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Click here to see this photo set on Flickr.

Our annual Origin Field lab trip is an opportunity for  Counter Culture wholesale customers to learn about coffee cultivation in an immersive environment. We host this lab, in part, because we recognize that the dedicated professionals preparing our coffees for the end consumer can reach people directly with the knowledge and information they get from the experience.

The 2015 Origin Field lab included two Counter Intelligence instructors, two Counter Culture staffers, two Culinary Institute of America folks, and a handful of awesome coffee people from Counter Culture accounts Little Skips, Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Peregrine Espresso, Rex NYC, and Washington, DC's Tryst.

The lab addressed the complexities of coffee farming in general—and, in particular, in Honduras—and with on-site experiences from farm to port.

Our group was lucky enough to spend the better part of a week with Moisés Herrera and Marysabel Caballero of Finca el Puente in Marcala, Honduras. Moisés and Marysabel welcomed us into their home, nursed one of us back to health, fed us (over + over again), and, often, helped to make certain that our group had what we needed and got where we needed to go. Huge thanks to both of them!

We were also fortunate enough to learn from coffee farmers, co-op representatives, exporters, port operators, and so on.


Colombia is a country that needs no preface to its association to quality coffee. For years Counter Culture has purchased coffee from the Orgánica Cooperative in Cauca—the coffee we fondly know as La Golondrina—but that doesn't mean our interest in building relationships with other high-quality producers in Colombia has been sated.

One region where the potential couldn't be greater is Nariño. Unfortunately, until very recently, the coffees grown there didn't see the light of this side of specialty coffee's day. In the last few years, that's all started to change, and, this year, we introduced our first offerings from the region—including a number of single-farmer lots.

It was my pleasure to spend some time with the people making these coffees happen: the producers, the Borderlands/CRS team, and Virmax, our exporters. If you've had the opportunity to taste these coffees, you know we've started things off with a bang.

That said, our work here is just getting started. I'm excited about the potential of a long-term and sustainable relationship with the splendid producers in this region!

-Katie Carguilo
POSTED IN: origin reports


This was my third trip to the Yungas region outside of the larger town, Caranavi, in Bolivia. Maybe it's because it was the first trip I ever took with Counter Culture or maybe because Bolivia is unique no matter how you look at it, this country, its struggles and successes, and its people continue to captivate.

This year, I visited with our long-standing partners from the Cenaproc cooperative who bring us the coffee we know as Nueva Llusta. Last year, there were some outstanding single-producer lots—Justina Ramos, Luis Huayhua, Pedro Quispe, Dionicio Quispe, and Irene Gomez, among them. I wanted to check on the forward motion of this single-producer project, as well as the group as a whole. I also visited with our exporting partner, Maria Ndia, and scouted new relationships through another exporter.

This year is a rough one in Bolivia—weather patterns have led to heavier and more prolonged rain than expected. This in turn has led to a later harvest and lower volumes. Even though the volume would have been lower this year anyway, an almost 40% decrease was not projected. Lower down the mountain, rust has started to become an issue. Higher up the mountain, frozen coffee beans.

However—when coffee is your business, on the producer end and on the roaster end—we find places of hope and we make plans. Over a decade of working with Cenaproc has us well-positioned to support each other in challenging years and lift up how delicious we know coffee from their region to be. We will likely see coffee from Bolivia starting in January or February this year—welcoming back old friends and potentially adding a few new ones to the line up.

Muchos Saludos!
Hannah Popish
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports


Normally, we don't visit Ethiopia and Kenya in July. The harvest is long past, and the coffees—hopefully—have long-been shipped. However, this year, with so many projects we are working towards, we knew that spending more time face-to-face with the people we are working with was going to be needed.

A few of you also know that I have a 8-month-old boy. And, even though his middle name is Addis, after Ethiopia of course, leaving him to go to Addis Ababa and other countries in Africa is tough. So my plan: 4 countries, 11 days. Not only were Kenya and Ethiopia musts, Rwanda and Burundi are just finishing up their harvest for the year, and this is normally the time I get to catch up with the producers of Buziraguhindwa, Mpemba, and Remera. So that was a must, as well.

With that please take a stroll through, my 4/11 trip report.

Honestly, this whirlwind trip showed me how important working with the right people is to the success of any coffee and any project.

-Tim Hill, Coffee Buyer and Quality Control Manager
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports


Most Counter Intelligence labs are held in Counter Culture's regional training centers, with one notable exception; since 2004, Counter Culture has hosted an Origin Field lab in Nicaragua. This week-long immersive course is a chance for baristas and other culinary professionals to experience the production side of our favorite beverage, and see first-hand the barriers and opportunities that exist in coffee farming, processing and export.

– Lydia
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports


As I flew back across the Atlantic, thinking of the week I spent in Uganda, I didn't know that the moment I landed Uganda was going to be all over the media. The day I left Uganda, the president, Yoweri Museveni, ended up signing a very controversial anti-gay/lesbian bill that has been in the works for a long time now. All indicators while I was in Uganda, though, seemed that pressure from from the US and other countries, was potentially going to put a halt to the signing. This didn't happen, and every television at the airport, was ablaze with the news.

This led me to a moment of reflection, and also a moment of trying to reconcile a truly great week with coffee producers I would consider very progressive. Right before I left western Uganda the cooperative I was with presented on their goals and methods for promoting and instilling a culture of equality for the women in the communities they work in. A cooperative progressive enough that other cooperatives around Africa are looking towards these farmers from Uganda to learn better ideologies and methods for creating a more equal culture.

After reflecting for a long time, I came to the realization that reconciling one idea with another, one event with another event, or trying to see anything as black white here is going to be impossible. The reality is that I, and Counter Culture, believe sending someone to jail for 15 years up to a life sentence for their sexuality is not just and right. And that the Ugandan government is wrong on this issue. We also very much believe that trying to punish Uganda the country, through not buying coffee from the producers here is not just and right, as well.

Long story short, it is very easy to see Uganda at this moment in time as a very black and white place — to draw lines in the sand and make a judgment. But I believe that only good things can come from being there and seeing the engagement we can have with farmers that have been passed over for the quality of their coffee and passed over for good prices for years. Working in the most challenging of places which require the patience and long view that we try to embody — that is what makes Counter Culture who we are

- Tim
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports


Two weeks in Guatemala! This trip was another full one with the opportunity to compare and learn from brand new coffee partners as well as older ones.

Stop 1 — New kids on the block: I spent my first couple of days with a smaller cooperative in Sipacapa called ACAS. They are supported by the exporting cooperative Manos Campesinos. Their coffee had a brief cameo in the Holiday coffee this year and we feel excited for their quality potential down the road.

Stop 2 — Old friends: The bulk of the trip was spent with CODECH in Concepcion Huista, Huehuetenango. We have had some shifting expectations and they have had a shift in leadership over the last year or so and thus mulling it over together was so worthwhile.

Stop 3 — Sheer beauty and mega improvements: I ended in San Juan de Atitlan with La Voz que Clama en el Desierto. Though they haven't been featured as a single origin to date, I feel hopeful that our ongoing communication and their actions to step up coffee quality could mean something good for all on the horizon.

Some themes to look for: common threats to specialty coffee in Guatemala, the importance of cupping at the cooperative level, and key quality improvements across the board.

I have to say that being there for a lengthier stay and over Valentines means that Guatemala is really finding itself close to my heart.


Abrazos,
Hannah

Part One


Spending a week in Colombia, my first time in the beautiful country, was truly a whirlwind with multiple purposes. I skirted the countryside, starting in the town of Gigante in the department of Huila, then passing through Guadalupe, Pitalito, La Plata, and ending in Tambo and Timbio, both in the department of Cauca.

The first goal was to deliver results from the survey on microlots that 122 producers in three states participated in during January and February of 2013. Not only were results delivered, but together we dug deeper to uncover greater meaning in some of the results and continue adjusting research questions as well as the greater research purpose. All told I was able to speak with 101 of the 122 participants in a series of 5 meetings in 5 separate towns. As Nelson Ramirez, Virmax’s Director of technical training who accompanied me the first three days, said, “This is a marathon!” The majority of the survey respondents are not ones from whom Counter Culture purchases coffee. However, seeing the overlap in their responses to the survey will only aid us in understanding our supply chain in addition to the overarching situation facing high quality producers in Colombia.

Part two contains reflections that bring together analysis on this segment of the research. Some of their reactions were more surpising than others. Perhaps most surprising to me was their enthusiasm that they would indeed love to participate in a similar study in the future – they are honored that someone down the supply chain values their day-to-day experience enough to ask detailed questions. In addition, I loved hearing what else they thought would be important to study pertaining to the cultivation of specialty coffee. I am sitting on a ton of information – if anyone is looking for a research project, holler!

The second goal was to spend time with our old friends at Organica, purveyors of La Golondrina coffee. This group is one that has truly ridden the waves of hard times, under the strong leadership of Nelson Melo, and continues to prove themselves as fighters and committed to specialty coffee. Not only did I share the survey results with them but we shared meals, sat in on a board of director’s meeting, and, of course, visited producer’s on their farms.

Lastly, Nelson Melo has been building a relationship with a nearby cooperative over the last three years. He was eager to have Counter Culture make the acquaintance of Federación Campesina de Cauca.

The trip was incredibly full in more ways than one and I am excited to share some of that with you here.

Part Two


What follows are some of the overarching themes uncovered by the five meetings held in Gigante, Guadalupe, Pitalito, La Plata, and Tambo.

Over the course of these meetings I delivered results from the survey on microlots that 122 producers participated in during January and February of 2013. Not only were results delivered, but together we dug deeper to uncover greater meaning in some of the results and to continue adjusting research questions – as well as the greater research purpose. All told, I was able to speak with 101 of the 122 participants.

After sharing the research, each group responded to the following questions:
  1. Why did producers invest such a large amount of their premium money into fertilizer?
  2. Why did producers choose to renovate with variety Colombia more frequently than other varieties?
  3. How are producers overcoming current challenges in producing specialty coffee?
  4. What are they doing on their farms for this harvest that are practices they think will lead to higher quality?
  5. How was the process of being interviewed? And of receiving the results of the study in this way?
  6. If you could study anything else in regard to the production of specialty coffee, what would you want to study?

I hope you'll enjoy some of their answers as much as I did.

Saludos!

Hannah

Thanks for the photos, courtesy of Alejandro Cadena and Nelson Ramirez.