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Where We Started

As many of you may recall, we started an inquiry about microlots back in the Winter of 2011 when we spoke with 13 farmers from the Cenfrocafe in Peru about their experiences. While we learned a lot, one of the major challenges with this study was that none of the producers interviewed had repeat success as microlot producers. The common sentiment that microlot premiums were a result of luck was understandable but did not point – from a quality perspective – to how we could encourage other producers with concrete suggestions. And, we knew that producers with repeat microlot premiums exist in other areas where we purchased.

Phase II

While we felt we received valuable feedback from our partners in Peru, we were still looking for more streamlined feedback for producers. Ideally we would have more quantitative metrics in regard to farm and investment practices – as well as greater proof of the positive impacts of microlots. So, with this in mind we hatched a plan with one of our exporting partners, Virmax, in the fall of 2012. As a purveyor of microlot coffees who have built their business model on high-quality, differentiated small lots, they had many of the same questions we did about the repeatability and common characteristics of microlot producers. This time, because of Virmax’s long-established, data-rich microlot program in Colombia, we decided to focus our inquiry there. What made this group different as well was that all producers interviewed were previous recipients of the microlot premium.

Together, we designed the survey instrument (going through about seven iterations) and helped train promotores (technicians) who would be going into the field to interview producers. From January – February of 2013 surveys were administered, and, at the end of February, Kim Elena visited some of the producers interviewed, as well, to gain more of an understanding.

Analysis

The spring found us realizing just how much data we were now sitting on with 122 coffee producers interviewed. Though starting to sift through the data was fascinating, neither one of us had the time or the full expertise to do the analysis required for a study of this scale. So, thanks to a mutually serendipitous meeting, we were able to partner with Ruth Ann Church, a woman who is both a coffee buyer – who also buys from Virmax – and who is currently working on her Master's Degree in Community Sustainability, to assist in the analysis and reporting part of the project. Ruth Ann and I recently did a live webcast moderated by Kim that talked about the research process and further research questions that you can check out anytime.

Similar to the first phase of research, much of what we heard about good practices was no surprise. However, the data did begin to point to what microlot producers may have in common with one another, both in their farm practices and in their use of the extra income from the premium.

In particular, the data showed the group of farmers that had 3 microlot years in a row as opposed to 1 or 2 microlot premium years were more likely to fertilize based on soil analysis, use family members for coffee picking, prune intentionally, plant the Colombia variety, and use three specific drying practices (sliding roof, parabolic patio with beds, and patios with net floors). In addition, they are more likely to invest the premium back into on-farm costs, such as fertilizer, than in family needs.

While the data points to some interesting results, there is still more to understand. In particular, understanding exactly which practices are strongly correlated with – not just happening alongside external factors we may not have controlled. An example here is that yes, those who sold microlots 3 years in a row seem to plant more Colombia variety when they are renovating. However, we also know as an aside that Colombia variety does not necessarily result in flavors that we would reward for quality. Thus, we will continue to refine, to filter results through what we know, experience and continue to expect. And, hopefully get still closer to sharing pertinent feedback with producing partners.

The open-ended questions allowed us to get at the experiential side, and we were pleased to continue to understand producers’ motivations, challenges, and higher level perceived community impacts of the microlot premiums. I'm Colombia now sharing the results and hoping to gain still more analysis based on producers’ reactions to the research.

What’s Next

I don’t think either one of us could have imagined that when we embarked on this "microlot question" in 2011 we would be here now – with a lot more information and still more questions. Ideally, what we have put forth over the last two years encourages others within the coffee industry to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask, to find answers that will ultimately be of benefit to those throughout the supply chain. We are also more than happy to be available for others who have questions about the process, about how to create their own mini-research project, or about our findings in general. 
Read on for the full report!

Thanks,
Hannah
Learn more about our transparency efforts in our 2013 Transparency Report.
The closing event of our Sustainable Summer campaign last Friday and the long Labor Day weekend have me looking ahead to fall, and it's around this time each year that I begin to reflect on the progress we have made and what we can accomplish before the year's end. Our progress has also been much on my mind as I've reviewed the Sustainability Annual Report for 2012, which we publish today in conjunction with the Direct Trade Transparency Report. Readers of our three reports and six scorecards of the past years (hello, fellow sustainability nerds!) will see some changes to the format of this year's report, which highlights some of our more significant accomplishments and adds context to some of our statistics. I hope you enjoy this year's reports and can learn from our experiences, and as always, thanks.
 
Sincerely,
Kim Elena
 
Preparing coffee seedlings in Ecuador.
In early 2008, as I compiled data for Counter Culture's first Sustainability Scorecard, I remember wondering whether the information would be interesting to anyone besides me. Some of the metrics in that first report, like the percentage of certified organic coffee we purchase, have continued to grow in relevance, whereas other metrics, like the percentage of delivery fuel replaced by biodiesel, have become obsolete.
 
In spite of metrics that have not stood the test of time, the act of measuring our progress and reporting on it publicly has become more and more integral to who we are as a company and how we define sustainability. We have eliminated a few categories from the Scorecard over the years – in some cases because we have refocused our energy away from an area, and, in others, because we have achieved our target of 100 percent enough times to make continued reporting moot – but for the most part we have added to the Scorecard as we have formalized goals and grown our partnerships and projects.
 
Five years later, I hope that our Sustainability Scorecard has proven to be interesting, and I look forward to its continuing evolution as we learn, focus and grow.
 
Saludos,
Kim Elena
ur Counter Culture Direct Trade Certified Transparency Report aims to give a succinct summary of our financial and personal relationships with our producer-partners.
Today we are proud to present you with our third annual Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification Transparency Report. Each year it continues to be more important for us to communicate, both with our partners in origin countries and with our partners stateside. In this report you will find details about our financial and personal relationships with coffee producers in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
 
This year we welcome back some old certified friends, and we initiate some newer relationships. In total, we have nine relationships that we consider hallmarks of transparency, communication, and quality. 2011 was a year filled with experiments and continued commitments on both the sourcing and producer side.
 
We hope you will join us in celebrating this unique way in which we continue to live our mission – bridging quality, sustainability, and knowledge sharing throughout the coffee supply chain.
 
Saludos,
Hannah
Photo by Jeff McArthur.
Transparency is one of our core values, and not only to do we try to embody it; we seek it out in our partners throughout the coffee trade. We published our first Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification (CCDTC) Transparency Report in 2009 and today we are excited to release our 2010 report, which aims to give a succinct, transparent summary of our financial and personal relationships with the producer partners whose coffees received CCDTC in 2010.
 
We hope you read the report, but, in short, 2010 was a dynamic year for our producer partners and us. Our Coffee Department spent more time on the road than ever to support our mission to improve coffee quality in the cup, quality of life for producers, and quality of relationships with growers. We were reminded of the incredible importance of good communication and solid relationships as we watched coffee prices skyrocket. Thankfully, we have long been committed to open, constant, and transparent communication, and our relationships at origin have never been stronger, helping make 2010 a great year for us and setting the stage for an even better 2011.
 
Best,
Mark
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