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A crew from Counter Culture went to Chico, CA, for Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp in February: company president Brett Smith, Head Roaster Jeff McArthur, and Coffee Buyer & Quality Manager Tim Hill.

Counter Culture's beer team collaborated with our friends and neighbors at All About Beer Magazine—in anticipation of their 35th anniversary later this year—to brew a coffee-infused beer with Sierra Nevada as part of the brewery’s Beer Camp program.

Cold-brewed Haru coffee from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, was added to an India pale ale brewed using hops that would impart tropical fruit flavors—Mosaic, Calypso, and an experimental hop currently known as 291. (This last one sounds a bit like SL-28 in name.)

Thanks to All About Beer and Sierra Nevada for having us. Check out All About Beer's video from the trip and stay tuned for more information on this over the next few months.
Merge Records 25K Our Durham neighbor Merge Records is turning 25 this year. On March 22, we're lending a hand for the first celebratory event of their anniversary year, Merge 25K—a 25 km (15.5 miles) road race—by providing pre-race coffee for runners and volunteers.

An unconventional point-to-point race, participants will convene at the starting line in Chapel Hill, NC—where Merge had its beginnings—and race to the finish in their current home, Durham, a few miles down the road from our roasting facility, Training Center, and HQ.

Finish line festivities will be held at Motorco Music Hall and feature performances from The Love Language and Vertical Scratchers .

The race will help to raise donations for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and Habitat for Humanity of Durham and Orange counties. The Merge 25K is presented in partnership with Bull City Running Co.

Registration at SportOften.com. Visit the race page for more details.

Merge is one of the most widely respected labels in the world, representing artists such as Arcade Fire, Spoon, the Magnetic Fields, She & Him, Destroyer, and many more.


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

Theme

Lot Breakdown of La Golondrina

Right now, we are usually finishing our main harvest (April–July or August) lots of La Golondrina and moving into the mitaca harvest (October–January) lots. This year, however, the producers of La Golondrina didn't have a good mitaca harvest, and we were unable to purchase any of that harvest. This means that we have are still clinging on to the last lot we have from the main harvest. We are going to move through this lot quickly, as we're approaching the time when we normally see some slight quality drop. Nonetheless, I hope that this lot is a noticeable step up from the last one—even though it is only from about a month or two difference.

Notes on the Coffees

La Golondrina – "Past"

This coffee was harvested in April and May 2013. We used this until a few weeks ago.

La Golondrina – "Present"

This coffee was harvested in June and July 2013. This went into La Golondrina a little more than a week ago and will last a couple of months.

Rollout Dates and Availability

La Golondrina has been a year-round single-origin for some time now, but we will likely run out by early May.

–Tim
 


Meister had the opportunity to use Food and Wine's GoPro Cappuccino Cam to make a cappuccino in Counter Culture Coffee's New York Training Center. See an up-close view of how she makes a cappuccino.


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
Bartolo Concha – Single-Farmer Lot from Valle del Santuario, Peru

Theme

Andean All-Stars

Culturally, climatically and topographically, the communities whose coffees comprise Valle del Santuario and El Gavilán are virtually identical, but an invisible political border separates Peruvian from Ecuadorian territory. I have crossed the border from La Balsa (Peru) to Zamora (Ecuador) and I will tell you that with the exception of a small wooden police station and a sign in an empty restaurant offering money exchange (cambio), nothing differentiates the town on one side of the yellow bridge from the town on the other. Sleepy as it is, though, we have that border to thank for the fact that today we are tasting two coffees and not just one, because for so many people, geographic designations still define and differentiate coffees more than factors like variety, elevation or processing methods that we know have more impact on cup quality and flavors than country of origin. With similar coffee varieties, elevation and processing, Bartolo Concha from San Ignacio, Peru and Luis Camacho from Loja, Ecuador, are like brothers of another mother in the context of global coffee.

That said, while recognizing that other factors play a larger role than political geography in determining coffee flavor, differing political and economic climates in two neighboring countries can influence everything from a farmer’s selection of coffee varieties to plant to the price that he receives for his coffee on the local market. Peru dwarfs Ecuador in economic might (not to mention in square miles) and its accelerated growth in recent decades has led to government investment in the coffee sector. Rural communities like the ones around San Ignacio are a long way from Lima, but the central government makes sure that the roads are in good condition and national banks have supported programs for infrastructure improvements and farm productivity in co-operatives even in the hinterlands. The Cenfrocafe cooperative, of which Bartolo Concha is a member, has more than doubled its membership since we began buying their coffee seven years ago and low-interest loans from government institutions have really made that possible by allowing them to provide more services to growers and pay higher prices than other buyers.

Ecuador, by contrast, has a smaller economy, a president (Rafael Correa) who flirts with the anti-capitalist (or imperialist, or whatever you want to call it) leaders of Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua and not a lot of money invested in coffee. Also, they use the dollar as their currency, which means that most things are more expensive in Ecuadorian dollars than in Peruvian nuevos soles. Fapecafes was formed with international aid money and still relies on aid more than loans to float their operation, which is a much less stable position to be in than Cenfrocafe’s (for them, their buyers, and their producer members). Members of the Fapecafes co-op who visited coffee farms in Peru spoke admiringly about the conditions of farms and the transportation across the border, but they also expressed pride that their farms have more Typica and Bourbon than Peru’s, where Catimor types have been more widely promoted.

Notes on the Coffees

Bartolo Concha

Bartolo Concha grows Bourbon, Caturra and Pache varieties of coffee on two small parcels of land which total 2 hectares in production. The names of his two farms are El Limón (the lemon) and El Cedro (the cedar). He is single and lives in the community of Francisco Bolognesi outside of San Ignacio, Peru. We picked two lots from among the coffees we tasted from the five communities we work with closely this year and this was the second of them that we sold. We have said farewell to Sr. Concha’s coffee this year, but look forward to seeing what next year holds for him and the rest of the Valle del Santuario.

Luis Camacho

Due to leaf rust, poor climatic conditions and the aforementioned instability of the co-op, Fapecafes produced very little top-quality coffee this year. Without enough volume to fill our contract for El Gavilán, we found ourselves in a situation with Fapecafes that we try mightily to avoid, namely, buying micro lots without a main lot to support it. Given our prior relationship with Fapecafes and our hope that things will improve this year, we opted to buy a few coffees from individual farmers and celebrate the quality as we would otherwise, but I’m sure more than a few of you will be wondering where the rest of the coffee is (your answer: Toscano).

Luis Camacho is a member of the Procafeq association of Quilanga, which name inspired us to call our coffee El Gavilán because Quilanga is the Aymara word for a hawk’s nest, and he grows typica and bourbon varieties of coffee on two hectares of land in the village of Changaimina.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Luis Camacho is scheduled to roll out on February 25. We will have the opportunity to enjoy Bartolo Concha on Friday, however, it, sadly, has already come and gone from our offering list. 

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