You are here

Theme
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

Theme

There's Only One Grand Reserve

Aida's Grand Reserve enters its ninth year, and, as always, it's at once a delicious coffee and great fodder for conversation about quality, relationships, and what makes a product special.

Style of Tasting

Cup and Brew

Tasters familiar with Aida's Grand Reserve will definitely want to cup it to get as much sensory information as possible, so begin by setting up the two coffees for cupping. Also be prepared to brew a batch or two of AGR to enjoy in at a more leisurely rate either as your cuppers are arriving or after you finish cupping—or both!

Notes on the Coffees

A few weeks ago, I said that Finca Mauritania is an example of how good a coffee can be with average elevation and good varieties when every step of the harvesting and processing of that coffee is flawless. Well, Aida's Grand Reserve, which we purchase from the same Aida Batlle who's responsible for Finca Mauritania's coffee, represents how much better a producer can make coffee when she has the option to complement coffee from better elevation and varieties with perfect processing.

Let me explain. Of the farms that Aida's family owns, Finca Mauritania is the lowest elevation and the only one that is 100% Bourbon variety, while her other farms—Los Alpes and Kilimanjaro—are higher up the Ilmantepec volcano and have more complex-tasting varieties like Kenia, Pacamara, and Typica.

Of course, Aida is not changing the varieties or elevation of coffee from an individual farm. But, unlike most farmers, she is able to apply the picking, processing, and selection techniques—the techniques that make Finca Mauritania so good—to varieties and elevation that are even better.

For most farmers, varieties are difficult to experiment with, because projects require at least five years to produce adequately and experimenting with elevation is impossible—unless you have money to spend on buying more land to farm and planting it with coffee, which, as you might expect, is rare.

Getting back to Grand Reserve, this is the ninth year that Aida has challenged herself to create a small lot of extraordinary coffee from among the many coffee varieties and methods of processing that she has available, and it's also our ninth year selling this coffee.

The idea began as a way to recoup costs from the damage caused by the 2005 eruption of the Ilmantepec volcano and has since become a coffee that Aida is incredibly proud of—over which she spends countless hours agonizing each year. Saying that every batch is unique is an understatement of comic proportions: A few years ago, there were no fewer than 27 different components to Aida's Grand Reserve coming from three farms, three processes (washed, sundried natural, and pulp natural), and three fermentation styles (Kenya, Ethiopia, and El Salvador) within the washed coffee segments.

The 2014 lot is simpler in its composition—which is exclusively washed coffees from Finca Kilimanjaro and Finca Los Alpes (i.e., no naturals, no Mauritania)—but the flavors don't lack for fruitiness or complexity. Though there are fewer components this year, Aida's Grand Reserve is by no means basic, as we're still talking about three varieties (Bourbon, Typica, and Kenia) from two farms and fermentation techniques borrowed from Burundi and Kenya.

Having tasted so many iterations of Aida's farms' coffees over the years, as well as the annual Grand Reserve lot, we have encouraged her to focus on the farms with the best elevation and varieties, as opposed to including all of the farms and all of the processes she knows—as she did in that year of the 27 components. I'm sure there's a sports or musical analogy to be made about demonstrating true mastery through refinement, as opposed to sheer volume, but, for this audience, Aida's coffees probably need no analogies in order to make sense.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Finca Mauritania is already on the menu and Aida's Grand Reserve is slated to roll out in mid-November, pending brand-spankin' new packaging.

–Kim Elena

Theme

Find a Huehue

We’ve got four coffees on the table again this week! To what do we owe this good fortune? The country of Guatemala is the size of Louisiana and Counter Culture’s four relationships are all to the west of the capital city, but similar to last week’s tasting, the geographic proximity belies the diversity of flavor that this week’s table showcases.

Notes on the Coffees

Finca Nueva Armenia is our longest-running relationship in Guatemala and we have been unwavering in our commitment to celebrating this beautiful farm and the work of the Recinos brothers. Climate change and coffee leaf rust have conspired to diminish the quality of a large portion of the farm’s lower elevation coffee, while our standards for single-origin coffee just keep getting higher, and over the past few years we have sold less of the farm’s coffee straight and used more of it for blending. We have an especially small amount of Finca Nueva Armenia’s coffee straight this year, but we are working on next year’s contracts, plans, and expectations this week and believe we’ll see more, better coffee from Finca Nueva Armenia next year. What we do have comes from Grotto, the highest part of the farm, which we’ve consistently found to be fruitier, sweeter, and more complex than the coffees from lower down the mountain.

The town of Concepción Huista lies only about an hour’s drive east of Finca Nueva Armenia, but the farms are much newer and the land belongs primarily to smallholder farmers, as opposed to the larger farms in western Huehuetenango. We bought our first coffees from Codech in 2010 and since then we’ve spent a lot of time working with them to improve their coffees—and occasionally competing with others to secure them. The eight hundred families that belong to Codech produce coffees that range in flavor from flat and nutty, to fruit reminiscent of sundried naturals, to an occasional coffee that is floral and almost Kenya-esque in flavor.

La Voz makes a guest appearance today at a lighter roast level than most of you have tasted it since we pulled it out of the single-origin lineup. Since 2012 they have proven a consistent producer of good, sweet coffees, some of which end up in Farmhouse, some of which we decaffeinate and one of which, this year, exceeded our expectations and made the single-origin ranks. The ability of this co-op, whose mill is on the shores of Lake Atitlán, to operate efficiently and ship coffee early is worth a lot to us, so while their coffees aren’t always the equal in complexity to the previous two on the table, we wouldn’t trade it.

Our newest addition is Sipacapa, which comes from San Marcos, a region roughly between Huehuetenango and Atitlán. The mountains in this area of Guatemala reach some impressive elevations and we’ve had our eyes on it for a few years, though this year marked the first that we zeroed in on a particular co-operative in a community. Hannah visited this group for the first time this year and noted that for a young organization, it’s very organized, dedicated to implementing economically sustainable organic agriculture and capable of supporting its members.

We’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to Guatemala over the past four years and in 2014 we bought more coffee from this country than any other. Good geography, good varieties, good processing techniques and powerful small farmer organizations make this the country in Central America that we keep investing in to suit our growth.

Rollout Dates and Availability

With the exception of La Voz, all of these coffees are available now in the form that you will taste them, and La Voz is roasted a little bit darker in Farmhouse.

 
We're pleased to announce the debut of Espresso Fundamentals—the newly updated full-day course which replaces Beginner Espresso in the Counter Intelligence curriculum!

Espresso Fundamentals is a dynamic blend of context-building lecture and hands-on tasting and technique exercises, designed to introduce new baristas to the foundational skills needed behind an espresso machine, and to take more experienced baristas to the next level in their understanding and crafting of espresso and espresso-based drinks.

Learn more and sign-up on the Espresso Fundamentals page.
May 2014 Pro Dev: How Strong is Your Espresso?How strong IS your espresso, really? And, are you sure?

Join Counter Culture for Pro Dev on Wednesday, May 28, at 3 p.m. in our Training Centers as we explore espresso extraction using tools that have become industry standard: the VST coffee and espresso refractometer and the Extract Mojo app.

We’ll discuss how these tools and other VST technology contribute to our understanding of espresso, and why/how Counter Culture uses these tools to objectively measure brewed coffee.

Of course, we’ll be tasting as we go, so come prepared to consume some espresso!

Counter Culture Regional Training Centers host monthly Pro Dev sessions the last Wednesday of the month. Free and open to all coffee professionals.

Attention Coffee Professionals: Please join us for our new Pro Dev series on Wednesday, April 30, at 3:00 p.m., at any of our Training Centers for a survey discussion of what is currently huge news regarding systematic changes to the coffee market in Nyeri, Kenya. Despite the relative radio silence about the origin in U.S. news, big things are brewing in the land of our beloved SL-28.

We'll talk about the situation; what it means for the future of Counter Culture favorites like Thiriku, Kangocho, and other lots from Nyeri; and taste some of the fruits of Timothy Hill's recent experimentation, labor, and new-relationship building in other regions of the country.

Counter Culture Regional Training Centers host monthly Pro Dev sessions the last Wednesday of the month. Free and open to all coffee professionals.

These events, which are free and open to all coffee professionals, focus on peer-to-peer professional education, palate development, and exploration into some of the most interesting and relevant topics in specialty coffee. They're a chance for coffee professionals to grow their skills and knowledge together in a noncompetitive, open environment, and to build conversations around the issues that matter most to the industry at large.

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.
Good morning, cuppers!
 
Sorting at Mpemba.With 52 weeks in a year and three coffees (on average) in each of our weekly cuppings, it stands to reason that we have read, spoken, and learned about – not to mention brewed and tasted – 156 coffees together since this time last year! Of course, one could argue that we have repeated coffees, but anyone who has cupped as long as you all have knows that our understanding of coffee grows through repetition. In the depth-versus-breadth debate, I fall firmly on the side of depth. In any case, it has been a heck of a year in coffee, and it means a lot to me to have gotten to share thoughts from the Coffee Department on all 156 of 'em.
 
The last of 2013's Friday cuppings showcases three stellar coffees from Burundi. Our story begins with the washed coffee from the Buziraguhindwa washing station in Kayanza, which we have been purchasing since 2010, making it our longest-running relationship in Africa. Is that surprising? Given how new the whole country is to the specialty coffee industry, I'd say it's kind of surprising, and we certainly have longer track records of purchasing from washing stations like Ndaroini in Kenya, but those purchases haven't been in consecutive years. The strong relationships we now count on to bring us awesome coffees – see: Haru, Idido, Remera, etc. – have been built on the model of Buziraguhindwa and the lessons we have learned in the years we have been working with them.
 
We were really excited to get to buy coffee from Mpemba in 2012 because we weren't the only buyer interested in the Kazoza N'Ikawa cooperative's first coffees from this washing station. Good elevation, solid infrastructure, and a well-respected manager are universally appealing, but we were especially committed to getting connected to a cooperative because most of our successes in Burundi, including Buziraguhindwa, had been with privately owned washing stations. Elsewhere in the world, almost all of the coffee we buy from small-holder farmers comes to us through producer cooperatives, which come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of effectiveness but, at the end of the day, share a measure of accountability to the individual, as well as potential for empowerment that private washing stations don't.
 
After last year's lot of Mpemba arrived tasting fantastic, we were doubly pleased with our decision to grow, and in 2013 the washing station's coffee took fourth place in the Burundi's Golden Cup Competition. In most of our cuppings this year, Mpemba's coffee has been the more complex of the two in flavor and brightness, but I'll be curious to hear whether you find them to be distinctly different, and how.
 
Finally, the coffee that will inevitably generate the most discussion is Buziraguhindwa's sundried natural coffee, which is, as far as we know, the only sundried natural coffee exported from Burundi. Despite similarities between climate and geography across the coffee-producing countries of East Africa, Ethiopia has remained the only producer of sundried natural coffees for export – which is a way of saying that all countries make them but they're mostly not good. Buzi Nat – as I know this coffee will be nicknamed – is the result of curiosity and of our ability to experiment within our supply chains.
 
I feel like a broken record when I say that our strong relationships and our persistence are the foundation of innovation, but it's true, and it's important to understanding who we are and what we do. The reason that Ramadhan, one of the owners of Buziraguhindwa, was intrigued by the prospect of sundried natural coffee wasn't because he got some tip that it's a market poised for massive growth but because we were excited about it and committed to it before it even existed (which was the case with our first coffee from the washing station back in 2010, as well). The story of our sundried natural coffee from Bufcafe in Rwanda last year bears many similarities to Buziraguhindwa's and now Sam, the mill manager, wants to produce an entire container of sundried natural coffee for us– which is, like, 10 times as much as we bought from him in last year. I don't know if we'll actually want that much, but it feels like a testament to Counter Culture's ideas and our approach.
 
Though this story is far from complete, I can never fit everything I want to say into a single e-mail and I've got 52 e-mails to write in 2014, I'll leave you now with the hope that today's cupping is a great conclusion to this great year.
 
–Kim Elena
 

Pages