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Finca El Puente

We will focus all of our attention this week on welcoming this year’s lot of Finca El Puente from Marcala, Honduras, into our coffee lineup.

Style of Tasting

Brewing Rodeo

Finca El Puente’s coffee is one that I recommend often to people new to Counter Culture and our coffees, in large part because its flavors are forgiving of brewing methods that might not meet our standards. Some of the more delicate aspects—characteristics we call purple, for example—may be lost in a twenty-year-old Krups, but we have the means in our training centers to highlight nuances and differences. You have two bags of the coffee, so dig in to brewers and recipes, and test as many ideas as your crowd has patience to taste.

Notes on the Coffees

Every year, when it comes time to tell the story of Finca El Puente, I wonder how to balance what’s new (or at least, new in the past year) with the years that preceded this one and keep the story to fewer than a thousand words. It’s easy to get carried away when talking about this coffee because it’s a perfect example of the kind of coffee that helps people understand and trust Counter Culture: it’s very good coffee without being inordinately complex in flavor, it’s consistent from year to year and, not for nothing, almost all of us know the farmers responsible for creating it.

I hope that most of you had a chance to attend at least one of last October’s Variety Show events in our training centers and to spend time with Moisés and Marysabel, who are two of the most gracious and generous people in the coffee industry. They have been great friends to us ever since we began buying their coffee in 2006, but in the early years they seemed most happy doing what they had always done. Often, these weekly dispatches include a comment about the challenges of introducing new ideas to smallholder farmers, and though Finca El Puente isn’t so small, coffee farming is still risky enough without introducing experiments that they were hesitant to mess with what seemed to be working just fine. We never stopped pitching ideas, and because we balanced asking for new things with our commitment to do a really good job buying and marketing their coffee, Moisés eventually let his guard down. Once he let himself embrace unusual varieties, East African processing methods and organic agriculture techniques, momentum began to build and now, well, he grows seventeen varieties and executes at least one new idea every year (including something really amazing this year, which will be coming in the second shipment and about which I will keep you in suspense another month or so).

We feel very fortunate to have Moisés and Marysabel as collaborators who trust our ideas, feel comfortable challenging us, have the financial means to take risks, participate enthusiastically in the international coffee community and value the opportunity to connect with our staff and customers. It all keeps getting better every year and with the experience we have, we know better than to take that for granted. Raise your cups to another great year of Finca El Puente!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Finca El Puente will roll out on Monday, June 2, and is available to everyone, everywhere.

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Four by Four

Why four by four? Well, build your own, be constructive, that's the theme today. Today we bring you four coffees from Honduras and hope you'll explore. Also, many moons ago, Selin Recinos, placed fourth in the Honduran national competition the year prior to the existence of the Cup of Excellence!

Style of Tasting

Cupping, Iced, Espresso, and ... Roll the Dice

Anybody's game. Why not have a few cups of each out and ready to taste cupping style. Then, choose a couple of favorites and try them iced, try them as espresso, and, frankly, try them however you think they might taste best, and then tell your coffee friends all about it! Even better, if you are able, discuss just "how strong is your brew" as we approach the next Pro Dev.

Notes on the Coffees

All four of these coffees come from within a small radius, geographically speaking, and they have similar taste profiles. The subtle nuances, however, make tasting them interesting.

We have a long history of selling Finca Pashapa as a darker roast or tucked away in a No.46. This, however, is its year to shine. Much like Moises and Marysabel of Finca El Puente, Pashapa's owner, Roberto Salazar, has come to be like family for Counter Culture. I've already heard comments around HQ, “Pashapa is my favorite right now,” and “Check out Pashapa's brightness.” So, it's the week of the underdog for sure. You'll be pleased with the syrupy stone fruit and sugar cane notes.

Roberto helps to run the Cocafelol cooperative in Marcala, Honduras. He's also a co-op member. Cocafelol recently took over an abandoned farm: They thought to themselves, "We know what to do with available land!!" Thus, Finca Liquidambar appeared on the scene. The roughly 3.5 hectare farm is run by the leadership of the cooperative. "Liquidambar" is the spanish word for gum trees, of which there are plenty on the farm. This year was the farm's first year with enough coffee to taste and ship in any great quantity! Look for delicate notes of brown sugar and apricot.

Selin Recinos is also a member of Cocafelol. We asked to try a few producers' coffee separately this year, and we are glad we did. Selin has one of the larger farms in the group with about 10 hectares. As referenced above, Selin has been in the spotlight for some time—since his 2004 national coffee win. In the cup: some sparkle, green apple, citrus, and almond.

We'd be remiss not to pause for a moment and remark on how great a name Estanislao Bojórquez has. In the Coffee Department we were rooting for him based on name alone. You'll find his coffee to be nice and sweet with medium acidity and a touch of fruit. There is a slight earthy undertone which is why we most likely won't sell the coffee separately, but it is still quite a nice coffee.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Finca Pashapa became available last week and will likely last through the end of June.

Señor Recinos and Finca Liquidambar will make their debut Friday, May 23, and will likely be around about two to three weeks—but that of course depends on demand. Estanislao ... today is his day! Enjoy it now and, potentially, only now.
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.

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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.

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Newbies

Our coffees this week come from La Voz, a cooperative in San Juan de la Laguna, Guatemala and Dionicio Quispe of the Cenaproc co-operative in Nueva Llusta, Bolivia. They are the newest additions to our offering list.

Notes on the Coffees

The newest newcomer, La Voz: Well, coffee from La Voz is not totally new, as it has been featured in Farmhouse for the last four years. However, it is now its moment to shine and have a spotlight of its own with the name of the cooperative out in front. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, the full name of this cooperative "La Voz que Clama en el Desierto"—or "the voice that cries out in the wilderness"—is one of the best of any we've heard.

Situated right off of Lake Atitlán, they are poised for quality coffee. Yet, we know that ideal growing conditions are only a fraction of what it takes to make what we taste delicious. Co-op leadership and producers put in the work this past harvest and paid great attention to detail in central milling and drying. Despite many coffees from Guatemala this year reflecting inconsistencies, and a decrease in quality due to the ripple effect of leaf rust, La Voz was able to overcome adversity. Honestly, this is the dream trajectory for a cooperative and for buyers: clear steps that lead to clear results.

Dionico Quispe!
As promised, today we will be sipping together Dionicio Quispe's coffee from Nueva Llusta. Despite the fact that we tend to feel less pressure to ensure that coffees from the southern hemisphere arrive early, we also know they'll taste better when they're fresher, so we split up our shipment from Nueva Llusta into two half-lots. In most places, the later part of the harvest captures coffee from higher elevations and tends to produce better quality coffee. Dionicio Quispe's coffee is one of four single-farmer lots we selected from the late-harvest half-lot from Nueva Llusta. Continuing to share single-farmer lots from this group is like finding candy you had forgotten you left somewhere! And, each one has a slightly different flavor than the next. Dionicio's is quite bright and perfect for the warmer temperatures.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Both coffees will be available Monday, May 12. La Voz will likely last 2–4 months. Dionicio Quispe's lot will likely be gone in the blink of an eye—one week +—so, get it while you can!
It has been more than three years since we have changed the prices of our year-round coffees. It has always been our goal to keep our price as low as possible. However, in order to continue sourcing the best coffee and providing excellent value, we are increasing the prices of our blends by approximately 7%.

Effective May 1, 2014, prices for Farmhouse will increase to $14.75 per bag, Decaf Farmhouse to $15.25, No. 46 will to $14.75, Toscano to $14.75, Rustico to $14.75, and Apollo will increase to $15.75 (beginning June 1, 2014).

Thank you for understanding that this price increase means that we can continue to maintain the superior standard of our products and services.
Jonathan Bonchak at teh 2014 US Brewers Cup.Congratulations to 2014 US Barista Champ Laila Ghambari of Cherry Street Coffee House and to 2014 US Brewers Cup champion Todd Goldsworthy of Klatch Coffee. Both advance to the world coffee competitions in Rimini, Italy, June 10–12.

We're proud of all of the hard-working, super-talented coffee professionals from around the country—including our very own 2014 regional winners—who competed in the 2014 US Brewers Cup and Barista competitions in Seattle.

Mid-Atlantic sales rep Jonathan Bonchak—who won the 2014 Southeast Regional Brewers Cup Championship (SEBrC) for the second year in a row—was a finalist in the US Brewers Cup again this year and took fifth place. Great job, Jonathan!

J. Park Brannen—a customer rep from Team NYC—won the Northeast Regional Barista Championship (NERBC) with a polished presentation competed in the US Barista Championship in Seattle with a very strong showing. Great job, Park!

In addition to our inspiring co-workers who did an amazing job in Seattle, a handful of dedicated professionals from our wholesale partners competed ably, as well. 
 

Erika Vonie of Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia—who took second place in the NERBC in January with coffee from our Tairora Project from the Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea—used this coffee again in Seattle. Corey Reilly from Everyman Espresso in New York finished third in the NERBC and competed again in Seattle, as well.

In the Southeast Regional Barista Competition (SERBC), independent barista Dawn Shanks from Peregrine Espresso in Washington, DC, used Counter Culture's Biloya Natural Sundried to earn a third place finish. Dawn competed in Seattle with Idido Natural Sundried. Tim Jones of Jubala Village Coffee in Raleigh came in fourth in the SERBC using a blend of Idido washed and Biloya Natural Sundried, which he used again in the national competition. And, Nathan Nerswick of 5&10 in Athens, GA, rounded out the SERBC finalists in sixth place. Nathan brewed our Baroida coffee—also from the Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea—when he competed in Seattle.

Thanks to all of you for your hard work!


 

The Daily Meal: America's 50 Top Coffee ShopsWe're overwhelmed with pride and gratitude by the many, many amazing shops offering our coffees on The Daily Meal's 50 Best Coffee Shops list. Our coffee is served at 16 out of 50—including 5 in the  top 10!

These awesome shops made the list: Everyman Espresso (#1), Ultimo Coffee (#4), Peregrine Espresso (#5), Joule Coffee (#6), Condesa Coffee (#10), Artifact Coffee  (#11), Little Collins NYC (#13), Pavement Coffeehouse (#19), Barista (#24), Barista Parlor (#32), The Chipped Cup (#33), Jubala Coffee (#34), Abraço (#36), Bad Wolf Coffee (#40), Render Coffee (#43), and Houndstooth Coffee (#50)!