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Late Harvest on the Other Side of the World

Today we taste coffees from the Colbran family’s estate, Baroida, and from the Tairora Project that represents smaller-scale coffee farms around the estate in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Notes on the Coffees

Baroida and Tairora aren’t new to any of you, many of whom have come to not only love but really appreciate this coffee’s tangy, spicy and savory qualities during the months when we are waiting for coffees from the northern hemisphere to arrive. We split our shipment from the Colbrans this year, which is why we are able to draw a distinction between “early harvest” and “late harvest”. Splitting lots is something we’ve begun doing with some frequency — our current lot of Nueva Llusta is another example we have identified — but we have been doing it with coffees like Concepción Huista for years because we a) benefit from having fresh offerings for our customers earlier than our competitors and b) are big enough to have control over shipments, which is something more difficult for very small companies that depend on importers’ timelines.

I mentioned above that we do a lot of cupping of this coffee for the sake of consistency. While it sometimes feels like a struggle to go through each days' lot and isolate the ones that taste prematurely faded, it’s a blessing in the context of where most farms and their buyers are, namely, blending coffee from the different days and crossing their fingers that it’s got more good than bad on balance. We buy some other coffees that are still at that stage (I’m not naming names) and the struggle is worth it for the flavors of the good lots. Speaking of flavor, I don’t expect anyone to be surprised by these coffees in comparison to their early harvest versions, because I think they’re pretty true to type. If you disagree, though, I hope, as always, to hear your thoughts and feedback.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We just began selling both of these lots and we expect to keep them in stock through the end of May or early June.

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Toscano Times Two


Ta da! Today, two Toscanos tickle your tastebuds! Each bag represents a different incarnation of Toscano, with the bag labeled Ecuador representing the most recent recipe we have been selling and the bag labeled Costa Rica the version that becomes available today (and by today I mean today, Thursday, March 20th).

Notes on the Coffees

Toscano Ecuador

The coffee that we had contracted for 2013 from the Fapecafes co-operative of Loja, Ecuador and which we were planning to sell as El Gavilán lacked the brightness and sweetness we expect from that coffee. While we opted not to feature the coffee as a straight, seasonal offering, we suspected it would taste good in Toscano. We also knew that the co-op’s members were struggling with coffee leaf rust and would be hard pressed to find another buyer for this coffee that didn’t meet CCC’s high standard but was still a far cry from average in value or quality. So we sacrificed our hopes for El Gavilán this year and bought coffee for Toscano and some really-great-but-really-small single-farmer lots.

Toscano Costa Rica

Between 2008, which was the last year in which we sold Cerro del Fuego (old-timers, you know what I’m talking about), and today your coffee department has tasted dozens of coffees from Costa Rica but declined to purchase any of them. Though some of these coffees have been delicious, they have also cost significantly more than coffees of comparable quality from elsewhere in the Americas, and the price-to-quality relationship tends to be especially skewed with organic coffees. In short, they haven’t been a good fit. So what makes today’s coffee different? The Costa Rican coffee that we will be using for Toscano for the next few weeks comes from six small estates (today’s is Linda Vista) located near the farm of a fellow named Tim O’Brien. We were introduced to Tim a few years ago as an employee of an importer we do business with and he is now building his own importing business. He’s excited and motivated to do good work for CCC, so we bought the best coffees he was offering from the 2012/2013 harvest both in order to get our relationship with him started on a good foot and to continue pushing to get better, sweeter coffees into Toscano. All of these coffees were dried with a focus on water activity and low moisture, which has helped their stability, and I think you’ll like the way they taste. 

Rollout Dates and Availability

We just began selling Toscano (Costa Rica) today and we will probably only have it for two weeks or so before we move into another coffee. What coffee, you ask? Well, it depends on what arrives and tastes right in these next two weeks. Never a dull moment here in the coffee department.

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Lot Breakdown of La Golondrina

Right now, we are usually finishing our main harvest (April–July or August) lots of La Golondrina and moving into the mitaca harvest (October–January) lots. This year, however, the producers of La Golondrina didn't have a good mitaca harvest, and we were unable to purchase any of that harvest. This means that we have are still clinging on to the last lot we have from the main harvest. We are going to move through this lot quickly, as we're approaching the time when we normally see some slight quality drop. Nonetheless, I hope that this lot is a noticeable step up from the last one—even though it is only from about a month or two difference.

Notes on the Coffees

La Golondrina – "Past"

This coffee was harvested in April and May 2013. We used this until a few weeks ago.

La Golondrina – "Present"

This coffee was harvested in June and July 2013. This went into La Golondrina a little more than a week ago and will last a couple of months.

Rollout Dates and Availability

La Golondrina has been a year-round single-origin for some time now, but we will likely run out by early May.

–Tim
 

Uganda: where have you been?Theme

Uganda: where have you been?

For about a decade now the Coffee Department has been tasting Ugandan coffees in the lab. Generally speaking, they have not been very good, showcasing heavy faded qualities every single time we tasted them. This never really made sense to us because the altitudes, varieties, and potential quality all pointed to a product from which we would expect great things.

This past year, the same partners in Africa we work with on Tsheya and Kalungu from the Democratic Republic of Congo started having us taste coffees from a cooperative in the Rwenzori Mountains of Western Uganda. Not only did the original pre-shipment samples of coffee taste good, they exceeded every other Ugandan coffee we'd tasted by multiple points.

Why, you might ask? Our partners there, along with other organizations, helped to set up micro-washing stations for the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative. (Before this, all of the coffee was processed as low-grade natural sundried coffee.) In addition to the micro-washing stations, our partners have been working on cupping training, good processing techniques, and lots of other quality-oriented education. Honestly, it kind of seemed too good to be true.

Remember when I said that the pre-shipment samples tasted amazing? Before we bought this coffee this year, we had the opportunity to taste some arrival samples and not just pre-shipment samples. The outcome was sadly, once again, what we always taste in these coffee: fade. This left us at a crossroad. We could forget we ever tasted the amazing pre-shipment samples or figure out how to get the quality arrived here. Of course, we chose the latter.

Knowing that faded coffee was the main enemy of quality, the goals were to move the coffee faster than any other coffee has left Uganda and to make sure that the moisture was as low as possible to make it more stable.

We committed upfront to buying from our three favorite washing stations based upon the past pre-shipments, and the cooperative dried all the coffee to 8.9-9.4%. The coffee was approved on November 22, 2013, when the coffee was still in Western Uganda and arrived in the US on January 23, 2014. This coffee was harvested from late-September through December and arrived in January! The result: it doesn’t taste like stale bread.

Let’s get real for a moment, though. We still face a lot of challenges. From pre-shipment to arrival we still saw a quality loss. Overall, the milling, sorting, processing, and storage of this coffee need to be improved. And, of course, the dreaded potato defect that we thought was going to be very minor is there. (It is low – at about 2.5% of 12 oz single serving brews. For reference, Buziraguhindwa, Remera, Mpemba are at about 5%.)

Regardless, it still should feel pretty great to be tasting two of the lots that represent the best tasting arrivals of Ugandan coffee we have ever seen.

Notes on the Coffees

St. Goret

St. Goret is located in the Kasungu village on the Rwenzori Mountains. Fifty-five famers are a part of this cooperative. Varieties grown are the same as the other cooperative: Nyasaland, SL14, and SL28. (Nyasaland is supposedly a descendant from the original Jamaican Blue Mountain Typica, but that is unconfirmed.) Processing is dry fermentation, but we don’t know for how long, yet.


Buthale

Buthale is a located in the village of Buthale – hence the name – and also in the Rwenzori Mountains. The cooperative has 221 members. Dry fermentation and same varieties.


Rollout Dates and Availability

Currently we are reviewing these coffees for instances of defect and consistency. While the Buthale has a cleaner flavor profile, the St. Goret is more dynamic and interesting. We will likely roll out one of these on March 3, if the quality and consistency is fair.

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Building Toscano

This week we are hoping to give people a glimpse into the development of our year-round products, in particular Toscano. The focus of the conversation will be around the idea of flavor profile, as well as the idea of building year-round products at the farm level. Increasingly, we are working with skilled farmers who are manipulating processing, variety, and doing specific lots to make very specific flavors. This is our mission in coffee: to make producers into craftsmen. This also allows us to focus on single-origins that may or may not be single coffees.

Style of Tasting

Cupping

While, of course, pulling this as espresso would have seemed logical, it is good to remember that Toscano is a good coffee option for those looking for something full-bodied, nutty, and chocolate-y.

Notes on the Coffees

Toscano Ecuador

First on the table will be coffee from Ecuador. This coffee is from our partners at Fapecafes in Loja, Ecuador. This year, the coffee did not meet the standards we set for our El Gavilan coffee, and that is why we will not see an El Gavilan main lot offering. While the coffee didn’t meet the single-origin standards, it was still good and had great notes leaning towards cocoa, nut, and also with less acidity. Based on that, we worked with the cooperative to buy this lot solely for use in Toscano, and this roast is the first attempt. It is roasted to an Agtron 60. Overall, this is a good attempt, but it is not all the way there. We will likely slow the roast down a minute or two and lighten the roast by about 2 points. 

Toscano Bolivia

Second on the table is the coffee from Bolivia. One of our favorite trial versions for Toscano in 2013 was with Illimani, from Caranavi, Bolivia. NOTE: this coffee does not come from Nueva Llusta, but rather a different area and group. This particular lot is a total experiment. It is 70% washed and 30% pulp natural processed from a single producer named Silverio Nina around the area of Illimani. We contracted this coffee solely as an experiment – hoping that the pulp natural would bring some sweetness and body to the the mix. Overall, we are happy with the sweetness, but think that the fruit notes are too far from the profile we hope for for Toscano. We will likely go back to the drawing board on the blend, and introduce yet another washed coffee from Bolivia into the mix to make this ready for production.

Rollout Dates and Availability

The Ecuador version of Toscano is going to start being roasted on February 6, and will continue to be Toscano for approximately 5-6 weeks. The Bolivia version of Toscano will actually go into production likely in April. So, you are likely asking what will be in the middle: Costa Rica. Say what! Yes, indeed – but you will just have to wait for that story.

– Tim

Part One


Spending a week in Colombia, my first time in the beautiful country, was truly a whirlwind with multiple purposes. I skirted the countryside, starting in the town of Gigante in the department of Huila, then passing through Guadalupe, Pitalito, La Plata, and ending in Tambo and Timbio, both in the department of Cauca.

The first goal was to deliver results from the survey on microlots that 122 producers in three states participated in during January and February of 2013. Not only were results delivered, but together we dug deeper to uncover greater meaning in some of the results and continue adjusting research questions as well as the greater research purpose. All told I was able to speak with 101 of the 122 participants in a series of 5 meetings in 5 separate towns. As Nelson Ramirez, Virmax’s Director of technical training who accompanied me the first three days, said, “This is a marathon!” The majority of the survey respondents are not ones from whom Counter Culture purchases coffee. However, seeing the overlap in their responses to the survey will only aid us in understanding our supply chain in addition to the overarching situation facing high quality producers in Colombia.

Part two contains reflections that bring together analysis on this segment of the research. Some of their reactions were more surpising than others. Perhaps most surprising to me was their enthusiasm that they would indeed love to participate in a similar study in the future – they are honored that someone down the supply chain values their day-to-day experience enough to ask detailed questions. In addition, I loved hearing what else they thought would be important to study pertaining to the cultivation of specialty coffee. I am sitting on a ton of information – if anyone is looking for a research project, holler!

The second goal was to spend time with our old friends at Organica, purveyors of La Golondrina coffee. This group is one that has truly ridden the waves of hard times, under the strong leadership of Nelson Melo, and continues to prove themselves as fighters and committed to specialty coffee. Not only did I share the survey results with them but we shared meals, sat in on a board of director’s meeting, and, of course, visited producer’s on their farms.

Lastly, Nelson Melo has been building a relationship with a nearby cooperative over the last three years. He was eager to have Counter Culture make the acquaintance of Federación Campesina de Cauca.

The trip was incredibly full in more ways than one and I am excited to share some of that with you here.

Part Two


What follows are some of the overarching themes uncovered by the five meetings held in Gigante, Guadalupe, Pitalito, La Plata, and Tambo.

Over the course of these meetings I delivered results from the survey on microlots that 122 producers participated in during January and February of 2013. Not only were results delivered, but together we dug deeper to uncover greater meaning in some of the results and to continue adjusting research questions – as well as the greater research purpose. All told, I was able to speak with 101 of the 122 participants.

After sharing the research, each group responded to the following questions:
  1. Why did producers invest such a large amount of their premium money into fertilizer?
  2. Why did producers choose to renovate with variety Colombia more frequently than other varieties?
  3. How are producers overcoming current challenges in producing specialty coffee?
  4. What are they doing on their farms for this harvest that are practices they think will lead to higher quality?
  5. How was the process of being interviewed? And of receiving the results of the study in this way?
  6. If you could study anything else in regard to the production of specialty coffee, what would you want to study?

I hope you'll enjoy some of their answers as much as I did.

Saludos!

Hannah

Thanks for the photos, courtesy of Alejandro Cadena and Nelson Ramirez.
Despite the widespread perception to the contrary, any roasted coffee can be brewed with pretty much any brewer to make great coffee as long as you start with high-quality coffee and pay attention to your brewing parameter. We put together a short video with Team NYC's Meister to elaborate.

And, for the month of February, we're hosting an Instagram offer with a chance to win a bag of our current featured coffee, Remera. Check out the #anycoffeeanybrew page for more information.
Hello, cuppers!

What a week it has been; I hope you're all staying warm. Life continues apace and there are coffees for us to taste, so let's hop to it!

There's not a lot I can say about Valle del Santuario that you haven't all heard before, given the number of times it has appeared on our cupping tables over the past seven years. Our relationship with the Cenfrocafe co-operative of San Ignacio, Peru, is one of our strongest, but it hasn't always been that way - in late 2008, after our second year buying coffee from the five communities of the valley, the coffee department had a serious conversation about whether to continue working with the cooperative because we had heard rumors that they hadn't distributed price premiums in a timely fashion and growers felt dissatisfied. We opted to continue because we were able to address our concerns with the cooperative and, five years later, I'm glad that we didn't react to a rumor we heard through an importer and opted to be patient, work on the relationship, and commit to better, more frequent communication in the future.

Our next coffee is a good one to follow on the heels of that story because Remera represents a long-term bet still in its early stages. We have known Epiphanie and her son Sam, owners of the Bufcafe and Remera mills, for many years, but it was Tim's trip in 2012 that opened our eyes to the family's potential as a collaborator as opposed to simply a supplier. Last year's Bufcafe Natural Sundried was a runaway hit and a subject of much curiosity, especially - judging from online ordering records - among coffee industry folks, and although the washed coffee we're buying from Remera is more in line, flavor-wise with what you might expect from another very good Rwandan coffee, it's still a treat and it's got a lot of potential for growth. Sam is a regular fixture of coffee department discussions as someone who represents the next generation of producer-leaders both in terms of his youth and his vision for quality. His quality improvements and his experiments with sundried naturals continue (we have our fingers crossed that we'll have some sundried natural coffee from Remera in a couple of months). Also, Sam plans to attend the conference on potato defect that we'll be sponsoring with a portion of the proceeds from sales of our holiday coffee, which we are hopeful will help us make progress against this frustrating obstacle.

Last but not least, we have Buziraguhindwa Natural Sundried, which we've been brewing more than ever since it showed so well in competition last weekend. We have been waiting two years for this coffee experiment to materialize and while it paid off handsomely, we have certainly had fits and starts along the way and questioned whether or not the potential was worth the time, effort and, one year, the financial hit of the coffee arriving unsellable. The clean but intense fruit in the flavor of this coffee, however, makes it all feel worthwhile because despite the fact that we don't buy a lot of this style of coffee compared to washed coffee, we do want to have more options than just Ethiopia for this flavor profile and in order to get there, we have to build it patiently and take the long view.

Enjoy the coffees, please!

-Kim

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