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Sam Lewontin and Lem Butler won their respective regional barista competitions (Northeast and Southeast) at the 2015 Big Eastern Coffee Competitions in Durham, NC!Congratulations to Jenny Bonchak of Slingshot Coffee Company in Raleigh for a second place finish in the 2015 US Brewers Cup!

And congratulations to Sam Lewontin from Everyman Espresso in New York for his fourth place finish in the 2015 US Barista Championship!

Dozens of hard-working, super-talented coffee professionals from around the country competed this weekend. We're especially proud of the folks who chose to compete with our coffees: our very own Lem Butler; Carlos Morales from New York's Third Rail Coffee; Jack Snyder of Northside Social in Arlington, VA; Erika Vonie of Everyman Espresso; and independent barista Anna Utevsky.

Huge thanks to the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Barista Guild of America for making the US Coffee Championships possible. Thanks to the sponsors. hosts, emcees, live feed commentary team, technical teams, judges, and volunteers. And thanks to the the whole Sprudge and Sprudge Live teams for their excellent coverage, as well.

 

 

NOTE: Unfortunately, construction in our Durham Training Center will not be finished in time to host a Tasting@Ten at that location this Friday. All other Training Centers are back on schedule. We're terribly sorry! Please join us next week. Thanks kindly for your patience and understanding.

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Hologram

This week we will deconstruct the fruity, complex Hologram and taste its three components in order to understand what each coffee brings to the blend.

Notes on the Coffees 

Were I forced to reduce Hologram to a single word, I would choose the word fruity because the flavors of sundried natural Ethiopian coffees are unmistakable even in small quantities. But why choose a single word? Especially given that a hologram, by definition, is multi-dimensional. Though it’s not (yet) our best-selling year-round product, the growth in popularity of Hologram and its flavor profile over the past five years is something that excites me, primarily because the coffees that we use for Hologram are so good. Let’s talk about the current version, shall we?

We haven’t purchased coffee from the Asociación Integral Unidas Para Vivir Mejor (ASUVIM) in prior years, but we’re already making plans to purchase more from the harvest just getting underway on these small farms on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. This coffee’s sweetness and milk chocolate flavors are reminiscent of coffee from La Voz, which is located just across the lake. Farming techniques, climate and varieties are similar between the two, and the region seems to incubate unusually good co-op names: ASUVIM’s full name roughly translates as the Comprehensive Association United to Live Better. We’re already buying as much coffee as is available from La Voz and between our company’s growth, the favorable growing conditions around Atitlán and how little age we taste in ASUVIM’s coffee this late in the year, I’m confident you’ll hear more about this group in the year to come. For now, this coffee comprises 60% of Hologram and isn’t used anywhere else.

Second on the table is the inimitable washed lot from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia’s Hama, which is still my favorite coffee among all of our offerings, even a year after its harvest. We use Hama's bright, floral notes to make Hologram more dynamic, especially upon the first sip, but we keep its percentage low (10%) so that the chocolate, fruit, and body brought by the other two components still dominates.

With as many single-producer coffees as we had from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, this year, including knockout sundried naturals from Aleme Wako and Elias Benata, we opted to dedicate the entirety of Biloya sundried natural to Hologram. Biloya tastes a bit more like chocolate and nut than those single-producer lots, which make it a good fit for this coffee, but it’s the berry flavors—which lend Hologram its characteristic fruitiness—that most people will identify immediately on the cupping table. Also, I expect many people would suspect that it makes up more than its current thirty percent of the blend.

As I mentioned at the outset, the coffees we are using in Hologram are exceptionally good ones. Big Trouble may outsell it, and I’d be a fool to deny people their preferences, but all of the coffees we use in Hologram are better and it’s the same price. Not to mention it comes in a purple bag. I know you’ll all enjoy it, but just in case, I’ll say it anyway: enjoy!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Year-round, my friends. All. Year. Round.

-Kim Elena

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Competition Is None

The Big Eastern competition opens on Friday and for this week’s tasting we’ve chosen three coffees that have appeared in the routines of competitors in barista and brewer’s cup competitions at the regional and national levels over the past two years.

Notes on the Coffees

After making its competition debut as part of Jonathan Bonchak’s routine for the US Brewer’s Cup in Seattle in April of 2014, Olke Birre’s coffee is the choice of multiple competitors in both brewing and espresso realms this weekend. In blind cuppings of our many Ethiopian coffees, Olke’s coffee consistently takes the top spot for its balance of floral aromatics and clear-as-a-bell citric acidity. In addition to possessing one of the most perfect flavor profiles we can imagine, this coffee’s appeal is compounded by the fact that it hails from a single farmer and that we know him personally, which is unusual in Ethiopia. Plus, as I’ve told you many times before, he is a head taller than most farmers and was wearing a gold medal when we first met him, so he made quite an impression.

Next up is Ngunguru, one of our current offerings from the flavor capital of the coffee world, Kenya. In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll admit that I meant to send Thiriku, on the wings of which Lem Butler soared to victory in the Southeast Barista Championship in 2012, but ended up typing Ngunguru, instead. Oops. But never you mind, for this coffee’s complexity is equal or superior to that of pretty much any other coffee you could imagine. It’s precisely that complexity—the combination of brightness, mouth-watering savory notes, and brothy body—that make Kenyan attractive for competition settings where unique tastes, memorable descriptors, and creative flavor pairings win points.

Papua New Guinea’s Tairora rounds out the lineup with juicy flavors that are reminiscent of today’s other two coffees, but with a fuller body and more notes of nut and sweet spice than we usually find in East African coffee. Erika Lee Vonie, now at Everyman Espresso, took Tairora to the national stage in April of this year and combined it with herbs and fresh cucumber for a delicious signature beverage. Of today’s three coffees, Tairora was harvested most recently, and, after two years of struggling with both shipping delays and inconsistent quality, it arrived early and is tasting great. We are very thankful to have found the Colbran family and their coffee farm, Baroida, four years ago, and Tairora, which comes from smaller farms around Baroida, demonstrates the mostly unrealized quality potential of these highlands.

Rollout Dates and Availability

All three coffees are available now, but Olke Birre’s time is running out, so savor these last sips. Ngunguru will be around through December, at least, and we hope Tairora will last through March, though it's selling like hotcakes, so I’m not making any promises. 

-Kim Elena

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Holiday Coffee

In accordance with our annual tradition, we have created a unique coffee in honor of the winter holiday season yet again this year. Today’s tasting we will be the first time that many of us get to try the 2014 iteration, and for fun, we’ve included the two single-origin coffees that comprise the blend in addition to the holiday coffee to encourage further flavor exploration. 

Notes on the Coffees

Holiday coffee is an interesting product. Looking at it one way, we could use almost any coffee and the product would still probably sell pretty well given that a) apparently coffee is a popular gift item, b) the word “holiday” is prominently displayed on the packaging, c) the packaging is especially nice, and d) it’s our company’s only consistent foray in the realm of “coffee for a cause,” which resonates with a different audience than our core customers. On the other hand, we want to use really delicious coffees as ingredients because we recognize that this will be many peoples’ first taste of Counter Culture Coffee and we want hook them on taste, story and everything else we do well.

This year’s holiday coffee combines two coffees from our favorite South American and African supplier cooperatives: Cenfrocafe of Jaén, Peru, and Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmer Cooperative Union (YCFCU) of Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Cenfrocafe’s coffee comes from a combination of producers from among their 2,400-and-counting members whose coffees stood out to the cooperative’s cuppers for being exceptionally clean and sweet. Although we don’t have the level of community specificity from this lot that we have from Valle del Santuario, the farms, elevation, and flavors are similar, and it’s coffees like this one that make Cenfrocafe our largest supplier from the Americas. Idido comes to us by way of YCFCU, from which coop we buy more coffee than from any other. Our holiday coffee from 2011 also came from YCFCU and, at the time, the Coffee Department talked about it as part of a campaign to popularize Ethiopian coffees. Three years later, coffees like Idido have made their way into more of our blends and year-round products over and they have and slowly but insistently shaped both flavor profiles and palates around their floral and citrusy characteristics.

Just as the packaging and ingredient philosophy of our holiday coffee continue to evolve every year, so does our goal with the per-pound donation. We have used holiday coffees to raise money for local charities, NGOs working in coffee-producing communities, and projects spearheaded by farms and cooperatives whose coffee we purchase, and the steady growth of our company has resulted in an ever-bigger pot of funds to donate. Growth is great, of course, but we’ve found that at times, the amount of money we raise can be overwhelming for the comparatively small-scale projects that our suppliers undertake, so we were looking for a way to break it up this year. Conveniently, CCC has a program called SEEDS that awards small grants of three to five thousand dollars to suppliers of ours, and since its creation in 2010 we’ve received applications from, and funded, producers across Latin America and East Africa as they planted trees, held compost trainings for their members, and developed strategies for income diversification. Instead of choosing a single project as the outlet for this year’s holiday fundraising, we’ll use the money to bulk increase the SEEDS budget by almost 50% and reach more growers across our diverse supply chains. Also, instead of limiting the donation opportunity to this one particular coffee and thereby sending the signal that the purchase of one does good and the purchase of the other… doesn’t… we opted to make the donation apply to any coffee purchased from CCC during the months of November and December. It’s less convenient to promote than one dollar per pound, but it’s worth the work of explaining because it’s a better representation of the holistic, measured approach we take to building relationships and buying coffee.

Rollout Dates and Availability

This year’s holiday coffee rolled out at the beginning of the month and we’ll sell it through the first week of January 2015.

–Kim Elena

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Peru + Peru = PERU

Today we welcome Chirinos and Huabal—both from the Cenfrocafe cooperative, the same co-op that brings us Valle del Santuario and La Frontera coffees from Peru.


Notes on the Coffees

Cenfrocafe has long been a darling of the coffee department. They are forward thinking, have sound business practices (for the most part), ask the right questions about how to maintain the balance of quality and volume of coffees, and do their very best to put advice received from multiple sources into action.

With these coffees, we embark on the process of getting more-transparent coffees that hit higher quality marks from this important, historic partner. We hope that these coffees are just the beginning of increased volumes, transparency, and quality out of Peru.

Chirinos
Chirinos is known as the land of coffee and natural forests. Cedar, eucalyptus, and pine trees abound. They are also well known for some of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area. The coffee farms are broken up into three altitude groups, high, medium, and low.

Many of the farms in the mountains of the region have only been settled and planted for a generation, as opposed to the southern regions of Peru where the agricultural history dates back millennia. Cenfrocafe's members hail from some 30-odd communities around Jaén and smaller towns like San Ignacio, Chirinos, and Tabaconas.

Chirinos has 11 base organizations that deliver coffee to Cenfrocafe and 235 members total.

Look for: creamy, caramel, plum flavors

Huabal
Huabal (pronounced wa-BALL) is known as a higher altitude quality coffee growing zone. In addition to coffee, there are large areas of protected forest and unique wild animals that add to the biodiversity of the area. Their base organizations are located close to our long-term favorite Valle del Santuario in San Ignacio, Peru.

Huabal has 8 base organizations that deliver coffee to Cenfrocafe and 284 members total.

Look for: pronounced flavors of almond and green grape


Rollout Dates and Availability

Both coffees are already available for purchase as of this week. We will likely have Chirinos in house for about a month-and-a-half while Huabal will be closer to three months because we have a larger volume of this coffee.
As our new packaging designs were coming together, we began to consider whether or not the rustic names of some of our year-round products would make sense in bright, modern-looking bags.

We put all of the year-round coffee names up for consideration. Rather than try to update them based upon existing names, we approached the daunting task from the perspective of how the names related to the coffees themselves. What they taste like. What we're trying to do with them from a buying perspective and so on.

Hologram (formerly Rustico) is a name we feel captures the spirit of the coffee: complex, dynamic, light, and vibrant.

Big Trouble (formerly Toscano) offers a bit of levity. Probably the most tongue-in-cheek thing we've done in a long time. It's a lark, of sorts. Not disingenuous, but playful.

Fast Forward and Slow Motion (formerly Farmhouse and Decaf Farmhouse) continue to be companion pieces. Fast Forward lets us move quickly through new Latin American coffee offerings. While Slow Motion is about slowing down to enjoy a cup of coffee just because it's delicious.
 

If You're Looking For:


Toscano

Rustico

Farmhouse

Decaf Farmhouse
 

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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!
Bryan Duggan and WaterRx Water FiltrationThere have been some notable changes around our company in regard to water filtration. To gain a better understanding of the new facets of filtration and its impact on our facilities and our customers, Hannah Popish, Coffee Buyer’s Agent, sat down with Bryan Duggan, Technical Department Manager and lead mastermind of the new system.

H: What made you realize it was time for a change in regard to how we manage water filtration at our headquarters?
B: Well, we changed filtration here because we started working with WateRx in New York. We were looking for a better option to recommend for our customers (cafes), and a great coffee shop called REX told us about these WateRX. All the units are really customizable so the water qualities can be exactly as you want them to be. The three units we have here are made so that we can change the makeup of the filters internally and thus the taste of the water pretty easily.

H: What can you tell us about WateRx and why did you decide to use them?
B: WaterRx is a company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and they are a national water filtration brand. We decided to go with them because the filters are super reliable, they need very little service and upkeep and they last significantly longer than any other filters we’ve used in the past. This ties into the green aspect of the filter—the medium, meaning the filtration material, is all natural minerals and rocks. Once you need a filter change you can dump it outside with no issue and no disturbance to the natural environment. We were really sold when we realized how durable the filtration is and it’s unique ability to process large volumes of water—the filters never break!

H: Can you give us a breakdown of how the filtration works?
B: First, water enters through the top of the unit and then there are three layers of medium (made up of rocks, sand, salt, and resin) that remove unwanted items from the water. Unwanted items include bacteria, rust, dirt, chlorine, arsenic, mercury, odor, and color.

H: What is the key takeaway for people who don’t know much of anything about water, water filtration, and its impact on coffee and the environment?
B: Number one would be that properly filtered water makes your coffee taste better. Second and equally important is that adequately filtered water makes your machines last longer. Sustainably speaking, the tanks we are using now only have to be recharged 50,000 gallons, or every 12-18 months, and can be reused. Our previous filters only lasted 3-6 months and had to be thrown away. 

H: What does “adequately filtered water” mean exactly?
B: The simple answer is that it is water that is free of chlorides, arsenic and anything harmful. The water also has a balanced hardness. We have used the set of parameters that La Marzocco recommends for our water.

H: What else do you want us to know about the filters?
B: The big filter that we use in the coffee and tech departments track the amount of water used. The tracking means that you can check on averages used and you can decide if you need to reduce your usage and it allows you to know your carbon impact. Also, this makes it easier to know when you need to “recharge” the system, meaning, swap out the old filtration material.

H: Who currently uses this filtration?
B: A handful of our accounts are already implementing the new filtration: Open City in Washington DC, OK Café in Astoria, NY, Brunswick in Brooklyn, and Big Bear in Washington DC. In terms of our training centers they are in place in NY, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Durham and we are recommending the filtration for all new accounts in those areas.

H: What’s next in the world of water filtration?
B: We will continue to develop our water parameters so that we can make the water taste as delicious as possible for our coffees. As we calibrate we will move this filtration into all of our TCs. WateRx is a great partner to continue to work with!

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