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Preparing coffee seedlings in Ecuador.
This was Kim's second trip to Ecuador, and my first visit to the cooperative that brings us the coffee El Gavilán. After arriving in balmy, coastal Guayaquil on a Monday, we made the trek to the cool and mountainous Loja in the south. With Loja as our home base, we then visited producer communities in Quilanga and Palanda.
On this visit, we had the opportunity to spend time with two farmer cooperatives that our partner Fapecafes (the exporting cooperative) supports – Procafeq and Apecap. I also had the chance to travel for a second time with the incredibly knowledgeable Alejandro Cadena who works for our export partner Virmax. Together we visited farms, attended a cooperative meeting, spent some time in Fapecafes' main cupping lab, and spent a day cupping with Apecap's cuppers to calibrate on 37 coffees for an internal competition celebrating the co-ops farmers.
Last year, we offered El Gavilán for the first time, and were pleased with their high yields and high cup quality. This harvest year was a tough one for Fapecafes for multiple reasons. Coffee plants were particularly hard hit by the rust disease, or "roya," that became so prevalent in Colombia in years past. This upset led to reduced yields, impacted cup quality, and decreased prices – all challenging news for farmers.
However, after a week with their members we feel confident that, because of their level of organization and initiative, there will be more good years to come. In the photo included above, Elfredín's family in Palanda is preparing bags for coffee seedlings – an apt metaphor for our growing relationship with Fapecafes in Ecuador.
We hope you enjoy these photos and stories!
Un abrazo,
Coffee Buyer's Agent
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.
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.
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!
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