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Late Bloomers

Luis Huayhua (pronounced WHY-wuh) and Justina Ramos are two members of the Cenaproc co-operative whose coffees we have isolated from that of other coffee growers in and around the town of Nueva Llusta. Our current offerings from Nueva Llusta hail from the second half of the harvest, but Justina’s name should look familiar, as we sold an early harvest lot of hers at the end of 2013 along with a single farmer coffee from Irene Gomez.

Notes on the Coffees

We are always thrilled when we find exceptionally delicious coffees and that excitement is compounded when we can attribute multiple standout coffees to the same producer, not to mention the same producer twice in a single harvest! One of the realities of working with small-scale coffee farmers, even in ideal geographic conditions, is that many of them don’t exercise the level of control or monitoring of their processes necessary to create top-notch quality day in and day out. After only one year, we certainly don’t know Justina Ramos, her farm or her processes well enough to make sweeping pronouncements, but years of experience buying (and researching!) single-farmer lots have taught us that feedback is important, as is drawing a clear relationship between farming practices and taste quality. We have ten years of history with the Cenaproc co-op and we hope for at least ten more, so we are deep into our thinking about how to support members with standout coffees - Justina Ramos, Irene Gomez, Luis Huayhua (of whom we have more pictures than of all other Bolivian coffee producers put together, I’m certain) - and bring more growers, and more coffee, to a level of quality that is consistent. In our departmental cuppings, the Huayhua lot has nudged out the Ramos, but it’s anyone’s game on Friday and I’d love to hear your votes.

Rollout Dates and Availability

The Ramos lot will be available for ordering on Friday! Depending on how quickly we move through that lot, we may sell the two coffees side-by-side or we may begin selling the Huayhua lot when we run out of Ramos’s coffee. We have a total of four single-farmer lots from this shipment of Nueva Llusta to roll out, so you have even more to look forward to!

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Thrice is nice

Our late harvest lot from Nueva Llusta is holding strong as we prepare to shift our attention from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere.

Notes on the Coffees

Counter Culture ended up with more coffee from Nueva Llusta than we expected from 2013’s harvest, which almost never happens, and was especially surprising given that we spent years struggling to get anything remotely good, much less great, from the Cenaproc co-operative. We put pressure on Pedro Patana, the manager of Cenaproc, to ship coffee early and succeeded in getting the earliest arrival from Bolivia that we have ever experienced (and the best-tasting coffee from Nueva Llusta we have purchased, to boot). In the midst of emails about shipping the early lot, Pedro mentioned that twenty of their members beyond the twenty-eight contributing to the first lot wanted to submit coffee from their farms to us. We are pleased and proud that our project has gained such traction in Nueva Llusta that farmers are hearing about it and looking for ways to get involved, and we are already planning how we can do more in Bolivia in 2014.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We just began selling this second lot and we expect to keep them in stock through the month of May.

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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
 
Bartolo Concha – Single-Farmer Lot from Valle del Santuario, Peru

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Andean All-Stars

Culturally, climatically and topographically, the communities whose coffees comprise Valle del Santuario and El Gavilán are virtually identical, but an invisible political border separates Peruvian from Ecuadorian territory. I have crossed the border from La Balsa (Peru) to Zamora (Ecuador) and I will tell you that with the exception of a small wooden police station and a sign in an empty restaurant offering money exchange (cambio), nothing differentiates the town on one side of the yellow bridge from the town on the other. Sleepy as it is, though, we have that border to thank for the fact that today we are tasting two coffees and not just one, because for so many people, geographic designations still define and differentiate coffees more than factors like variety, elevation or processing methods that we know have more impact on cup quality and flavors than country of origin. With similar coffee varieties, elevation and processing, Bartolo Concha from San Ignacio, Peru and Luis Camacho from Loja, Ecuador, are like brothers of another mother in the context of global coffee.

That said, while recognizing that other factors play a larger role than political geography in determining coffee flavor, differing political and economic climates in two neighboring countries can influence everything from a farmer’s selection of coffee varieties to plant to the price that he receives for his coffee on the local market. Peru dwarfs Ecuador in economic might (not to mention in square miles) and its accelerated growth in recent decades has led to government investment in the coffee sector. Rural communities like the ones around San Ignacio are a long way from Lima, but the central government makes sure that the roads are in good condition and national banks have supported programs for infrastructure improvements and farm productivity in co-operatives even in the hinterlands. The Cenfrocafe cooperative, of which Bartolo Concha is a member, has more than doubled its membership since we began buying their coffee seven years ago and low-interest loans from government institutions have really made that possible by allowing them to provide more services to growers and pay higher prices than other buyers.

Ecuador, by contrast, has a smaller economy, a president (Rafael Correa) who flirts with the anti-capitalist (or imperialist, or whatever you want to call it) leaders of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua and not a lot of money invested in coffee. Also, they use the dollar as their currency, which means that most things are more expensive in Ecuadorian dollars than in Peruvian nuevos soles. Fapecafes was formed with international aid money and still relies on aid more than loans to float their operation, which is a much less stable position to be in than Cenfrocafe’s (for them, their buyers, and their producer members). Members of the Fapecafes co-op who visited coffee farms in Peru spoke admiringly about the conditions of farms and the transportation across the border, but they also expressed pride that their farms have more Typica and Bourbon than Peru’s, where Catimor types have been more widely promoted.

Notes on the Coffees

Bartolo Concha

Bartolo Concha grows Bourbon, Caturra and Pache varieties of coffee on two small parcels of land which total 2 hectares in production. The names of his two farms are El Limón (the lemon) and El Cedro (the cedar). He is single and lives in the community of Francisco Bolognesi outside of San Ignacio, Peru. We picked two lots from among the coffees we tasted from the five communities we work with closely this year and this was the second of them that we sold. We have said farewell to Sr. Concha’s coffee this year, but look forward to seeing what next year holds for him and the rest of the Valle del Santuario.

Luis Camacho

Due to leaf rust, poor climatic conditions and the aforementioned instability of the co-op, Fapecafes produced very little top-quality coffee this year. Without enough volume to fill our contract for El Gavilán, we found ourselves in a situation with Fapecafes that we try mightily to avoid, namely, buying micro lots without a main lot to support it. Given our prior relationship with Fapecafes and our hope that things will improve this year, we opted to buy a few coffees from individual farmers and celebrate the quality as we would otherwise, but I’m sure more than a few of you will be wondering where the rest of the coffee is (your answer: Toscano).

Luis Camacho is a member of the Procafeq association of Quilanga, which name inspired us to call our coffee El Gavilán because Quilanga is the Aymara word for a hawk’s nest, and he grows typica and bourbon varieties of coffee on two hectares of land in the village of Changaimina.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Luis Camacho is scheduled to roll out on February 25. We will have the opportunity to enjoy Bartolo Concha on Friday, however, it, sadly, has already come and gone from our offering list. 

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

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