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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?
Our new pourover iced coffee video is short and sweet and easy to use. This (phone-friendly) tutorial breaks down the simple steps for delicious pourover iced coffee into a quick lesson that anyone can use and enjoy.

We've gone on record (once or twice) as really loving this method for iced coffee. The results of brewing directly onto ice are a bright, vibrant expression of the coffee that is incredibly refreshing.

To celebrate both the new video and this month's Featured Coffee, Idido (which happens to be perfect for brewing over ice), our #AnyCoffeeAnyBrew Instagram contest for July focuses on ... iced coffee. No matter how you make it, post a photo of whatever coffee you're drinking iced on Instagram and tag #AnyCoffeeAnyBrew for a chance to win our weekly prize of a bag of our July Featured Coffee, Idido!

The video was shot at our Durham HQ by Graphic Designer Christy Baugh—with set design/production assistance from her fellow designer Katie Parland—with Tech Manager Bryan Duggan as the "lead actor." (Web Content Manager Cameron Gatling makes a cameo at the end as "coffee drinker #2.") Music for the video was written and recorded by Production Associate Thomas Costello.
 

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It’s a Numbers Game

We have a single coffee to taste this week—Number Forty-Six—and a single brewing style—cupping—but by manipulating variables of brew time, water temperature, and grind size we will take it from okay to very good (and we’ll explain why, too).

Style of Tasting

Cupping

Measure twenty (or twenty-four, or twenty-eight) cups of Number Forty-Six and divide them into four sets of five to seven cups each. We will treat each set differently, so I’ll write separate instructions for each of them.

Set #1: This set is the control for our semi-experiment, so I’ll ask you to use the coffee-to-water ratio, grind setting and pour technique you might usually use for Friday cuppings. I don’t know how many of you measure water temperature for cuppings (and if you do, great!), but we’re going for about 210F, or right off the boil, for this set. While this may be hotter than some of you are used to, I know that for our fifty-something-person cuppings here in Durham around the holidays, we tend to grab kettles off of induction burners and begin brewing immediately with water that is hot, hot, hot.

Set #2: Follow the same steps used for the first set, but bring the water temperature down to 200F.

Set #3: Follow the same steps as in the second set (low brewing temp) but grind on a coarser setting (say, old-school French press).

Set #4: Grind coffee on a fine setting (not as fine as the Dittig “espresso” setting, but significantly finer than your regular cupping setting) and use 192-195F water to brew. After making your initial pour and letting the coffee bloom, return to this set and add water to the cups, trying to keep the majority of each cup’s crust intact, until the crust is level with the top of the cup. Also, break this set at 2:30 minutes instead of 4 minutes.

Cupping leaders of the Type-A persuasion may be wondering how to juggle these different parameters and it will definitely be a good idea to have a few extra hands to help, but as long as you have kettles of water at different temperatures ready simultaneously, it should be pretty straightforward. Pour the last set at about the 1:30 mark for the other three sets so that all four are ready to break at once.

Notes on the Coffees

We are all familiar with Number Forty-Six, but I suspect that few of us brew and drink it regularly. Since the departure of La Forza and the various French roasts, this product has held the title of our darkest coffee, which may seem like a dubious honor to some of us but still probably attracts more coffee drinkers than it dissuades. I’m one of those people who rarely drinks Number Forty-Six, in part because I feel like I know it well after so many years and in part because I lean toward our lighter coffees (I admit it, I let my prejudice against darker-roasted coffees keep me from choosing this coffee for my morning brew even when it contains awesome ingredients). Anyway, when I DO taste Number Forty-Six, it tends to be on the cupping table and, sadly, the coffee usually tastes bitter and astringent.

Many in our peer group would immediately attribute negative qualities to dark roasting, but what if it’s not about flaws in the roast as flaws in our cupping protocol? Think about this: the Cupper’s Handbook lists appropriate brew temperature as between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit, but when was the last time you cupped with 195 degree water or considered changing the water temperature for different coffees? The handbook also suggests a roast level and when we cup on Fridays, or when we cup production roasts, we often venture outside of that range. We know from the Brewing Science series that changing one parameter of brewing triggers the need to change others and our hope is that today’s exercise serves as a reminder to examine cupping as a brewing method so that we don’t unwittingly give advantages to some coffees at the expense of others.

I think this is one of the most interesting tastings we’ve done in a while and I am REALLY curious about how you, and your audiences, react to the four samples. If you or your audience is generally pro-lighter-roast, do any of the changes we make to the brewing process serve to open minds? If your audience is pro-darker-roast, does the first coffee still taste good? 

Rollout Dates and Availability

Number Forty-Six may outlast us all.

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#AnyCoffeeAnyBrew

Toscano and Rustico grace our tables and grinder hoppers today with recently reformulated recipes that reflect the seasonal change that we promise for all of our year-round products.

Notes on the Coffees

Toscano and Rustico are both tasting really good right now, so we decided to use this week’s tasting as an opportunity to spend a little bit more time with them. It’s easy to overlook these coffees when it comes time to choose what we taste on Fridays because we look first to what’s new (and much of the time, we have something new or almost new to feature, explain and explore), then to what’s about to go away (and that’s not uncommon, either, especially when we have new offerings), so we don’t spend as much time on Fridays with these kind of coffees as we do with some coffees that represent much smaller volumes for us. After so many years, I have no doubt that we all know what these coffees taste like, but it’s important to stay connected to them.

Currently Toscano is comprised of 70% Finca Nueva Armenia from Guatemala and 30% Dulce Nombre, a part of El Puente in Honduras. Rustico is comprised of 70% La Voz from Guatemala and 30% Idido Natural Sundried from Ethiopia.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Recipes change but the flavor profile remains the same all day, every day.

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Finca El Puente

We will focus all of our attention this week on welcoming this year’s lot of Finca El Puente from Marcala, Honduras, into our coffee lineup.

Style of Tasting

Brewing Rodeo

Finca El Puente’s coffee is one that I recommend often to people new to Counter Culture and our coffees, in large part because its flavors are forgiving of brewing methods that might not meet our standards. Some of the more delicate aspects—characteristics we call purple, for example—may be lost in a twenty-year-old Krups, but we have the means in our training centers to highlight nuances and differences. You have two bags of the coffee, so dig in to brewers and recipes, and test as many ideas as your crowd has patience to taste.

Notes on the Coffees

Every year, when it comes time to tell the story of Finca El Puente, I wonder how to balance what’s new (or at least, new in the past year) with the years that preceded this one and keep the story to fewer than a thousand words. It’s easy to get carried away when talking about this coffee because it’s a perfect example of the kind of coffee that helps people understand and trust Counter Culture: it’s very good coffee without being inordinately complex in flavor, it’s consistent from year to year and, not for nothing, almost all of us know the farmers responsible for creating it.

I hope that most of you had a chance to attend at least one of last October’s Variety Show events in our training centers and to spend time with Moisés and Marysabel, who are two of the most gracious and generous people in the coffee industry. They have been great friends to us ever since we began buying their coffee in 2006, but in the early years they seemed most happy doing what they had always done. Often, these weekly dispatches include a comment about the challenges of introducing new ideas to smallholder farmers, and though Finca El Puente isn’t so small, coffee farming is still risky enough without introducing experiments that they were hesitant to mess with what seemed to be working just fine. We never stopped pitching ideas, and because we balanced asking for new things with our commitment to do a really good job buying and marketing their coffee, Moisés eventually let his guard down. Once he let himself embrace unusual varieties, East African processing methods and organic agriculture techniques, momentum began to build and now, well, he grows seventeen varieties and executes at least one new idea every year (including something really amazing this year, which will be coming in the second shipment and about which I will keep you in suspense another month or so).

We feel very fortunate to have Moisés and Marysabel as collaborators who trust our ideas, feel comfortable challenging us, have the financial means to take risks, participate enthusiastically in the international coffee community and value the opportunity to connect with our staff and customers. It all keeps getting better every year and with the experience we have, we know better than to take that for granted. Raise your cups to another great year of Finca El Puente!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Finca El Puente will roll out on Monday, June 2, and is available to everyone, everywhere.

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Four by Four

Why four by four? Well, build your own, be constructive, that's the theme today. Today we bring you four coffees from Honduras and hope you'll explore. Also, many moons ago, Selin Recinos, placed fourth in the Honduran national competition the year prior to the existence of the Cup of Excellence!

Style of Tasting

Cupping, Iced, Espresso, and ... Roll the Dice

Anybody's game. Why not have a few cups of each out and ready to taste cupping style. Then, choose a couple of favorites and try them iced, try them as espresso, and, frankly, try them however you think they might taste best, and then tell your coffee friends all about it! Even better, if you are able, discuss just "how strong is your brew" as we approach the next Pro Dev.

Notes on the Coffees

All four of these coffees come from within a small radius, geographically speaking, and they have similar taste profiles. The subtle nuances, however, make tasting them interesting.

We have a long history of selling Finca Pashapa as a darker roast or tucked away in a No.46. This, however, is its year to shine. Much like Moises and Marysabel of Finca El Puente, Pashapa's owner, Roberto Salazar, has come to be like family for Counter Culture. I've already heard comments around HQ, “Pashapa is my favorite right now,” and “Check out Pashapa's brightness.” So, it's the week of the underdog for sure. You'll be pleased with the syrupy stone fruit and sugar cane notes.

Roberto helps to run the Cocafelol cooperative in Marcala, Honduras. He's also a co-op member. Cocafelol recently took over an abandoned farm: They thought to themselves, "We know what to do with available land!!" Thus, Finca Liquidambar appeared on the scene. The roughly 3.5 hectare farm is run by the leadership of the cooperative. "Liquidambar" is the spanish word for gum trees, of which there are plenty on the farm. This year was the farm's first year with enough coffee to taste and ship in any great quantity! Look for delicate notes of brown sugar and apricot.

Selin Recinos is also a member of Cocafelol. We asked to try a few producers' coffee separately this year, and we are glad we did. Selin has one of the larger farms in the group with about 10 hectares. As referenced above, Selin has been in the spotlight for some time—since his 2004 national coffee win. In the cup: some sparkle, green apple, citrus, and almond.

We'd be remiss not to pause for a moment and remark on how great a name Estanislao Bojórquez has. In the Coffee Department we were rooting for him based on name alone. You'll find his coffee to be nice and sweet with medium acidity and a touch of fruit. There is a slight earthy undertone which is why we most likely won't sell the coffee separately, but it is still quite a nice coffee.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Finca Pashapa became available last week and will likely last through the end of June.

Señor Recinos and Finca Liquidambar will make their debut Friday, May 23, and will likely be around about two to three weeks—but that of course depends on demand. Estanislao ... today is his day! Enjoy it now and, potentially, only now.

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Newbies

Our coffees this week come from La Voz, a cooperative in San Juan de la Laguna, Guatemala and Dionicio Quispe of the Cenaproc co-operative in Nueva Llusta, Bolivia. They are the newest additions to our offering list.

Notes on the Coffees

The newest newcomer, La Voz: Well, coffee from La Voz is not totally new, as it has been featured in Farmhouse for the last four years. However, it is now its moment to shine and have a spotlight of its own with the name of the cooperative out in front. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, the full name of this cooperative "La Voz que Clama en el Desierto"—or "the voice that cries out in the wilderness"—is one of the best of any we've heard.

Situated right off of Lake Atitlán, they are poised for quality coffee. Yet, we know that ideal growing conditions are only a fraction of what it takes to make what we taste delicious. Co-op leadership and producers put in the work this past harvest and paid great attention to detail in central milling and drying. Despite many coffees from Guatemala this year reflecting inconsistencies, and a decrease in quality due to the ripple effect of leaf rust, La Voz was able to overcome adversity. Honestly, this is the dream trajectory for a cooperative and for buyers: clear steps that lead to clear results.

Dionico Quispe!
As promised, today we will be sipping together Dionicio Quispe's coffee from Nueva Llusta. Despite the fact that we tend to feel less pressure to ensure that coffees from the southern hemisphere arrive early, we also know they'll taste better when they're fresher, so we split up our shipment from Nueva Llusta into two half-lots. In most places, the later part of the harvest captures coffee from higher elevations and tends to produce better quality coffee. Dionicio Quispe's coffee is one of four single-farmer lots we selected from the late-harvest half-lot from Nueva Llusta. Continuing to share single-farmer lots from this group is like finding candy you had forgotten you left somewhere! And, each one has a slightly different flavor than the next. Dionicio's is quite bright and perfect for the warmer temperatures.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Both coffees will be available Monday, May 12. La Voz will likely last 2–4 months. Dionicio Quispe's lot will likely be gone in the blink of an eye—one week +—so, get it while you can!
It has been more than three years since we have changed the prices of our year-round coffees. It has always been our goal to keep our price as low as possible. However, in order to continue sourcing the best coffee and providing excellent value, we are increasing the prices of our blends by approximately 7%.

Effective May 1, 2014, prices for Farmhouse will increase to $14.75 per bag, Decaf Farmhouse to $15.25, No. 46 will to $14.75, Toscano to $14.75, Rustico to $14.75, and Apollo will increase to $15.75 (beginning June 1, 2014).

Thank you for understanding that this price increase means that we can continue to maintain the superior standard of our products and services.