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Most Counter Intelligence labs are held in Counter Culture's regional training centers, with one notable exception; since 2004, Counter Culture has hosted an Origin Field lab in Nicaragua. This week-long immersive course is a chance for baristas and other culinary professionals to experience the production side of our favorite beverage, and see first-hand the barriers and opportunities that exist in coffee farming, processing and export.

– Lydia
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports


As I flew back across the Atlantic, thinking of the week I spent in Uganda, I didn't know that the moment I landed Uganda was going to be all over the media. The day I left Uganda, the president, Yoweri Museveni, ended up signing a very controversial anti-gay/lesbian bill that has been in the works for a long time now. All indicators while I was in Uganda, though, seemed that pressure from from the US and other countries, was potentially going to put a halt to the signing. This didn't happen, and every television at the airport, was ablaze with the news.

This led me to a moment of reflection, and also a moment of trying to reconcile a truly great week with coffee producers I would consider very progressive. Right before I left western Uganda the cooperative I was with presented on their goals and methods for promoting and instilling a culture of equality for the women in the communities they work in. A cooperative progressive enough that other cooperatives around Africa are looking towards these farmers from Uganda to learn better ideologies and methods for creating a more equal culture.

After reflecting for a long time, I came to the realization that reconciling one idea with another, one event with another event, or trying to see anything as black white here is going to be impossible. The reality is that I, and Counter Culture, believe sending someone to jail for 15 years up to a life sentence for their sexuality is not just and right. And that the Ugandan government is wrong on this issue. We also very much believe that trying to punish Uganda the country, through not buying coffee from the producers here is not just and right, as well.

Long story short, it is very easy to see Uganda at this moment in time as a very black and white place — to draw lines in the sand and make a judgment. But I believe that only good things can come from being there and seeing the engagement we can have with farmers that have been passed over for the quality of their coffee and passed over for good prices for years. Working in the most challenging of places which require the patience and long view that we try to embody — that is what makes Counter Culture who we are

- Tim
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports


Two weeks in Guatemala! This trip was another full one with the opportunity to compare and learn from brand new coffee partners as well as older ones.

Stop 1 — New kids on the block: I spent my first couple of days with a smaller cooperative in Sipacapa called ACAS. They are supported by the exporting cooperative Manos Campesinos. Their coffee had a brief cameo in the Holiday coffee this year and we feel excited for their quality potential down the road.

Stop 2 — Old friends: The bulk of the trip was spent with CODECH in Concepcion Huista, Huehuetenango. We have had some shifting expectations and they have had a shift in leadership over the last year or so and thus mulling it over together was so worthwhile.

Stop 3 — Sheer beauty and mega improvements: I ended in San Juan de Atitlan with La Voz que Clama en el Desierto. Though they haven't been featured as a single origin to date, I feel hopeful that our ongoing communication and their actions to step up coffee quality could mean something good for all on the horizon.

Some themes to look for: common threats to specialty coffee in Guatemala, the importance of cupping at the cooperative level, and key quality improvements across the board.

I have to say that being there for a lengthier stay and over Valentines means that Guatemala is really finding itself close to my heart.


Abrazos,
Hannah

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.
As we say in our Direct Trade report, Cenfrocafe is truly a model among cooperatives, and they are a joy to visit and learn from each time. This visit included all of the usual elements – from producer meetings to meeting with cooperative leadership, cupping, and, in general, hearing about highlights and challenges currently facing the group.
 
Cenfrocafe has grown by almost 30% this year in its volumes. The coffee we received from this group and sell as Valle del Santuario and La Frontera has been exceptional this year. Our hope is to continue to hone in on even greater volumes of this quality coffee. Already on the larger side with 2,680 members, they have 240 more members going through the one-year trial period. They are, after 12 years of operation, getting to be a well-oiled machine. In addition to the business of coffee, they are intentionally working on helping producers with diversification efforts, health resources, and continued integration of youth and women in the cooperative. Of course, they still have kinks to work out in stabilizing volumes, lot separation, and best representing the needs of cooperative members.
 
Leaf rust is beginning to prove challenging, and some producers have lost up to 3,000 trees or more as a result. Conversations about how to prevent and renovate are serious. And, continuing to have the conversation about producing quality coffee alongside conversations about protection and disease resistant varieties is inevitable. The hope is that Cenfrocafe can continue to take a proactive role in regard to producers' needs for prevention training and on-farm investments.
 
Coffee quality this year was lagging in July and August at the beginning of the harvest, but they had higher hopes as they saw great improvements in October. I believe our coffee this year reflects that change. And, it again emphasizes the benefits of being by the cooperative's side – as true partners – not just for one harvest or one great run, but through the ups and downs.
 
I hope you'll enjoy these photos of my last week in Peru!
 
Abrazos,
Hannah
 
From the embed above, click [full screen] and [show info] for Hannah's annotated notes on each photo. You can also view Hannah's trip report on Flickr.
 
Luis Huayhua from the Cenaproc cooperative in Las Yungas, Bolivia.
Right after our August company meeting, Coffee Buyer's Agent Hannah Popish headed out Las Yungas, Bolivia, to visit our friends at the Cenaproc cooperative – producers of our Nueva Llusta coffee.
 
"After cupping some initial samples in our ... lab this past week," Hannah says. "I'm feeling more hopeful than ever about their coffee this year."
 
After starting strong in June, the first harvest was just finishing as Hannah arrived. Along with plenty of photos, read her trip report on Flickr to learn about her visit to the co-op dry mill and yields for this harvest – and her visti with a potential new cooperative partner, Union Pro Agro.
 
Thanks,
Nathan
 
Growers in Ethiopia at our compost workshop in March 2013.At the end of March, coffee buyers Kim Elena Ionescu and Tim Hill traveled together – which they almost never get to do; with so much Coffee Department travel, they usually travel separately – to Ethiopia for a compost workshop funded by our $1-per-pound allocation from our 2012 Holiday Blend and attended by 30 farmers from Haru, Idido, and Biloya.

"I was really excited about this trip!" acknowledged Kim Elena. "I was also really nervous, however, because I had committed Counter Culture to hosting a workshop in a place I had never been, in a language I didn't speak, on a subject outside my area of expertise."

Read Kim Elena's full trip report on Flickr offering annotated photos offer an overview of the two-day workshop, as well as a few glimpses into the activities at these cooperatives this time of year.

Hannah with Calixto, the go-to guy for receiving coffee and quality control with Triunfo Verde co-op in Guatemala, weighing coffee for cupping.Coffee Buyer's Agent Hannah Popish was in Mexico and Guatemala at the end of March and filed a trip report from her visit with three separate cooperatives – one in Mexico from which we do not currently purchase coffee and two in Guatemala that are active partners.
 
Hannah reported on efforts to address "leaf rust," the implementation of Seeds projects, and some of the goals that the cooperatives are working toward to improve the coffee and quality of life of their members.
 
 
Thanks,
Nathan
 

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