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Fab Four

Those of us who attended Wednesday’s “Pro Dev: Ethiopian Varieties” were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at and taste of the four single-farmer coffees that we’ll taste this Friday. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t wait to taste them again! It’s no exaggeration to say that these are some of the best coffees that we’ll have this year, regardless of how you define “best”.

Notes on the Coffees

Olke Birre is a farmer from the kabele, or village, of Haru, who grows mostly Kudhume-variety coffee at an elevation of over 2000 meters. He was one of the first participants in this single-farmer program that we met (at our organic composting workshop in 2013, to which he arrived wearing a gold medal and a blinding smile) and we are especially pleased to have this coffee this year because last year it was promised to another roaster before we had a chance to express our interest. Also, because it is practically perfect.

Mesele Haile lives about a mile from downtown Yirgacheffe in Hafursa, which is a name that Counter Culture old-timers will remember. He grows mostly Wolisho-variety coffee with a smaller percentage of Kudhume and Dega, and his farm sits at 1,800 meters. We also met Mesele at the composting workshop and, in fact, the culmination of that workshop, the collective building of a composting bin, and a coffee ceremony for forty of us took place on his farm.  This coffee arrived tasting a little flatter than we had hoped, so we are tweaking the roast and looking at this coffee closely before we roll it out.

Elias Benata grows mostly Wolisho, but also has some Dega and Kudhume on his farm, which is in the kebele of Biloya at around 1,800 meters. The first single-farmer lots we committed to purchase from YCFCU last year were sundried natural coffees, which takes just as much skill to produce as washed coffee, but requires less up-front investment in infrastructure than building a full washing station on a farm.

Like Elias, Aleme Wako (note that it’s Aleme - pronounced AL-eh-meh, not Alemu, as previously spelled) is a farmer in Biloya, who produces sundried natural coffees on his farm. In Kochere, which is south of the Yirgacheffe district, the farms tend to be a little bigger and newer than farms in Yirgacheffe, and with sixteen acres each, Elias and Aleme have large farms for co-op members.

While we can’t help but get excited about every delicious single-farmer coffee we taste, it’s also important to us to reinforce the relationships we’ve built over the years, so it’s no coincidence that these lots come from the familiar kabeles of Haru and Biloya.

Rollout Dates and Availability

All of these coffees are slated to roll out Friday, August 29, though the squirrely spelling of Amharic names and our desire to continue finessing Mesele Haile’s coffee might mean we begin with two and roll the other two later in the week.

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New Wave

These are heady times for coffee lovers as we present one new coffee after another. This week, we will taste three freshly arrived coffees, including Finca Nueva Armenia from the lovable Jorge and Javier Recinos, the berry-bomb Banko Gotiti Sundried Natural, and delicious Decaf La Voz.

Style of Tasting

Storytime!

I’m going to suggest that this week you break out the espro presses and really enjoy telling stories and talking about the flavors and provenances of these coffees in a more casual way than cupping allows.

Notes on the Coffees

Finca Nueva Armenia is back and the good news is that it tastes good! You’ll find fruit notes in this week’s coffee that you might have associated with the microlot from Grotto in years past, and this brings us to the bad news, which is that this year, Grotto’s coffee is the only coffee from the farm that made the cut for us to sell as a single-origin offering.

As we have for many years, we purchased all of the farm’s coffee, but we are using all but 25 bags of Grotto in blends and products like Toscano, which is currently 70% Finca Nueva Armenia. The farm’s elevation and old trees left it vulnerable to coffee leaf rust, and we taste the grassy, nutty effects of false maturation more in the 2014 crop than we did in 2013.

Grotto, which is the highest of the farm’s coffee-growing parcels, has fared better and coffee from that area tastes good, so we knew we wanted to sell it. Because it always feels weird to have a microlot without a main lot, we opted to brand it as Finca Nueva Armenia. Heck, when you look at it that way, Finca Nueva Armenia has never tasted so good!

This coming year, your faithful coffee department will work hard with the Recinos brothers to increase the volume of coffee we’re excited to feature, and, thankfully, we have enough years together that neither party has any question whether it’s worthwhile to invest in the work—or whether it’s possible to succeed—in overcoming these obstacles to quality.

Banko Gotiti Sundried Natural is a coffee we want you to be familiar with for a couple of reasons: first,  because its arrival will bring joy not only to those who love to drink straight sundried natural coffees, but also to everyone who regularly drinks Rustico—and that’s got to be a fair number of us, right? Second, this lot of Banko represents the evolution of our strategy for buying coffees in and around Yirgacheffe. (This comes from Gedeb, which is an area south of Kochere, which is south of Yirgacheffe town).

Most of you will remember the first coffee we bought from this village in early 2013: a washed lot from a private mill/exporter, bought because a) our coffees from YCFCU had not arrived and b) it tasted good. We struggled at the time to balance promoting it enthusiastically for having great flavors without confusing this "spot" coffee with the coffees that we actually work on and have an attachment to. Despite the struggle, the quality of Banko Gotitit’s coffee, the elevation of the farms, and the preciseness of the coffee picking wasn’t lost on us, so when YCFCU presented us the option to buy coffee from a burgeoning farmer co-op they were working with in this area, we jumped at the chance. The farmer co-op belonging to YCFCU in Banko Gotiti has only produced sundried natural coffees. Lest you think that’s a strike against them, I’ll add that their sundried natural coffees have won awards among all of the coffees produced in this style by co-ops under the YCFCU umbrella—but they are planning to build a washing station for the coming year’s harvest.

The quality of cherry selection in this area leads to this lot being one of the berriest sundried natural coffees we have tasted, and we look forward to more from this group in the future.

We have put Decaf La Voz back on the table this week because the last time we tasted it, we were still tweaking the roast in anticipation of the roll out, and this represents the coffee and the flavors that our customers—and those of us tough enough for decaf—will be tasting in this coffee. Just like dialing in a coffee for espresso, dialing in a roast is all about tasting, adjusting, and tasting again.

In that vein, it bears noting that both Banko Gotiti and Finca Nueva Armenia are a little bit darker this week than they will be in production, due to, you guessed it, dialing in the roast profiles of these brand-new coffees.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Decaf La Voz rolled out a few weeks ago, Banko Gotiti left the building for the first time on Monday, and Finca Nueva Armenia is slated for August 22.
Counter Culture Coffee and All About Beer Magazine have collaborated with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. to create “No Middle Ground,” a limited-edition IPA made with cold-brewed coffee. The beer features washed Haru from Ethiopia and an experimental hop known as “291,” giving the beer a bright, fruit-forward flavor profile. No Middle Ground will be available on tap during special tasting events at Counter Culture’s eight regional training centers.

Berkley, CA, on 10/15 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. PT

New York on 10/16 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Philadelphia on 10/23 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

 

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Twice as Nice

Idido and Haru are names that have become very familiar to us as Counter Culture has steadily deepened our relationship with the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmer Co-operative Union’s washing stations in these two villages near Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Every year we aim to increase the amount of coffee we buy from these two groups, as well as to explore the most exciting new coffees and flavors that we can find, and this year we have both more volume and more unique offerings from this incredible region of the coffee-growing world than we have ever had before.

Notes on the Coffees

Haru and Idido represent a shift in Counter Culture’s perspective on coffees from Ethiopia (and, it could probably be argued, from East Africa in general). Until we focused on these washing stations, we were basically just cupping coffees every year to see what we liked, and it was difficult for us to have much of a story to tell about any individual coffee or to feel justified investing time, energy and money in building relationships. By committing to YCFCU and staking a claim to these two washing stations, we weren’t necessarily saying that other washing stations were incapable of producing equally great coffee, or that no one else could buy coffee from these groups, but that we would rather try to get to know these groups and try to realize any untapped potential that they had than to cup through samples to find the best ones.

Over the past four years, we have undertaken experiments at the co-op level with Haru in processing and at both washing stations to sort coffees and gauge the results, and we have also gotten to know some individual farmer members of these washing stations through visits and the organic compost workshop we hosted in 2013. YCFCU’s manager Takele Mammo has always been involved in these projects—if not their coordinator—and he has been, generally, enthusiastic about experiments and ideas for special, unique, higher-value coffees.

When he announced in 2013 that YCFCU would, for the first time, sell coffees from individual members who process their coffee on their own equipment on their farms, we couldn’t wait to try them. We were quite pleased with the lots we bought from Mammo Boki and Tegegu Ocholo, but we did recognize the potential conflict between supporting the co-operatively owned washing stations and diverting attention to these single-producer projects (unlike growers of our single-producer lots from Latin America, farmers like Mammo Boki have infrastructure and scale that is very different than most farms in Yirgacheffe and out of reach of many members of these co-ops).

What to do? Well, we decided that instead of choosing between them, we would choose to both continue growing with and supporting the co-ops and also buy coffee from individual growers, ideally members of these co-ops and communities with whom we have relationships. In addition to the Idido and Haru we’re happily sipping now, we are anticipating the arrival of single-farmer lots from Elias Banata, Olke Birre, Alame Wako and Mesele Haile with excitement. They ought to be great! On that note, though, in our blind cupping of pre-ship samples, Idido still took all the votes for best coffee on the table, so don’t let your appetite for the goodies to come keep you from stopping to smell the roses, or more likely, jasmine, in your cups this week.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Idido and Haru are both rocking and rolling right now, so order up!

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Seasonal Shift

We chose this week’s three coffees because they’re all new, which is a very good reason for all of us to taste them and a tried-and-true recipe for a fun Friday morning at Counter Culture Coffee.

Style of Tasting

Cupping

Pretend it’s 2010, back before we began questioning the sanctity of the three-coffee-Friday-cupping formula, and line these suckers up.

Notes on the Coffees

This is the first year we have decaffeinated coffee from La Voz in Guatemala and I’m sure glad we did, because this is a really good decaf from a coffee grower group we really like working with. It’s challenging to keep decaffeinated coffees tasting fresh and we work hard to offer single-origin decafs that meet the same standards for quality, transparency and relationships as our more popular, celebrated, caffeinated single-origin coffees. It takes a while to get coffee to Swiss Water Decaf in Vancouver and then back down here, and in this case, in the time between this coffee’s shipment from Guatemala and its arrival in Durham, we managed to sell through all of this year’s caffeinated coffee from La Voz. Fear not, it will return next year and meanwhile, I encourage you to treat this decaf with respect because it’s a far sight better—by any measure—than what most decaf drinkers are used to imbibing.

We have all become familiar with Concepcion Huista over the past few years, which is the name of the town in northeastern Huehuetenango where the Codech co-operative has its headquarters. Coffee arrives at Codech from a myriad of communities and farmer groups around Concepcion Huista and this year, one of our goals with the co-op was to isolate a few communities where we knew, based on topographical information and our tasting experience, that some of the best coffees were growing. This week we taste coffee from farms in and around Pojtaj (pronounce the j with an exhalation most similar to the h for something resembling pohhh-TAHHH), which is one of two single-community lots we have. We haven’t yet decided whether we want to sell Pojtaj or Tzunhuitz (zoon-WEETS) straight, but regardless, you all have a fruity, community-specific coffee to look forward to, as well as a single-farmer lot from a fellow named Pedro Gomez. We have invested a lot of time and energy into Codech because we have tasted coffees from here that are unique in flavor among other Guatemalan coffees and because their growing conditions are among the best in Central America.

The last time we tasted Apollo, it was 100% Haru and I believe I included as a caveat that it might not stay that way for long. Today we taste Apollo made with Idido Grade 2, which is a perfect harmony between coffee and product. According to the Ethiopian system for grading coffees, grade 2 coffees receive less sorting than grade 1 coffees and as a result are a less expensive and generally a little bit less refined (note that I said generally - in fact, in some years from some places, grade 2 coffees have actually out-scored grade 1 coffees). The jury is still out on whether it’s always worth the extra money for the top grade, but in Idido’s case this year, grade one takes top billing so we are selling the fruitier, cleaner Idido Grade 1 straight right now and roasting Idido Grade 2 a little bit darker for Apollo.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Decaf La Voz is available to sell Friday and will be available for the next few months, while Pojtaj (or Tzunhuitz) will roll out another week or so later and probably not last as long. Apollo is available year-round and will be Idido Grade 2 for a while, unless it changes, in which case, we’ll let you know and you’ll likely taste it.

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Constructing the Blend – Part 2 of 2

Just when you finally eliminated the word “blend” from your vocabulary, we throw you a curveball by the name of Equilibrium. But before you roll your eyes and/or sigh loudly, you should taste this coffee because it’s really, really delicious.

Though we have worked hard to transition many products-formerly-known-as-blends to flavor profiles that are embodied by one single-origin coffee, we would never suggest that two delicious coffees together can’t be greater than the sum of its parts. Making that harmony work requires flexibility, though, and year-round products with flavor profile parameters—let’s call them old school blends—don’t offer that at all, so Equilibrium represents a foray into a new school. This blend is not driven by a need for consistency, but rather by the idea of capturing something fleeting, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. It probably won’t come back. Ever. When we run out of one of the components, or when coffees begin fading, or when we have another interesting flavor (or flavor combination) to present, this coffee will disappear like a single-origin coffee and we’ll move on to the next season.

Hannah put it well last week when she said, “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.” Having tasted the components, I hope you can better appreciate the interplay of flavors in the blend.

Notes on the Coffees

As a nod to its name, Equilibrium is made up of equal parts of three coffees.

33% Idido, Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia

Our first lot from the Idido cooperative in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia represents a select group of 200 of the most dedicated farmers. These farmers turned in their best cherry at the peak of the 2013-2014 harvest season for this washed, special-preparation coffee. Notes of melon, orange blossom, and citrus.

33% Concepcion Huista, Huehuetenango, Guatemala

One of the most highly anticipated Central American coffees we offer, Concepción Huista delivers yet again! This year—our fourth working with the Codech cooperative—we continued to focus on buying smaller lots in order to capture higher quality from particular geographic regions within the cooperative’s reach. 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.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Equilibrium rolled out last Friday in some sparkling new packaging. We anticipate it will stick around through September or October, but with the way it tastes now, why wait?

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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!

 

 

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Pulp Up the Volume

We’ve got Finca El Puente’s coffee on our tables for at least the third time in the past month, if you count Pro Dev, but lest you think we’re treading known ground, let me assure you that this week’s tasting of their later-harvest lot and their pulp natural is the one that has me the most excited of all!

Notes on the Coffees

The flavors of the pulp natural coffee will undoubtedly register more interest than the washed will, so let’s begin there. Over the past ten years, we have tasted scores of pulp natural coffees hailing from every country in Latin America and we have asked almost every farmer and producer group we work with to experiment with this style of processing. Most of the time, these coffees turned out fine but not nearly as good as washed coffees from the same producer and, on a couple of occasions, the pulp natural lots went awry and tasted like rotten fruit and phenol defect.

Despite those failures, we keep trying because we know that post-harvest processing is not a binary of washed and sundried natural styles (or a ternary that includes pulp naturals). In fact, within the category of washed coffees alone there exists enormous diversity in technique, from the calibration of de-pulping machines to the fermentation and washing vessels, and these differences lead to varying percentages of mucilage left on washed parchment when it dries. To put it another way, in terms of fruit-on-parchment, some of the coffee we buy from El Salvador is probably as close (in fruit-on-seed terms) to today’s waterless pulp natural from Finca El Puente as it is to our washed coffees from Ethiopia. That spectrum offers a lot of flavor possibilities and also, I can’t resist mentioning, a lot of opportunity for water conservation.

Let’s get back to today’s table, though. Finca El Puente’s pulp natural is awesome. AWESOME. This is the most balanced pulp natural coffee I have ever tasted: intensely fruity but still bright and juicy and without a hint of earth. We can attribute these great flavors to Finca El Puente’s control of the process and their cold-but-dry wet mill, but still, we were surprised by how much we liked this and our wheels are already turning about how to incorporate some of these characteristics into the washed coffee. As with all experiments, we started with a small quantity (six bags in this particular lot), but based on this coffee’s flavors, I’m sure we’ll increase that volume in years to come, not to mention using what we learn about their process to inform other growers undertaking similar trials.

The washed lot gets short shrift in today’s notes, but it bears mentioning that it’s very good and we’re quite pleased both with it and with our decision to split the total amount of washed coffee we bought in two and ship the first half when it was ready as opposed to waiting for a full container. We were able to sell Finca El Puente’s coffee earlier than in past years and use the early-harvest coffees while they were at their peak, as opposed to letting it age in Honduras and then blending it with fresher lots from later in the harvest, thereby dulling the flavors of the second lot. This is the kind of decision-making that goes on to make coffee taste better that most people don’t realize, which is totally understandable given that the point is for our customers to notice coffee improving and not to teach them about shipping schedules. This is the kind of execution we’re capable of now that we never would have dreamed about a few years ago and having jumped through these hurdles, I can’t help but sigh (inaudibly, I hope), when I overhear people here in Durham say that our coffee was better back in the day when we were a smaller company. Not so! Coffees like this week’s result directly from our experience, relationships and scale. 

Rollout Dates and Availability

The second washed lot has already replaced the first as single-origin Finca El Puente. The Pulp Natural lot rolls out today and we only have six bags of it, so get your orders in now, friends!