relationships become important. If everyone in the supply chain is committed to improving a coffee, one bad year shouldn’t ruin a relationship, it should strengthen it. This dynamic is not captured in the data, but it is important to understanding why we’ve worked with so many producers for so long.


How This Relates to Direct Trade Certified


Marysabel Caballero of Finca El Puente inspecting a pulped natural lot. We have one of our best and longest producer relationships with her and her husband Moisés Herrera.


Over the past few years, Moisés has distinguished himself among our partners with his passion for different coffee varieties.

As our coffee buying practices evolve, we also need to change the way we talk about those practices. Back in 2008, we created the Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification as a way to codify our buying practices at the time. Now, seven years later, we still believe in and practice the tenets of our certification: quality, price transparency, direct communication, and fair prices; but we’ve come to understand the process of buying directly and building relationships as movement along a spectrum of continuous improvement rather than a set of “yes/no” boxes to check.

With Direct Trade Certification, we were only sharing information about our “best” relationships; the reality of coffee buying is much messier.

Some relationships work well and others don’t, but, if our impetus is to show how we buy coffee, we need to show both the good and the not-so-good. Stepping away from our Direct Trade Certification will allow us to report on more things about more coffees—and represents our commitment to full transparency.




Some of the team at Baroida in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Baroida is owned and operated by the Colbran family. They continue to be one of our most inventive and driven producer partners and are continuously improving.

We’re really excited to be able to share this Transparency Report. Next year’s report will be even more robust, including information on all of the coffee’s we sold in 2015. The longer we report on all of our coffees, the more we’ll be able to look at trends over time. This long-view is really where you’ll see our purchasing principles reflected.Good coffee doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s the product of a lot of hard work and a lot of incremental changes that aren’t necessarily captured when we try to fit everything into a yes/no dichotomy. Sharing information is the key to creating the long-term relationships that allow us to offer increasingly-high-quality coffees. We encourage you to take what you see here and use it to start meaningful conversations about the coffee-supply chain—and where we can go in the future.


How to Read the Table

  1. Explanation of FOB. 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. The most common way to express price paid for coffee, 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 Fairtrade Organization’s minimum price, thus 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 or 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.
  2. Absence of farm visit metric. 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 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 thus 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.
  3. Cupping score. We cup each coffee for quality control purposes during the harvest, before export, upon import, and throughout the year. The cupping score represented here is the cupping score at point of export, just as the FOB price is the price at point of export, and it is therefore only a snapshot of the coffee’s true quality and taste value.