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Tasting @ Ten – Three Year-Round CoffeesThis week, we'll familiarize ourselves with the current versions of three of our year-round products: Big Trouble, Fast Forward, and Slow Motion.

Style of Tasting:
Freestyle! Cup them, pourover compare them, or choose three different brewing methods to emphasize different flavors. It’s your choice.

Notes on the Coffees: 
With a menu that changes as often as ours does, it is easy to get so caught up in tasting new things that we forget to check in on our year-round friends. Although their names remain the same, the ingredients change with the seasons, and fans will notice subtle shifts in flavor as coffees come and go.

Big Trouble's goal in life is to taste sweet and nutty, and right now we achieve that with a 70/30 percent blend of coffees from CENCOIC in Colombia and the exciting new Lacau from East Timor. CENCOIC is a cooperative of indigenous farmers in Cauca, and we tentatively committed to buying their coffee this year before we had tasted it because we believe they have potential to be a good supplier for us over the long term. Happily for all of us, the coffee turned out to be good, and now we have a platform for working together in the future! All of our year-round coffees provide a staging ground for new coffees and relationships, but Big Trouble is especially good in this respect because the roast level is slightly darker than a few of the others.

Fast Forward is one of those lighter-roasted contemporaries of Big Trouble, and its components tend to be higher-quality coffees and to represent more advanced relationships. As of a few weeks ago, Fast Forward is made of coffee from the inimitable Cenfrocafe cooperative in Peru—in this case, one of their lots that represents many communities, as opposed to the specific micro-regions of Valle del Santuario or Huabal—blended with 10 percent of coffee from the Hama washing station in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia.

Whenever decaffeinated coffees grace our Friday tasting tables, my instinct is to talk about and taste them last, which might be perceived as an insult to both these coffees and to the die-hard decaf drinkers who love them. Given that, put Slow Motion toward the front of the lineup today, will you? Our only year-round decaf coffee is the flavor counterpart of Fast Forward (the name is a clue), and right now they are a near-perfect match, as Slow Motion comes entirely from the same Cenfrocafe cooperative of Peru mentioned above.

Kim Elena

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One Cooperative, Many Coffees

The three coffees on this week’s table come from a single cooperative in northern Peru, and our tasting will explore how we buy and allocate similar coffees differently to fit the range of products we offer. 

Notes on the Coffees

If you’ve spent time in one of our training centers or on our website over the past seven years, you’ve undoubtedly heard us rave about Valle del Santuario, the coffee we purchase from five communities of small-scale producers in the San Ignacio region of northern Peru. The level of traceability and price transparency that the farmer cooperative, Cenfrocafe, provides to the farmers who produce this coffee puts them leagues ahead of any other cooperative from Peru, and the cup quality is always exceptional, to boot. When we began working with Cenfrocafe in 2007 we asked them to select a group of villages that had good conditions for coffee growing, and each year reinforces how fortunate we are to have exclusive access to these five communities. This year’s coffee arrived later than we hoped due to unusual weather patterns in Peru, but we’re pleased with how it tastes and excited to have another year of great coffee from these farmers with whom we work so closely.

Valle del Santuario is consistently the best-tasting coffee we purchase from Cenfrocafe, as well as being one of the best coffees that Cenfrocafe sells. The price we pay for Valle and the branding that we apply to it reflect our pride in the coffee’s superlative cup quality, but our relationship with Cenfrocafe is strengthened by the fact that in addition to buying one small-ish lot that requires a lot of logistical coordination on their part, we also buy bigger lots from communities outside the five that contribute to Valle. To build these other lots, the co-op’s cupping staff separates good-tasting coffees from across the regions where they work and compiles them. These represent a greater diversity of farmers than Valle and a larger geographic region, and we buy roughly six times as much coffee in this style from Cenfrocafe as we buy of the exclusive Valle del Santuario. Cenfrocafe is our highest-volume supplier in the southern hemisphere, so during the winter months, these lots underpin many of our year-round products, including Fast Forward, which is roasted slightly darker than Valle to emphasize the caramel sweetness and balance of the coffee, as opposed to its acidity.

Sending coffee from Cenfrocafe to be decaffeinated is another way that we leverage volume to be a good customer. Decaf San Ignacio represents an in-between of the farm-level traceability that Valle provides and the aggregate from an ever-changing combination of the farmer members of Cenfrocafe that Fast Forward represents. We selected three lots this year from sub-regions and the other two, Huabal and Chirinos, we chose to sell in their caffeinated form, while this one made a stop at Swiss Water in Vancouver before arriving in Durham. Though decaf makes up a comparatively small percentage of the coffee we sell, we put a lot of work into meeting the same quality and sustainability standards for these coffees as for our caffeinated coffees. This can be challenging because of the longer waiting time involved between harvest and arrival as well as the small batches we prefer for freshness—we push the limits on the minimum number of pounds Swiss Water will allow, in fact! Decaf San Ignacio is our first of two decaffeinated coffees from Cenfrocafe this year and we’ve been awaiting it eagerly.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Valle should be rolling out soon and will last through the end of February or early March. Decaf San Ignacio is available now and will be replaced by another decaffeinated coffee from the Cenfrocafe when it runs out, probably around March. Fast Forward will probably contain Cenfrocafe’s coffee until around the same time, but will be available all year, of course.

-Kim Elena

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By the Mule of Juan Valdez

We have three coffees from Colombia on our table today, one of which comes from an individual grower we’ve long admired, Nelson Melo, and the other two of which represent single coffee varieties from a community, La Florida, where we’re purchasing coffee for the first time this year.

Style of Tasting

Cup

Cupping these coffees—especially the caturra and castillo from La Florida—will be the best way to appreciate their differences.

Notes on the Coffees

Exploring the flavors that coffee varieties impart to our palates is always a treat, and the fact that this week’s varieties also represent our very first taste of coffees we just received from a brand-new relationship in Nariño, Colombia, makes this week’s exercise all the more special! Coffee-driven souls in Durham and Asheville will be glad they opted for slurping over shopping. The castillo and caturra lots are the varieties of which I speak, and they come from La Florida, which is a community of coffee farmers whom we met in an unusual way: instead of receiving a sample from an importer and exporter or a group of farmers, we instead found this coffee through a development project led by the non-profit organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The organization’s Borderlands project was founded in 2011 with the intent to develop differentiated markets for coffee producers and, since we joined the project’s board in 2012, Counter Culture has been tasting coffees and making recommendations about how farmers might improve the quality of their coffee and obtain higher prices.

One of the big questions that farmers globally have to wrestle with is that of what variety of coffee to grow, because variety one has different characteristics to recommend it: some varieties offer disease resistance, some are more productive and others have intense, delicious flavors that make them attractive. Along with the advantages, however, there are inevitable tradeoffs and many of the most productive, disease-resistant varieties don’t taste as good as their more fragile counterparts. In Colombia, the varieties decision has been exemplified by a battle between caturra and castillo, with the former being an older type that is susceptible to the coffee leaf rust fungus but tastes good, while the latter is a newer type developed for rust resistance and a questionable reputation for quality. Many farmers have both varieties planted on their farms because it’s still unclear which offers better financial returns and less risk. As a member of the Borderlands project, we have tasted hundreds of samples of these two varieties and we’ve seen great examples of both. Our preference tends to be caturra, but your tasters might not feel the same way, so I’d love to hear feedback from your audience about preferences.

Just north of Nariño is the region of Cauca, home of the farmers responsible for CCC’s La Golondrina coffee these past seven years. Nelson Melo, who is originally from Nariño’s capital, Pasto, leads the Orgánica association and grows exceptional coffee (of the caturra variety, if you’re curious) on his farm outside the city of Popayán. We have loved Nelson’s coffee since we first tasted it in 2007, but because it was committed to another buyer before we started working with Orgánica, we didn’t have a chance to buy it until 2014. The combination of anticipation, superb cup quality, and Nelson’s personal passion for organic agriculture make this coffee one of the most exciting of our year and we can’t wait to share this extraordinary single-farmer lot in January.

Rollout Dates and Availability

La Florida’s caturra lot rolls out next week and should be around for a couple of months, while the castillo lot is just for Friday fun and not something that will appear on our menu. Nelson Melo’s coffee will inaugurate our new limited-release packaging in early January and we imagine we will sell through it in a month or so.

-Kim Elena

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Brightness in the Winter

Though both of this week's coffees are new to our offering list, I suspect some of you could be convinced to love them before you even try them. Why? Well, this week we'll be tasting another fantastic single-farmer lot from a member of the Yirgacheffe Farmer Cooperative Union (YCFCU) of Ethiopia named Workiye Shallo alongside the inaugural roast of this year's Remera from Rwanda. On your marks, get set, slurp!

Notes on the Coffees

Of the many great coffees we bought this year from individual farmer members of YCFCU, Workiye Shallo's (wer-KAY-yuh SHA-llow) piqued my interest not only because it's another example of my favorite coffee taste profile, but also because she's the only woman out of the single farmers whose coffees we have celebrated this year. In Yirgacheffe, as in most coffee-producing communities globally, women are equal partners in the work of coffee production but seldom hold positions of power or receive recognition. Women are less likely than men to own land, and given how few members of YCFCU own the processing equipment that allows them to create these small, single-farmer lots, Workiye Shallo is a noteworthy exception. Workiye lives in Konga, which is one of many villages in the Yirgacheffe region where we've purchased coffee over the years, and she grows equal parts Kudhume and Wolisho varieties of coffee on the farm she owns with her husband, Ayele.

Remera's return heralds the beginning of our offering list's transition from northern-hemisphere African coffees—the many Ethiopian and Kenyan stars we've been celebrating for the past few months—to freshly arrived, southern-hemisphere coffees from Burundi and Rwanda. This washing station is among the highest in elevation in Rwanda and the family behind it, including mother Epiphanie and her sons Aloys and Samuel, are some of the most curious and well-connected people in the country's dynamic specialty coffee industry. Our collaboration with them over the years has resulted in quality experiments like the excellent sundried natural of two years ago and in our support of their pursuit of sustainability, as well: this year we're pleased to be contributing $5,000 from our Seeds fund to a project to diversify their farms and small farms around theirs by intercropping macadamia trees among their coffee plants. Almost all Rwandan coffee farms are shadeless monocultures and growers have no history of composting, so most rely heavily on chemical fertilizers to sustain their nutrient-poor soils and on mulch grass to keep dry soil from washing down the country's famous thousand hills during the rainy season.


Rollout Dates and Availability

Workiye Shallo's and Remera's coffees roll out on Friday and should be around, brightening our palates, through the middle of February.

-Kim Elena
NOTE: Unfortunately, construction in our Durham Training Center will not be finished in time to host a Tasting@Ten at that location this Friday. All other Training Centers are back on schedule. We're terribly sorry! Please join us next week. Thanks kindly for your patience and understanding.

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Hologram

This week we will deconstruct the fruity, complex Hologram and taste its three components in order to understand what each coffee brings to the blend.

Notes on the Coffees 

Were I forced to reduce Hologram to a single word, I would choose the word fruity because the flavors of sundried natural Ethiopian coffees are unmistakable even in small quantities. But why choose a single word? Especially given that a hologram, by definition, is multi-dimensional. Though it’s not (yet) our best-selling year-round product, the growth in popularity of Hologram and its flavor profile over the past five years is something that excites me, primarily because the coffees that we use for Hologram are so good. Let’s talk about the current version, shall we?

We haven’t purchased coffee from the Asociación Integral Unidas Para Vivir Mejor (ASUVIM) in prior years, but we’re already making plans to purchase more from the harvest just getting underway on these small farms on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. This coffee’s sweetness and milk chocolate flavors are reminiscent of coffee from La Voz, which is located just across the lake. Farming techniques, climate and varieties are similar between the two, and the region seems to incubate unusually good co-op names: ASUVIM’s full name roughly translates as the Comprehensive Association United to Live Better. We’re already buying as much coffee as is available from La Voz and between our company’s growth, the favorable growing conditions around Atitlán and how little age we taste in ASUVIM’s coffee this late in the year, I’m confident you’ll hear more about this group in the year to come. For now, this coffee comprises 60% of Hologram and isn’t used anywhere else.

Second on the table is the inimitable washed lot from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia’s Hama, which is still my favorite coffee among all of our offerings, even a year after its harvest. We use Hama's bright, floral notes to make Hologram more dynamic, especially upon the first sip, but we keep its percentage low (10%) so that the chocolate, fruit, and body brought by the other two components still dominates.

With as many single-producer coffees as we had from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, this year, including knockout sundried naturals from Aleme Wako and Elias Benata, we opted to dedicate the entirety of Biloya sundried natural to Hologram. Biloya tastes a bit more like chocolate and nut than those single-producer lots, which make it a good fit for this coffee, but it’s the berry flavors—which lend Hologram its characteristic fruitiness—that most people will identify immediately on the cupping table. Also, I expect many people would suspect that it makes up more than its current thirty percent of the blend.

As I mentioned at the outset, the coffees we are using in Hologram are exceptionally good ones. Big Trouble may outsell it, and I’d be a fool to deny people their preferences, but all of the coffees we use in Hologram are better and it’s the same price. Not to mention it comes in a purple bag. I know you’ll all enjoy it, but just in case, I’ll say it anyway: enjoy!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Year-round, my friends. All. Year. Round.

-Kim Elena

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Competition Is None

The Big Eastern competition opens on Friday and for this week’s tasting we’ve chosen three coffees that have appeared in the routines of competitors in barista and brewer’s cup competitions at the regional and national levels over the past two years.

Notes on the Coffees

After making its competition debut as part of Jonathan Bonchak’s routine for the US Brewer’s Cup in Seattle in April of 2014, Olke Birre’s coffee is the choice of multiple competitors in both brewing and espresso realms this weekend. In blind cuppings of our many Ethiopian coffees, Olke’s coffee consistently takes the top spot for its balance of floral aromatics and clear-as-a-bell citric acidity. In addition to possessing one of the most perfect flavor profiles we can imagine, this coffee’s appeal is compounded by the fact that it hails from a single farmer and that we know him personally, which is unusual in Ethiopia. Plus, as I’ve told you many times before, he is a head taller than most farmers and was wearing a gold medal when we first met him, so he made quite an impression.

Next up is Ngunguru, one of our current offerings from the flavor capital of the coffee world, Kenya. In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll admit that I meant to send Thiriku, on the wings of which Lem Butler soared to victory in the Southeast Barista Championship in 2012, but ended up typing Ngunguru, instead. Oops. But never you mind, for this coffee’s complexity is equal or superior to that of pretty much any other coffee you could imagine. It’s precisely that complexity—the combination of brightness, mouth-watering savory notes, and brothy body—that make Kenyan attractive for competition settings where unique tastes, memorable descriptors, and creative flavor pairings win points.

Papua New Guinea’s Tairora rounds out the lineup with juicy flavors that are reminiscent of today’s other two coffees, but with a fuller body and more notes of nut and sweet spice than we usually find in East African coffee. Erika Lee Vonie, now at Everyman Espresso, took Tairora to the national stage in April of this year and combined it with herbs and fresh cucumber for a delicious signature beverage. Of today’s three coffees, Tairora was harvested most recently, and, after two years of struggling with both shipping delays and inconsistent quality, it arrived early and is tasting great. We are very thankful to have found the Colbran family and their coffee farm, Baroida, four years ago, and Tairora, which comes from smaller farms around Baroida, demonstrates the mostly unrealized quality potential of these highlands.

Rollout Dates and Availability

All three coffees are available now, but Olke Birre’s time is running out, so savor these last sips. Ngunguru will be around through December, at least, and we hope Tairora will last through March, though it's selling like hotcakes, so I’m not making any promises. 

-Kim Elena

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Holiday Coffee

In accordance with our annual tradition, we have created a unique coffee in honor of the winter holiday season yet again this year. Today’s tasting we will be the first time that many of us get to try the 2014 iteration, and for fun, we’ve included the two single-origin coffees that comprise the blend in addition to the holiday coffee to encourage further flavor exploration. 

Notes on the Coffees

Holiday coffee is an interesting product. Looking at it one way, we could use almost any coffee and the product would still probably sell pretty well given that a) apparently coffee is a popular gift item, b) the word “holiday” is prominently displayed on the packaging, c) the packaging is especially nice, and d) it’s our company’s only consistent foray in the realm of “coffee for a cause,” which resonates with a different audience than our core customers. On the other hand, we want to use really delicious coffees as ingredients because we recognize that this will be many peoples’ first taste of Counter Culture Coffee and we want hook them on taste, story and everything else we do well.

This year’s holiday coffee combines two coffees from our favorite South American and African supplier cooperatives: Cenfrocafe of Jaén, Peru, and Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmer Cooperative Union (YCFCU) of Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Cenfrocafe’s coffee comes from a combination of producers from among their 2,400-and-counting members whose coffees stood out to the cooperative’s cuppers for being exceptionally clean and sweet. Although we don’t have the level of community specificity from this lot that we have from Valle del Santuario, the farms, elevation, and flavors are similar, and it’s coffees like this one that make Cenfrocafe our largest supplier from the Americas. Idido comes to us by way of YCFCU, from which coop we buy more coffee than from any other. Our holiday coffee from 2011 also came from YCFCU and, at the time, the Coffee Department talked about it as part of a campaign to popularize Ethiopian coffees. Three years later, coffees like Idido have made their way into more of our blends and year-round products over and they have and slowly but insistently shaped both flavor profiles and palates around their floral and citrusy characteristics.

Just as the packaging and ingredient philosophy of our holiday coffee continue to evolve every year, so does our goal with the per-pound donation. We have used holiday coffees to raise money for local charities, NGOs working in coffee-producing communities, and projects spearheaded by farms and cooperatives whose coffee we purchase, and the steady growth of our company has resulted in an ever-bigger pot of funds to donate. Growth is great, of course, but we’ve found that at times, the amount of money we raise can be overwhelming for the comparatively small-scale projects that our suppliers undertake, so we were looking for a way to break it up this year. Conveniently, CCC has a program called SEEDS that awards small grants of three to five thousand dollars to suppliers of ours, and since its creation in 2010 we’ve received applications from, and funded, producers across Latin America and East Africa as they planted trees, held compost trainings for their members, and developed strategies for income diversification. Instead of choosing a single project as the outlet for this year’s holiday fundraising, we’ll use the money to bulk increase the SEEDS budget by almost 50% and reach more growers across our diverse supply chains. Also, instead of limiting the donation opportunity to this one particular coffee and thereby sending the signal that the purchase of one does good and the purchase of the other… doesn’t… we opted to make the donation apply to any coffee purchased from CCC during the months of November and December. It’s less convenient to promote than one dollar per pound, but it’s worth the work of explaining because it’s a better representation of the holistic, measured approach we take to building relationships and buying coffee.

Rollout Dates and Availability

This year’s holiday coffee rolled out at the beginning of the month and we’ll sell it through the first week of January 2015.

–Kim Elena

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Peru + Peru = PERU

Today we welcome Chirinos and Huabal—both from the Cenfrocafe cooperative, the same co-op that brings us Valle del Santuario and La Frontera coffees from Peru.


Notes on the Coffees

Cenfrocafe has long been a darling of the coffee department. They are forward thinking, have sound business practices (for the most part), ask the right questions about how to maintain the balance of quality and volume of coffees, and do their very best to put advice received from multiple sources into action.

With these coffees, we embark on the process of getting more-transparent coffees that hit higher quality marks from this important, historic partner. We hope that these coffees are just the beginning of increased volumes, transparency, and quality out of Peru.

Chirinos
Chirinos is known as the land of coffee and natural forests. Cedar, eucalyptus, and pine trees abound. They are also well known for some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area. The coffee farms are broken up into three altitude groups, high, medium, and low.

Many of the farms in the mountains of the region have only been settled and planted for a generation, as opposed to the southern regions of Peru where the agricultural history dates back millennia. Cenfrocafe's members hail from some 30-odd communities around Jaén and smaller towns like San Ignacio, Chirinos, and Tabaconas.

Chirinos has 11 base organizations that deliver coffee to Cenfrocafe and 235 members total.

Look for: creamy, caramel, plum flavors

Huabal
Huabal (pronounced wa-BALL) is known as a higher altitude quality coffee growing zone. In addition to coffee, there are large areas of protected forest and unique wild animals that add to the biodiversity of the area. Their base organizations are located close to our long-term favorite Valle del Santuario in San Ignacio, Peru.

Huabal has 8 base organizations that deliver coffee to Cenfrocafe and 284 members total.

Look for: pronounced flavors of almond and green grape


Rollout Dates and Availability

Both coffees are already available for purchase as of this week. We will likely have Chirinos in house for about a month-and-a-half while Huabal will be closer to three months because we have a larger volume of this coffee.

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