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Seasonal Shift

We chose this week’s three coffees because they’re all new, which is a very good reason for all of us to taste them and a tried-and-true recipe for a fun Friday morning at Counter Culture Coffee.

Style of Tasting


Pretend it’s 2010, back before we began questioning the sanctity of the three-coffee-Friday-cupping formula, and line these suckers up.

Notes on the Coffees

This is the first year we have decaffeinated coffee from La Voz in Guatemala and I’m sure glad we did, because this is a really good decaf from a coffee grower group we really like working with. It’s challenging to keep decaffeinated coffees tasting fresh and we work hard to offer single-origin decafs that meet the same standards for quality, transparency and relationships as our more popular, celebrated, caffeinated single-origin coffees. It takes a while to get coffee to Swiss Water Decaf in Vancouver and then back down here, and in this case, in the time between this coffee’s shipment from Guatemala and its arrival in Durham, we managed to sell through all of this year’s caffeinated coffee from La Voz. Fear not, it will return next year and meanwhile, I encourage you to treat this decaf with respect because it’s a far sight better—by any measure—than what most decaf drinkers are used to imbibing.

We have all become familiar with Concepcion Huista over the past few years, which is the name of the town in northeastern Huehuetenango where the Codech co-operative has its headquarters. Coffee arrives at Codech from a myriad of communities and farmer groups around Concepcion Huista and this year, one of our goals with the co-op was to isolate a few communities where we knew, based on topographical information and our tasting experience, that some of the best coffees were growing. This week we taste coffee from farms in and around Pojtaj (pronounce the j with an exhalation most similar to the h for something resembling pohhh-TAHHH), which is one of two single-community lots we have. We haven’t yet decided whether we want to sell Pojtaj or Tzunhuitz (zoon-WEETS) straight, but regardless, you all have a fruity, community-specific coffee to look forward to, as well as a single-farmer lot from a fellow named Pedro Gomez. We have invested a lot of time and energy into Codech because we have tasted coffees from here that are unique in flavor among other Guatemalan coffees and because their growing conditions are among the best in Central America.

The last time we tasted Apollo, it was 100% Haru and I believe I included as a caveat that it might not stay that way for long. Today we taste Apollo made with Idido Grade 2, which is a perfect harmony between coffee and product. According to the Ethiopian system for grading coffees, grade 2 coffees receive less sorting than grade 1 coffees and as a result are a less expensive and generally a little bit less refined (note that I said generally - in fact, in some years from some places, grade 2 coffees have actually out-scored grade 1 coffees). The jury is still out on whether it’s always worth the extra money for the top grade, but in Idido’s case this year, grade one takes top billing so we are selling the fruitier, cleaner Idido Grade 1 straight right now and roasting Idido Grade 2 a little bit darker for Apollo.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Decaf La Voz is available to sell Friday and will be available for the next few months, while Pojtaj (or Tzunhuitz) will roll out another week or so later and probably not last as long. Apollo is available year-round and will be Idido Grade 2 for a while, unless it changes, in which case, we’ll let you know and you’ll likely taste it.


Constructing the Blend – Part 2 of 2

Just when you finally eliminated the word “blend” from your vocabulary, we throw you a curveball by the name of Equilibrium. But before you roll your eyes and/or sigh loudly, you should taste this coffee because it’s really, really delicious.

Though we have worked hard to transition many products-formerly-known-as-blends to flavor profiles that are embodied by one single-origin coffee, we would never suggest that two delicious coffees together can’t be greater than the sum of its parts. Making that harmony work requires flexibility, though, and year-round products with flavor profile parameters—let’s call them old school blends—don’t offer that at all, so Equilibrium represents a foray into a new school. This blend is not driven by a need for consistency, but rather by the idea of capturing something fleeting, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. It probably won’t come back. Ever. When we run out of one of the components, or when coffees begin fading, or when we have another interesting flavor (or flavor combination) to present, this coffee will disappear like a single-origin coffee and we’ll move on to the next season.

Hannah put it well last week when she said, “Equilibrium is three of the most delicious coffees available to us in summer and early fall, and they somehow become even more delicious, bright, and complex when combined together.” Having tasted the components, I hope you can better appreciate the interplay of flavors in the blend.

Notes on the Coffees

As a nod to its name, Equilibrium is made up of equal parts of three coffees.

33% Idido, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia

Our first lot from the Idido cooperative in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia represents a select group of 200 of the most dedicated farmers. These farmers turned in their best cherry at the peak of the 2013-2014 harvest season for this washed, special-preparation coffee. Notes of melon, orange blossom, and citrus.

33% Concepcion Huista, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

One of the most highly anticipated Central American coffees we offer, Concepción Huista delivers yet again! This year—our fourth working with the Codech cooperative—we continued to focus on buying smaller lots in order to capture higher quality from particular geographic regions within the cooperative’s reach. Look for softer flavors of creamy caramel and sweet plum.

33% Ngunguru, Nyeri, Kenya

Ngunguru is one of three members of the Tekangu cooperative society. When we went looking for great Nyeri coffee this year, we knew we had to share Ngunguru's coffee with you. Lush, complex notes of raisin and sweet savoriness abound.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Equilibrium rolled out last Friday in some sparkling new packaging. We anticipate it will stick around through September or October, but with the way it tastes now, why wait?
One of our good friends in the Durham, NC, area, Merge Records is celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. This coming weekend, July 23-26, they are having a four-day music festival in Durham and Carrboro, NC. 

We'll be there on Saturday, July 25, brewing up iced coffee, along with several other local vendors. If you'll be in the area, we'd love to see you!

For more details, check out their event page.


It’s a Numbers Game

We have a single coffee to taste this week—Number Forty-Six—and a single brewing style—cupping—but by manipulating variables of brew time, water temperature, and grind size we will take it from okay to very good (and we’ll explain why, too).

Style of Tasting


Measure twenty (or twenty-four, or twenty-eight) cups of Number Forty-Six and divide them into four sets of five to seven cups each. We will treat each set differently, so I’ll write separate instructions for each of them.

Set #1: This set is the control for our semi-experiment, so I’ll ask you to use the coffee-to-water ratio, grind setting and pour technique you might usually use for Friday cuppings. I don’t know how many of you measure water temperature for cuppings (and if you do, great!), but we’re going for about 210F, or right off the boil, for this set. While this may be hotter than some of you are used to, I know that for our fifty-something-person cuppings here in Durham around the holidays, we tend to grab kettles off of induction burners and begin brewing immediately with water that is hot, hot, hot.

Set #2: Follow the same steps used for the first set, but bring the water temperature down to 200F.

Set #3: Follow the same steps as in the second set (low brewing temp) but grind on a coarser setting (say, old-school French press).

Set #4: Grind coffee on a fine setting (not as fine as the Dittig “espresso” setting, but significantly finer than your regular cupping setting) and use 192-195F water to brew. After making your initial pour and letting the coffee bloom, return to this set and add water to the cups, trying to keep the majority of each cup’s crust intact, until the crust is level with the top of the cup. Also, break this set at 2:30 minutes instead of 4 minutes.

Cupping leaders of the Type-A persuasion may be wondering how to juggle these different parameters and it will definitely be a good idea to have a few extra hands to help, but as long as you have kettles of water at different temperatures ready simultaneously, it should be pretty straightforward. Pour the last set at about the 1:30 mark for the other three sets so that all four are ready to break at once.

Notes on the Coffees

We are all familiar with Number Forty-Six, but I suspect that few of us brew and drink it regularly. Since the departure of La Forza and the various French roasts, this product has held the title of our darkest coffee, which may seem like a dubious honor to some of us but still probably attracts more coffee drinkers than it dissuades. I’m one of those people who rarely drinks Number Forty-Six, in part because I feel like I know it well after so many years and in part because I lean toward our lighter coffees (I admit it, I let my prejudice against darker-roasted coffees keep me from choosing this coffee for my morning brew even when it contains awesome ingredients). Anyway, when I DO taste Number Forty-Six, it tends to be on the cupping table and, sadly, the coffee usually tastes bitter and astringent.

Many in our peer group would immediately attribute negative qualities to dark roasting, but what if it’s not about flaws in the roast as flaws in our cupping protocol? Think about this: the Cupper’s Handbook lists appropriate brew temperature as between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, but when was the last time you cupped with 195 degree water or considered changing the water temperature for different coffees? The handbook also suggests a roast level and when we cup on Fridays, or when we cup production roasts, we often venture outside of that range. We know from the Brewing Science series that changing one parameter of brewing triggers the need to change others and our hope is that today’s exercise serves as a reminder to examine cupping as a brewing method so that we don’t unwittingly give advantages to some coffees at the expense of others.

I think this is one of the most interesting tastings we’ve done in a while and I am REALLY curious about how you, and your audiences, react to the four samples. If you or your audience is generally pro-lighter-roast, do any of the changes we make to the brewing process serve to open minds? If your audience is pro-darker-roast, does the first coffee still taste good? 

Rollout Dates and Availability

Number Forty-Six may outlast us all.



Toscano and Rustico grace our tables and grinder hoppers today with recently reformulated recipes that reflect the seasonal change that we promise for all of our year-round products.

Notes on the Coffees

Toscano and Rustico are both tasting really good right now, so we decided to use this week’s tasting as an opportunity to spend a little bit more time with them. It’s easy to overlook these coffees when it comes time to choose what we taste on Fridays because we look first to what’s new (and much of the time, we have something new or almost new to feature, explain and explore), then to what’s about to go away (and that’s not uncommon, either, especially when we have new offerings), so we don’t spend as much time on Fridays with these kind of coffees as we do with some coffees that represent much smaller volumes for us. After so many years, I have no doubt that we all know what these coffees taste like, but it’s important to stay connected to them.

Currently Toscano is comprised of 70% Finca Nueva Armenia from Guatemala and 30% Dulce Nombre, a part of El Puente in Honduras. Rustico is comprised of 70% La Voz from Guatemala and 30% Idido Natural Sundried from Ethiopia.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Recipes change but the flavor profile remains the same all day, every day.

Town of Idido, Yirgacheffe, EthiopiaTheme

We Got Options

Today we welcome Idido and Haru, two stars of stage and tasting table hailing from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, back to Counter Culture for a fourth year of delicious citrus, floral and juicy berry sweetness.

Style of Tasting

Anything Goes

We sent a pound and a half of each coffee so that you might brew at least one of these coffees as espresso (Haru would be the obvious choice) and because these are favorites of so many of us that I imagine higher-than-average levels of curiosity about how they taste in various brewing methods. And don’t forget ice! Should you cup, you will notice the different roast levels immediately, which might obscure some of the flavor comparison that you might be looking for.

Notes on the Coffees

We bought a lot of coffee from the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmer Co-operative Union this year, and by a lot, I don’t mean a single container or a particular coffee, which we (sometimes confusingly) refer to as lots, but rather a very large volume. I mean a LOT of coffee. We bought washed coffees and sundried natural coffees from eponymous mills in the villages of Haru, Idido and Biloya; we also bought washed and sundried natural coffee from individual members of the YCFCU co-op living in the aforementioned villages and others that include Hafursa, Hama, Adame Gorbota and Banko Gotiti. Every year, these coffees receive some of the highest scores we award to any coffees from anywhere in the world, and every year, Idido is the coffee to beat. The elevation is right, the mill is exquisite and the resulting coffees reflect a combination of terroir and processing executed perfectly.

Today’s Haru is roasted and labeled as “for Apollo” in order to showcase the range for these coffees and their flavors, but due to the volume and diversity we have to work with this year, it’s likely that we won’t actually use the majority of this coffee for Apollo but rather dedicate it to Number Forty-Six. For today, though, it’s a beautiful showcase of the bright, juicy flavors epitomized by Apollo.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Idido rolled out this week and my heart swells to tell you that we will have it for months. Months! I love the summertime. Haru, as I said, probably won’t roll out on its own.
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.


Good Judgment 

This week we taste two versions of two coffees: first, long-time favorite Tairora Project from the Eastern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea and a new-to-you coffee from Chema in the Kapchorwa region of Uganda. One bag of each coffee is labeled as tainted or defective, with the Tairora showing flavors of premature aging, or fade, and the Chema smelling and tasting of chemicals.

Notes on the Coffees

We have tasted coffee from the Tairora Project numerous times over the past few months and years, and this isn’t the first time that we have explored its highs and lows by comparing fresh-tasting and faded-tasting Tairoras on a cupping table. In prior tastings, we have acknowledged that Baroida and Tairora aren't necessarily exceptional for being inconsistent when it comes to fading, especially among farms in Papua New Guinea. Rather, they are exceptional for the fact that the Colbrans are happy to bag, label, and ship each day's harvest separately as opposed to blending it all together and mixing the better with the worse. We have also celebrated the work of the roasting department for cupping coffee from every ... single ... bag ... when it arrives before deciding whether it's fit to roast and sell (and over the course of the season, that’s at least 500 bags).

People, including some of you, I’m sure, have asked us whether it's worth the work. The coffee department has always said that it is because the payoff is so good. Tim has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years with Chris Colbran to communicate our experiences and encourage better infrastructure for consistent quality. Being thorough in our assessment and tenacious in the relationship have made it possible to strengthen the relationship and improve quality holistically (not just for Counter Culture's lots) at the same time, which is something we're way better at than the other coffee buyers we know.

If drying is comparatively easy to address, it should be a snap to fix Chema's tainted flavor because the chemical overwhelming the coffee comes from the paint—or perhaps a thinner added to the paint—that is applied to the jute bag. I always find myself feeling a little bit heartbroken when I taste coffees like this because I think about the fate of a bag of coffee hinging on one instant, and I imagine how it could have gone differently. On a less somber note, though, an instance of this same sort of accidental contamination occurred in Honduras in 2007 with ALL of the coffees from the Cup of Excellence competition, and the mill that made the mistake of using bad jute has recovered and since grown to be one of the most successful specialty mills in Central America, if not the world.

Chema's coffee would be a flat-out rejection for many companies, but because we tasted the good stuff first, we knew that some of it was good and as it turns out, only half of the bags are tainted (maybe because someone ran out halfway through, we don’t know). Uganda is a place where we are investing time and energy in cultivating relationships, and this is a new group for us, as well as a relatively young importer. So, instead of dismissing the coffee, we are taking the time to go through it in hopes of building good will and trust for the future.

If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right! As I said before, the payoff is great in Tairora’s case, and it has the potential to be great in Chema’s case, as well. Taking a bigger picture view, these bad flavors pose challenges, but they are of the sort that we as buyers are in a much better position to address than other challenges we face: potato defect, coffee leaf rust and its myriad effects, bad-tasting varieties, and, worst of all, low elevation. Nine times out of 10, if we can taste greatness in an inconsistent coffe,e and the growers or suppliers are willing to put in the work to change that, then we are, too.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We’re down to the final bags of Tairora, so enjoy these slurps! The harvest is underway in Papua New Guinea, and that means next year's crop isn't too far off. Chema will be a component of Number 46 this year, and our future purchases of this coffee aren't yet known, but Uganda is a place with a lot of potential for us. so we'll be hoping to hear, see, and taste more from this group in the months and years to come.