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Hi folks!

I split a week between Finca Pashapa and Finca El Puente (photo set forthcoming!) in November on an early-harvest, relationship-strengthening trip to see two of my favorite farms and families. Honduras has been in the news a lot more often recently than when I began traveling there four years ago, beginning with the ousting of President Mel Zelaya (in his pajamas, as the story goes) in June of 2009, continuing through controversial elections, and an unusual frequency of violence (in particular, against journalists) in the months since then. All of the political instability that makes the news here at home feels completely unrelated to life in the communities of La Labor and Marcala – hours and worlds apart from Tegucigalpa and the world of coffee farming – so I headed south with the same high hopes as always, headlines be damned.

Coyo, the matriarch of the Salazar family. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. Would you believe me if I told you that everything about these coffees, farms, and relationships just keep getting better? How is that possible? Is it magic? Nope, it's hard work and lots and lots of practice. Take Finca Pashapa, for example, which is a family operation in the fullest sense of the term: the four siblings of the Salazar family, among them "worm guy" Roberto, divide and conquer the day-to-day tasks of the family's farm, from milking cows and collecting eggs to weighing each day's coffee harvest and paying pickers accordingly, while their parents, Coyo and Jorge, preside over the house and keep the operation running. I idealize Finca Pashapa for its long-time commitment to organic certification, its independence from commercial farming inputs (meaning they make all of their farm's compost and fertilizer out of their own materials, like manure), and the integration of the Salazar family, which owns the largest farm in town, with the surrounding community, but they work incredibly hard every day to make my vision a reality.

After this many years (this will be 10 between Counter Culture and Finca Pashapa!), I'm happy to endure Roberto's teasing as I wax poetic about environmental sustainability and beseech him to share his farm's experiences with other growers. I have tried to organize farmer exchanges between Finca Pashapa and Finca Mauritania, and between Finca Pashapa and Finca Esperanza Verde because I believe that the Salazar family's model for organic production embodies real sustainability – environmental, social, and fiscal – better than any farm I have seen and that is an incredibly valuable example to share! But, as I mentioned before, that success comes at the price of hard work, which means that Roberto is a busy guy. Almost impossibly busy, I would say, between the family's farm, the mill he runs, and the cooperative he manages.

Finca Pashapa has long been committed to organic certification, dedicated to independence from commercial farming inputs (meaning they make all of their farm's compost and fertilizer out of their own materials, like manure), and the integration of the Salazar family, which owns the largest farm in town, with the surrounding community. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. One evening, sitting outside his office and waiting for him to finish another 14-hour day of work, I decided that he's like that friend who never returns your calls, EVER, but yet somehow always makes you feel, whenever you're together, that you are still the one who benefits more from the relationship. I have learned so much from Roberto's observations on everything from co-operatives to compost to cupping protocol over these past few years that I would be a fool not to wait, no matter how many hours.

On that note, I hope you enjoy the photo set's brief glimpse at some of the most interesting farms – and people – I know!

abrazos,
Kim
Hand brewing via French press or dip cone improves taste and efficiency.In pursuit of our CUPS goal of carbon neutrality by 2015, Counter Culture Coffee is trying to shrink our carbon footprint by using less: less paper, less packaging, less gasoline, and less electricity. Estimates of coffee’s seed-to-cup carbon footprint vary greatly: anywhere from two to eight pounds of carbon dioxide per pound of coffee. No matter how it’s measured, analyses show that the final stage in coffee’s lifecycle – brewing – is responsible for a large portion of that footprint.

While we continue to work on reducing the number of miles we drive and the electricity we use at our facilities, and as our grower partners continue practicing sustainable agriculture and working to reduce the energy they use on their farms, we encourage each of you to reduce your, and your cup of coffee's, carbon footprint. As of today, we added five simple, yet effective green brewing tips on our Brewing Guide page to help you avoid wasting energy and resources while brewing a delicious-tasting cup of coffee!

Saludos,
Kim Elena

Coffee from Brazil has always been an anomaly at Counter Culture. Since I started here, we have never featured a coffee from Brazil as a traditional brewed offering. Only twice have we featured a Brazilian coffee as a Single-Origin Espresso. While we know great coffees can come out of Brazil, it has always been a rare find. The lackluster growing altitude, averaging probably around 1,000 meters, combined with a greater focus on a rustic natural or pulp natural process, has for the most part made these coffees more appropriate for a mild, sweet espresso base. Over the last year or so though, I have tasted some very impressive naturals and a few pulp natural offerings that have made us wonder exactly what is possible. If you remember, in particular, the last Brazil single-origin espresso offering from Fazenda Santa Rita, the sweetness and clarity it had for natural processed Brazil really made us to visit to try to figure out these coffees a little bit more.

In Brazil:

When I arrived in Belo Horizonte, I immediately hit the road Northwest to Patrocinio, where the majority of the producers we work with are located. Within a short distance of driving (and seeing the rows and rows of coffee along the hillsides), I realized that Brazil is not only an anomaly for the origins that Counter Cultures sources from, it is an anomaly in the way coffee is done altogether. While certain areas have similarities to how coffee is picked and processed in other parts of South and Central America, much of Brazilian coffee is produced in a highly organized and mechanized fashion. Farms here can often times produce more than 100,000 pounds of coffee – and some produce well into the multi-millions of pounds. Coffee many times is picked by machine, and the real art of quality is in the separation. The green cherry needs to be separated from the ripe, the ripe needs to be separated from the already dry, and all the levels in between.

When I actually arrived In Patrocinio, I was greeted by a bunch of producers whom I knew of from tasting coffees this past year and realized that they were all friends. I also got to meet Ernesto and Edinelson Fornaro, the producers of Fazenda Santa Rita. Over the next few days, I spent a lot of time at farms and realized that, although Brazil is like no other producing country, the producers here are just as passionate about quality and farming practices as anywhere else in the world. I tasted great microlots and talked about advanced processing techniques with many of the producers. The producers here are very receptive, and, in certain cases, even more willing to try something new. Overall, as I bounced around the country my eyes were constantly opened, and I learned a ton about the coffee here. I could go on and on about how this place shattered my concept of coffee production and how great the people I met were, but like my last report, I will let the photos tell the rest of the story. Visit the Counter Culture flickr site for the full set of photos from this trip.

Check out our other flickr sets for photos from coffee-related events, farm visits, and more.

-Tim
Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. When I was naught but a wee coffee-driven person, I made my first foray into the world of coffee-producer relationships with a trip to Peru in September of 2006. In those heady days, Counter Culture Coffee had one satellite regional training center, the commodity market price for coffee hovered somewhere around $1.10, the US housing market was strong, and I had bleached blond hair. Ahhh, memories. Since then, I have spent more time here than in most other coffee-producing countries, and both Peter and Rich have made trips to Peru within the past year, as well.

Our attention owes, in large part, to the unparalleled relationship we have built with the Cenfrocafe co-operative and the five communities of coffee growers behind our Valle del Santuario, and in part to the great mystery and potential of Peruvian coffee. It takes time to explore Peru, especially when you’re bumping over dirt roads in a white Toyota station wagon, the unofficial national vehicle, but you always discover something amazing. This year, for the first time, I am visiting the growers of Valle del Santuario during the dry season and what a difference it makes! Slogs up muddy mountain paths that seemed interminable on my last trip are transformed into pleasant, if challenging, hikes, and the chilly nights contrast nicely with warm, sunny days.

Seeing the differences between the rainy season and the dry season reminds me how dramatic weather can be. In North Carolina, we certainly know heat (especially in August), and in other parts of our country, we know a breed of cold that most Peruvians couldn’t fathom. Rain and drought, though, are another story. Even in the dry season, the valleys of tiny farms around the Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary (to which our coffee owes its name) are lush with vegetation. Shade trees cover the hillsides, and you would be hard-pressed to walk from one farm to another without crossing at least one small stream. On the other hand, the areas below San Ignacio like the city of Jaén, home to the Cenfrocafe co-operative, feel like deserts at this time of year.

Growers know better than anyone that weather patterns are changing. They want to plan for the future of their farms just as we try to project into the future for the benefit of our businesses. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. On one of this week’s many long, winding drives through the Andes, I commented on the apparent drought to the co-op manager, Teodomiro. He pointed to blackened patches of hillside and explained that when it gets too dry for people to bear, they begin to burn their land because they believe (and have believed for who knows how many generations) that their sacrifice will bring the rain. And when the rainy season finally does arrive, it settles in for weeks or months and washes chunks of the hillside away in landslides. Last year’s rainy season was especially fierce and the mountains are striped with bare earth, but every year, growers tell me, the rain carries some part of their mountains away. I can’t help but think of the Appalachian Mountains, which I remember learning in grade school were once taller than the Andes. Whether time and rain could ever make Appalachians out of the Andes probably depends on geological factors that I don’t understand at all, and, meanwhile, I realize that climate change could alter this environment just as dramatically and within our lifetimes.

Growers know better than anyone that weather patterns are changing. They want to plan for the future of their farms just as we try to project into the future for the benefit of our businesses, and, unfortunately, I can’t assuage their fears or answer their questions. I am conscious of how often I say, “I don’t know” and “It depends” in response to questions that are too big for me, Counter Culture, or the relationship we have forged over the past four years to answer with any level of honesty. What if the climate does get warmer and I can’t grow coffee on my land? I don’t know. Or, by far the most commonly-asked question: is the commodity market price going to go up or down? I don’t know.

Even those questions that don’t depend on worldwide climatic or economic shifts aren’t simple, so when my answer isn’t, “I don’t know,” it’s probably “It depends.” What is the best variety of coffee to grow? It depends. How can I produce a microlot and get a higher price for my coffee? It depends. I could give short or easy answers to these growers but they wouldn’t be true, and these growers would figure me out after a year or two. And I doubt I would get invited back. The more time I spend doing this work, and the longer we work with the same growers, the more I understand that the truth – and gratification – lies precisely in that maddening complexity that it’s so tempting to simplify.

On that Peru trip of 2006, I was awed by eating guinea pig for breakfast, by the long drives, and by the party that the coffee-growing community threw upon our arrival. Four years later, I revel in strategic discussions that remind me as much of the way Counter Culture works with our customers as they do of the first-year, getting-to-know-you celebrations that take place every year for coffee buyers across Peru and the rest of the world. I guess you could say our producer relationship is growing up (and so fast! sniff). I am proud, obviously, that we’ve gotten here. But, at the same time, in the spirit of keeping the romance alive, I freely admit that I still love a community-wide party and that fried guinea pig in the morning still makes for a heck of a wake-up call.

Abrazos,
Kim Elena
Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. When I was naught but a wee coffee-driven person, I made my first foray into the world of coffee-producer relationships with a trip to Peru in September of 2006. In those heady days, Counter Culture Coffee had one satellite regional training center, the commodity market price for coffee hovered somewhere around $1.10, the US housing market was strong, and I had bleached blond hair. Ahhh, memories. Since then, I have spent more time here than in most other coffee-producing countries, and both Peter and Rich have made trips to Peru within the past year, as well.

Our attention owes, in large part, to the unparalleled relationship we have built with the Cenfrocafe co-operative and the five communities of coffee growers behind our Valle del Santuario, and in part to the great mystery and potential of Peruvian coffee. It takes time to explore Peru, especially when you’re bumping over dirt roads in a white Toyota station wagon, the unofficial national vehicle, but you always discover something amazing. This year, for the first time, I am visiting the growers of Valle del Santuario during the dry season and what a difference it makes! Slogs up muddy mountain paths that seemed interminable on my last trip are transformed into pleasant, if challenging, hikes, and the chilly nights contrast nicely with warm, sunny days.

Seeing the differences between the rainy season and the dry season reminds me how dramatic weather can be. In North Carolina, we certainly know heat (especially in August), and in other parts of our country, we know a breed of cold that most Peruvians couldn’t fathom. Rain and drought, though, are another story. Even in the dry season, the valleys of tiny farms around the Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary (to which our coffee owes its name) are lush with vegetation. Shade trees cover the hillsides, and you would be hard-pressed to walk from one farm to another without crossing at least one small stream. On the other hand, the areas below San Ignacio like the city of Jaén, home to the Cenfrocafe co-operative, feel like deserts at this time of year.

Growers know better than anyone that weather patterns are changing. They want to plan for the future of their farms just as we try to project into the future for the benefit of our businesses. Photo by Kim Elena Bullock. On one of this week’s many long, winding drives through the Andes, I commented on the apparent drought to the co-op manager, Teodomiro. He pointed to blackened patches of hillside and explained that when it gets too dry for people to bear, they begin to burn their land because they believe (and have believed for who knows how many generations) that their sacrifice will bring the rain. And when the rainy season finally does arrive, it settles in for weeks or months and washes chunks of the hillside away in landslides. Last year’s rainy season was especially fierce and the mountains are striped with bare earth, but every year, growers tell me, the rain carries some part of their mountains away. I can’t help but think of the Appalachian Mountains, which I remember learning in grade school were once taller than the Andes. Whether time and rain could ever make Appalachians out of the Andes probably depends on geological factors that I don’t understand at all, and, meanwhile, I realize that climate change could alter this environment just as dramatically and within our lifetimes.

Growers know better than anyone that weather patterns are changing. They want to plan for the future of their farms just as we try to project into the future for the benefit of our businesses, and, unfortunately, I can’t assuage their fears or answer their questions. I am conscious of how often I say, “I don’t know” and “It depends” in response to questions that are too big for me, Counter Culture, or the relationship we have forged over the past four years to answer with any level of honesty. What if the climate does get warmer and I can’t grow coffee on my land? I don’t know. Or, by far the most commonly-asked question: is the commodity market price going to go up or down? I don’t know.

Even those questions that don’t depend on worldwide climatic or economic shifts aren’t simple, so when my answer isn’t, “I don’t know,” it’s probably “It depends.” What is the best variety of coffee to grow? It depends. How can I produce a microlot and get a higher price for my coffee? It depends. I could give short or easy answers to these growers but they wouldn’t be true, and these growers would figure me out after a year or two. And I doubt I would get invited back. The more time I spend doing this work, and the longer we work with the same growers, the more I understand that the truth – and gratification – lies precisely in that maddening complexity that it’s so tempting to simplify.

On that Peru trip of 2006, I was awed by eating guinea pig for breakfast, by the long drives, and by the party that the coffee-growing community threw upon our arrival. Four years later, I revel in strategic discussions that remind me as much of the way Counter Culture works with our customers as they do of the first-year, getting-to-know-you celebrations that take place every year for coffee buyers across Peru and the rest of the world. I guess you could say our producer relationship is growing up (and so fast! sniff). I am proud, obviously, that we’ve gotten here. But, at the same time, in the spirit of keeping the romance alive, I freely admit that I still love a community-wide party and that fried guinea pig in the morning still makes for a heck of a wake-up call.

Abrazos,
Kim Elena
Lots of potatoes in Bolivia. Seriously. Photo by Tim Hill. So, with this trip report, I am going to try something a little bit different, so please bear with me. I posted 30-40 pictures on Flickr to visually take you into the sight and scenes – including notes along the way.

An Overview:

I left North Carolina not really knowing what to expect. We have been working with the Cenaproc cooperative for many years now, and, while the coffee had been good, we have certainly had some issues, as well. The goal of the trip was to see if further work with Cenaproc is possible, and to see what else is going on around the country.

On this trip, I visited a single farm, 2 co-ops, a few wet mills, and two dry mills. Overall, I was impressed with everyone. The term microlot has become a standard, and single farmers and co-ops alike are realizing that if they separate out quality, they can earn more for that coffee.

A cross-pollinated coffee cherry that looks like a beach ball. Photo by Tim Hill. Cenaproc, without question, has tons of potential. Everyone knows they have great coffee, and, out of 27 samples I tasted, 6 of the top 8 were from Cenaproc. They do have some processing issues, but those should be easy fixes. We will taste some microlots this year, and hopefully the relationship between us we thrive. Next year, I believe things will be even better.

I met Maria Nidia Ascarrunz, who owns Finca Copacabana and the Vicopex dry mill. Both were very impressive operations. Vicopex is doing great processing, and I believe coffees from there will be better than anywhere else.

My last stop on the trip was to Agritrade. I met Pedro Rodriguez and his daughter, Daniela. Agritrade is a large operation, but they also have the ability to select out some very good small producer lots. I was well calibrated with everyone there and hopefully we will taste more coffee from them in the future.

Bolivia is a really interesting place, but does have some internal problems. The travel of the coffee from the Yungus at high moisture content is something that needs to be solved, and it may be Bolivia’s greatest challenge for coffee quality. We have a couple ideas that may lead to answers for this. Bolivia’s politics are also something to keep a watch on. The country is leaning more and more towards countries like Venezuela, and groups like USAID that, in the past, have provided funding for good projects in coffee, are no longer quite as prolific around the area. As with every country we do business in, the potential in Bolivia is huge, but the question is can certain challenges be overcome.

To see a lot more of this trip, go to the Counter Culture Coffee flickr page.

-Tim
Peru, July 2010. Photo by Peter Giuliano. Here I am, swimming upstream. You see, great coffees are created on a farm. Coffee is a miracle of nature, and at its perfect point of ripeness, it is full of potential flavor. The farmer then carefully prepares the coffee for export, pulping, fermenting, washing, and drying to enhance the coffee’s natural greatness. At that point, the coffee has all of its deliciousness locked up inside of it – and it must be protected and preserved during its long journey from the farm to our roastery.

My job this week is to work my way backwards along the long road that coffee takes to get to us. I’m swimming upstream, towards the farm, making sure that the great coffees we work with farmers to create are safe during that long journey. And so, after landing in Peru last week, my first stop was the port town of Piura, where our Valle del Santuario coffee is loaded on ships bound for the U.S. Our first stop was the dry mill where the coffee gets its final peeling, sorting, and bagging before export. This is the least romantic part of a coffee buyer’s job – inspecting the mill, talking about containers and logistics and bags – but it’s impossible to have perfect coffee without perfecting the process of getting it to us. We seek to improve every year, and this year we’re streamlining the process to get the coffee to us sooner, fresher, and even closer to coffee perfection!

Away from the coast and through the foothills of the Andes – up and over the spectacular peaks of South America – is little valley where the greatest coffee in Peru is grown. Photo by Peter Giuliano. I then set out East, away from the coast and through the foothills of the Andes – driving up and over the spectacular peaks of South America to get to the little valley where the greatest coffee in Peru is grown. I will risk using the word “spectacular” again to describe the massive and beautiful mountains that span Peru’s northern border and tower between the farms where our coffee is grown and the port. The road is long and treacherous and winds for countless miles – at times clinging to the side of a valley, with hundreds of feet falling away below. After hours of driving, we finally made it to Jaen – in the heart of coffee country. There, I was met by the leadership of CENFROCAFE, the co-op which helps us export the coffee, and Elias and Alex – the two cuppers who are such an important part of identifying the great coffees of this area. After a night of rest, we set out again for 4 more hours of driving to get to Ihuamaca, one of the towns that produces Valle del Santuario.

In Ihuamaca, Peru, the children of the town welcomed Peter with a traditional dance. Photo by Peter Giuliano. I received a warm welcome; the children of the town performed a traditional dance, and afterwards we proceeded to the home of Zacharias Neyra for a meal. Zacharias is a community leader, great spirit, and wonderful coffee farmer – coffee from his farm was one of the coffees that made up our Valle del Santuario “3 Farmers” microlot this year. After lunch, as we walked his farm, Zacharias explained that he had expanded his farm this year – growing from 1.5 hectares to 2. He told me he was able to make the purchase, in part, with the extra premium we paid for his spectacular coffee. I could not have been happier.

Zacharias Neyra expanded his farm this year – from 1.5 hectares to 2 – in part, with the extra premium Counter Culture paid for his spectacular coffee. Photo by Peter Giuliano. We hiked other farms in the village, occasionally stopping for a passion fruit or tangerine from trees on these diverse, organic farms. We walked together as a group, and I realized I was surrounded by the all-stars of Peruvian coffee. These farmers create the greatest coffee in Peru, and one of the greatest in all of Latin America. I had finally made it home, to the birthplace of this great coffee. It’s going to be another great year for Valle del Santuario, and we’ll make sure the coffee is safe on its long journey from that little valley to your cup.

Next week, Cuzco!

-Peter
The Thiriku Coffee Growers Co-op Society Ltd. Sign in Nyeri, Kenya. Photo by Counter Culture Coffee. Kenya is so interesting. In the United States, we know Kenya mainly for two of its cash crops, coffee and tea, and for its unparalleled wildlife-viewing opportunities (have you seen the lion-versus-buffalo-versus-crocodile video on YouTube?) in the country's network of national parks. Europe increasingly relies on Kenya for other agricultural products, including fruit and cut flowers, and within Africa – particularly East Africa – Kenya is a manufacturing powerhouse.

While this wasn't my first time to Kenya, I had never seen a Kenyan coffee farm or any of the numerous washing stations from which Counter Culture has purchased coffee, and I felt more than a little bit in awe as I headed north from Nairobi to the famous coffee-producing region of Nyeri. It seemed as though I recognized the name of every village we passed through – Kangocho! Gitchathaini! Tegu! – from countless cuppings, and I had to control my urge to take photographs of every road sign. With only a day in Kenya on this trip, I was limited to visiting one farmer cooperative society, and I naturally chose Thiriku, one of the co-ops from which we purchased coffee in 2009. I arrived at the washing station full of excitement and questions, of course! How many growers are in the co-op? What is the average yield per plant? Why does this coffee taste so amazing? And such.

Washed coffee drying on raised beds at the Thiriku co-op in Nyeri, Kenya. Thiriku just began receiving coffee from their producer members for this year's fly crop – the smaller, between-harvests-harvest that is the equivalent of Colombia's mitaca – last week. There was a tiny amount of coffee on the drying table for me to photograph, but things were pretty quiet overall, and after touring the co-op's impressively-organized wet-milling operation, I sat down with the management of Thiriku in their offices and, over cups of milky tea (which I totally wasn't expecting, even though I can hear myself telling customers that Kenyan coffee growers don't drink coffee, but rather tea) discussed the desires of their 2,400 members, our coffee-purchasing philosophies, and some of the challenges that Thiriku and Counter Culture face if we want to work together in the future to buy larger amounts of coffee and develop a long-term relationship. We have all become accustomed to drinking a variety of small, exquisite lots from different Kenyan producer groups, including the ones I mentioned, each year. While we love the variety and exploration of flavor that this approach affords us, we also look longingly toward a day when we find the equivalent of our La Golondrina or 21st de Septiembre in a Kenyan cooperative.

Smaller between-harvest harvest are referred to as 'fly crops' in Kenya. Photo by Counter Culture Coffee. So what's stopping us? Well, like I said, Kenya is interesting, not least because we consistently pay double, triple, or quadruple the price we pay for other Direct Trade coffees for our Kenyan coffees. These prices owe, in part, to the spectacularly complex, savory, and citrusy flavor profile of the best Kenyan coffees (like this year's Thiriku), which are unmistakable and impossible to substitute. Even more than the flavor profile, though, the prices result from the unique Kenyan coffee auction system that regulated all of Kenya's coffee sales for almost 70 years, until the opening of the "second window system" in 2006. Since then, Counter Culture has purchased most of our coffees through that window, which allows for direct negotiation and price discovery outside of the auction. Because the weekly coffee auction in Nairobi still exists and tempts growers every year with the possibility, however remote, of some random buyers falling in love with a coffee and bidding up its price at auction, we have found ourselves paying higher prices for the privilege of buying coffees directly than these coffees could ever fetch at an auction! This instability and lack of commitment can be frustrating, and don't lend themselves to the formation of a long-term relationship.

Kim Elena with representatives of the Thiriku co-op in Nyeri, Kenya, in June, 2010. The lot we purchased from Thiriku this year is one of those top-dollar lots: exquisite in the cup and limited in quantity. In my travels and negotiations, I often explain to groups of growers that we could buy coffee from them at any price, but that a higher-priced coffee is more difficult to sell. Happily, I was able to share our experiences and puzzle over this predicament with the leadership of the Thiriku co-op.

Unfortunately, I had to leave our discussion earlier than I would have liked to in order to make my way back to the bustling capital before dark. We expect the arrival of new-crop coffees from Thiriku and a few other farmer co-op societies in the very near future, and I know that it won't be a moment too soon for lovers of these complex, savory coffees! I am excited to know Thiriku and to communicate over the course of this year, hopefully in the name of finding more great lots and building on this year's strategizing in the years to come.

Saludos,
Kim Elena

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