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Why transparency? If we had to pick a one-word answer: "authenticity." In the last post, I talked about why I think reporting is so important and what we have planned for the future of our own reporting. As I dived into planning for the upcoming 2014 Transparency Report with our coffee and marketing teams this week, I was asked a really important question by both teams, "What are we trying to convey with this report?" It's a fair question and one that I think merits some consideration.

I came across an article from a sustainable business news site this week titled something like, "Would You Want to Read Your Company's Sustainability Report?" Again, a fair question and a good call out against the multi-page, text-heavy reports that no one—including people who work for the company—usually reads.

So why is transparency important to us at Counter Culture? And how do I create a report that conveys the answers to that question in a clear and engaging way? For me, the first and most important step is to consider the audience. I'm not compiling a transparency report so that sustainability managers at other companies can look at and be impressed; my primary audience is our wholesale customers and coffee consumers who want to know more about our coffee.

Why transparency? If I had to pick a one-word answer, I would say authenticity. We work hard to build relationships in our supply chain, not only because they help secure our supply, increase our quality, and improve our sustainability, but also because they facilitate an information flow among participants throughout the buying process that's far from the norm. If we know a lot of information about our coffees, why not pass that on to our consumers? I won't pretend that a few transparency reports are going to cause a huge shift in consumer demand, but I think we owe it to our consumers to give them as much information as possible and to put that information into context so that they can make more-informed decisions about buying coffee. If we want to improve the sustainability of coffee supply chains in general, sharing information—both with other companies and with consumers—is a crucial step to get everyone on the same page.  

Presenting this information in a format that's engaging and, therefore, actually gets read is definitely challenging. We experimented with new format for our 2013 Transparency Report, but I think we still have room to evolve, especially as the amount of information we share increases. It's good to share information, but, especially for a product with a somewhat mystifying supply chain like coffee, I think that information has to be presented in a way that  actually makes it useful to consumers. I really like the visual approach of this transparency report from 49th Parallel, a coffee roaster in Vancouver. Consider this an inspiration for what's to come!

As I dig into the work required to deliver what I've been talking about with our carbon and transparency reports over the next few weeks, I'm going to take a short break from these regular blog posts so I can return with some awesome material. Talk to you soon!

Meredith


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

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

 



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