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Deconstructing the blend – Part 1 of 2

In years past, we have worked hard to transition many of our "blends" to become flavor profiles that can then be best served by one single-origin coffee, two if push comes to shove. Our rationale has been twofold: one, make transparency easier—there's no hiding the coffee when it's the only single-origin—and two, by necessity, intentionally trying to move through coffee within a timely fashion to maintain freshness. But, we know that combining coffees together for flavor purposes is not inherently a bad thing.

On Monday, we will be introducing a new type of blend. The debut incarnation is called Equilibrium! The underlying idea here is that we don't really think of it as a blend, at all. Rather, 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.

Style of Tasting: Cup the Components

This week, as a precursor to the arrival of Equilibrium, we will taste each of the parts that make up the whole. We'll suggest cupping the three side by side to showcase what each brings to the table. You may then decide to brew or do whatever else you like with the crowd favorite.

While tasting, encourage people to think about what the three coffees might taste like together. As a teaser, let them know if they come back to the tasting next week, we'll delve more into the philosophy and future of coffees like Equilibrium.

Notes on the Coffees:

As a nod to its name, Equilibrium is made up of equal parts of three coffees that are already known to us, the first two, Idido and Concepción Huista, more so than the third, Ngunguru, which, of course, just graced our roasters for the first time this past week.

33% Idido, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia
This first lot from the Idido cooperative in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, represents a select group of 200 of the most dedicated farmers. These farmers turn in their best cherry at the peak of harvest for this washed special preparation coffee. Notes of melon, orange blossom, and citrus.

33% Concepción Huista, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
One of the most highly anticipated Central American coffees we offer, Concepción Huista delivers yet again. This year, our fourth year working with the cooperative, we continued to focus on buying smaller lots in addition to volume—trying to capture higher quality from particular areas within the cooperative. 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.

Availability:

Equilibrium will be available with all of its brightness and juiciness on Friday, July 18. We anticipate it will stick around through September or October, but it's a new item so why not try it at its debut in case it disappears quickly!

 

 

Our new pourover iced coffee video is short and sweet and easy to use. This (phone-friendly) tutorial breaks down the simple steps for delicious pourover iced coffee into a quick lesson that anyone can use and enjoy.

We've gone on record (once or twice) as really loving this method for iced coffee. The results of brewing directly onto ice are a bright, vibrant expression of the coffee that is incredibly refreshing.

To celebrate both the new video and this month's Featured Coffee, Idido (which happens to be perfect for brewing over ice), our #AnyCoffeeAnyBrew Instagram contest for July focuses on ... iced coffee. No matter how you make it, post a photo of whatever coffee you're drinking iced on Instagram and tag #AnyCoffeeAnyBrew for a chance to win our weekly prize of a bag of our July Featured Coffee, Idido!

The video was shot at our Durham HQ by Graphic Designer Christy Baugh—with set design/production assistance from her fellow designer Katie Parland—with Tech Manager Bryan Duggan as the "lead actor." (Web Content Manager Cameron Gatling makes a cameo at the end as "coffee drinker #2.") Music for the video was written and recorded by Production Associate Thomas Costello.
 
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!

This spring, Counter Culture embarked on an exciting new partnership with six students and a professor at Duke's Nicholas School for the Environment. After discussing research questions casually with Professor Shapiro-Garza for a couple of months, we decided to go all in and work jointly on a master's project that will explore resiliency and issues facing smallholder coffee farmers as they adapt to climate change.

The students have been gearing up for the fieldwork segment of the project which will involve spending time in Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru. In preparation for the fieldwork, the students visited our roastery, co-designed survey tools that will be used to interview people at different levels: from individual households to the farmer cooperative, to key stakeholders in the communities and regions. They have also done literature reviews to help them understand the (admittedly massive) scope of this issue. In addition, Professor Shapiro-Garza and I had extensive conversations with coffee industry actors including certification agency Rainforest Alliance and social lender Root Capital.

We couldn't be more excited to follow along on their journey—which starts right now—and we'd like to invite you to follow along, as well: Facebook and Twitter. We will also periodically post blog entries on our website.

Photo: (left to right) Joanna Furguiele, Brenda Lara, Saira Haider, Martín Ramírez, Mike Younis, and Claire Fox. (Photo credit: Professor Shapiro-Garza).

All the best,
Hannah

 

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!


 

Our Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel is intended to be an easy tool to help people use the same, everyday language to talk about coffee.Writer Leslie Jospeshs recently spoke with Coffee Buyer and Quality Manager Tim Hill about the Counter Culture Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel for the Wall Street Journal.

Tim and our coffee department conceived of their update as a means to make a more approachable version of the ubiquitous and genre-defining Specialty Coffee Association of America flavor wheel—which set the standard decades ago for the industry—by using language from their everyday cupping lives.

The wheel is intended to be dynamic and collaborative, as Tim noted when talking with Ms. Josephs, "We want to update it every year, and we also want to translate it ourselves into four languages and change the descriptors so that they are culturally relevant to each country."