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Back from Rwanda.
Buyer & Quality Manager Tim Hill recently returned from a trip to Bolivia with the newest member of our Coffee Department, Hannah Popish, whom some of you may recognize from her work as an consultant on an enlightening study of how coffee farmers value microlots earlier this year.
 
In Bolivia, Tim and Hannah met with a company called Agritrade and Virmax, our exporting partners from Colombia, to taste coffees and work out the logistics of organizing improved quality Bolivian coffee with more prompt shipment. And, of course, they visited some farms, as well. Read Tim's report and peruse photos curated by Hannah in this flickr set from their trip to Bolivia.
 
Prior to Bolivia, Tim traveled to Rwanda and Burundi, and made his first, very brief visit to the Congo. Check out our Coffee Department trip reports for each of Tim's photosets from his trip to Africa in June with full annotation. And, stay tuned ... Tim head's to Papua New Guinea in just a few weeks.
 
Thanks,
Nathan
Do microlots mater to producers?
Coffee Buyer and Sustainability Manager Kim Elena Ionescu and Independent Evaluation Consultant Hannah Popish worked together on an enlightening study of how coffee farmers value microlots.
 
The information presented in "Do Microlots Matter to Producers" derives from a study conducted by Counter Culture Coffee and published in March 2012 titled, "The Social Impacts of Microlots: A Coffee Cooperative Case Study in Ihuamaca, Peru." The study aimed to measure the social impacts of microlot selection on members of the CENFROCAFE cooperative in five Peruvian communities where Counter Culture Coffee has purchased coffee over the last five years.
 
Read more about the microlots study and see the results in the Sustainability section of our website.
 
Thanks,
Nathan
Ken and Lem in a Brewing Science I lab in Durham!
Recently, I have been mulling over the great coffee conundrum: How is it possible that something so simple can also be so complicated?
 
Think about it – brewed coffee only has two ingredients, right? Ground coffee beans and water. They should go together effortlessly and flawlessly every time, right? Just like peanut butter and jelly, a perfect, always-delicious combination that's the easiest thing in the world to synthesize.
 
Except, well, it's anything but easy.
 
Sometimes, when I think about all the things that impact the way that those two ingredients interact, I get a little lightheaded. How much water, and how hot should it be? How much coffee, and how coarse or fine a grind? How long should I let them hang out with each other, and in what kind of brewer?
 
Hold on a second, sorry. I'm suddenly a little dizzy. (Just kidding. Sort of.)
 
But it's true – to coffee-driven people in constant pursuit of that perfect cup, the sheer number of variables involved in bringing two seemingly simple ingredients together can be overwhelming and maddening. Or, it can be an exhilarating challenge – the thrill of the chase! And, it's for the latter group of bean-heads that we've created a new series of labs: Brew Science I, II, and III, all designed around exploring what it is that makes delicious coffee delicious, and, hopefully, to help coffee-lovers learn how to troubleshoot problematic brews.
 
Want to unlock the mysteries of grind size, dwell time (the duration of water in contact with coffee), agitation, even temperature? Then this is definitely the lab for you. In Part I, we examine the aforementioned variables, brewing batches of coffee in Clever drippers. Part II introduces both a new set of variants and a slightly more complicated brew method: The pourover cone, as designed by Counter Culture and developed by Bonmac. Part III is super-exciting, especially for brew geeks: We'll simply be playing around and trying to dial in on a host of different extractors, such as Chemex, Aeropress, and, yes, even a vacuum pot!
 
So if you're gearing up for that New Year's Resolution you made – you know, the one about brewing and drinking better coffee in 2012? – now's the time to mark your calendar for all three parts of Brew Science. Hope to see you there!
 
-Meister
 
POSTED IN: brewing, education
 
See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes from his trip to Ethiopia in November 2011.
 
See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes from his trip to Kenya in November 2011.
Meister at the espresso machine.
"Wow," you might overhear someone say in a session of Counter Culture's illuminating Beginner Espresso Lab. "I never realized how much went into making a good cup of coffee!"
 
And it's true: From absolute novices to seasoned baristas, from coffee-shop owners to home espresso enthusiasts, everyone seems to walk out of the all-day class with a new crema consciousness and an excited sparkle in their eyes (though that might just be the caffeine).
 
As an instructor, I know that even I've learned a thing or two from walking a new batch of students through the espresso-making process: Sometimes all it takes is one newbie asking a stumper of a question, and, before you know it, we're all puzzling out some macchiatto mystery together. Who knew there was so much to discover about a beverage (that is, coffee) that only has two ingredients (grounds + water)??
 
The moral of that story is that while making espresso is fun and fascinating, it absolutely isn't easy. (And good thing, too – if it were easy, I wouldn't have my job!)
 
Making espresso is fun and fascinating, it absolutely isn't easy.
At Counter Culture, we believe that knowledge isn't just power, it's everything. And it takes a lot of hard work to amass that knowledge – which sometimes means going back to "school," by attending one of our intensive and immersive full-day coffee labs. Not only do we have to train our hands to operate the espresso grinder and properly tamp a cake of coffee grounds, but we also have to train our tongues to understand what "good" and "bad" espresso tastes like and train our brains to understand all the different ways the former affects the latter.
 
At least the homework isn't too bad: All our students are required to make and taste as much espresso as they can, to try to develop their palates and grow a vocabulary that will help troubleshoot the occasional too-bitter shot or too-bubbly milk they might encounter behind the bar. Without a solid foundation and understanding of what causes those flavors and textures, every cappuccino seems a little bit mysterious.
 
Want to come try to stump the teacher – not to mention learn how to make A+ espresso shots? Check out the Counter Intelligence calendar for the next Beginner Espresso Lab near you.
 
POSTED IN: brewing, education
Counter Culture's main product – fresh-roasted coffee – is the minimally processed seed of a tree fruit carefully cultivated – most often organically – in rich volcanic soil. Counter Culture Coffee Chicago's venture into vermiculture represents not only a tangible way to achieve real sustainability in the life cycle of our coffee, but also a way for us to connect with and support the gardeners and farmers of greater Chicago, as well as provide an introduction to organic soil building in our training center.
 
Worm soil, or castings, is among the best natural fertilizers and created entirely from converted waste. The concept is perfect: manage your compostable waste by feeding it to worms, which produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer. We pursued various avenues to make this a reality in our training center and eventually connected with Amber from The Urban Worm Girl, who helped us devise a manageable vermiculture operation that would properly address our waste needs. Amber's operation is fantastic!
 
Ultimately, the goal is to give our castings to a local urban agriculture project. We've begun conversations with a local group called The Ruby Garden, which give plots to local area families to garden. We've also purchased a bag-resealer, which we'll use to seal fresh worm castings in used coffee bags affixed with newly designed "Worm Compost" labels to avoid any confusion about what's inside.
 
While it may seem like a long step just to deal with garbage, the worms are really doing most of the work, and vermiculture is truly sustainability in its simplest form. In fact, many of our partnering coffee farms have adopted their own vermiculture operations and use the castings to enrich their soil.
 
In the end, it's very simple for us. Coffee is an agricultural jewel that flies under most people's radar. Many consume it and never really consider the amount of care and toil the farmers put into providing us with an excellent product. Vermiculture gives us an easy way to take the coffee conversation back to the farm and the importance of organic agriculture.
 
We're already seeing the educational benefits; our weekly coffee cuppings have included brief introductions to vermiculture and an explanation of sustainability by way of our 5,000 new co-workers.
 
Best regards,
Josh and Rich
Counter Culture Coffee Chicago
 
Thanks to Tyler Kaschke for the photos.

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