You are here

Updates
Good afternoon and happy new year to all! I am really excited about the possibilities held by 2014 and we are starting the year off on a good foot with this week's single-farmer lots from Bartolo Concha and Nelson Melo.

I wouldn't blame you for calling these coffees microlots on Friday if that's a helpful term, but a few months back we made the decision to drop microlot as a marketing term because it's amorphous and subject to different definitions and qualifications even within a single company. We realized that more specific terms are better indicators for what makes a given coffee noteworthy, given that sometimes microlots denoted individual coffee farms within larger groups, sometimes coffee from one area of a large farm, sometimes coffee from a particular day of harvest, sometimes coffee of a single variety and so forth and so on.

Cup quality unites all of our microlots to some degree, of course, but even that gets tricky because a microlot of 500 pounds from a grower in Nicaragua might score 90 points and blow us away, whereas we expect our coffee from Idido in Ethiopia to score a couple points higher still and at 37,000 pounds, there's nothing micro about it.

Bartolo Concha and Nelson Melo are both members of associations of smallholder farmers we work with and these two individuals' coffees have been separated out, which makes them single-farmer lots. Make sense? Bartolo Concha is one of the seventy – some farmers whose coffee comprises our Valle del Santuario coffee. He has been a member of the co-op for as many years as we have been working with the five communities of the valley and coffee from his two farms, El Limón and El Cedro – named for lime and cedar trees growing on those parcels of land – has always met our minimum cupping score for purchase (an 85, for us), but this is the first year that we have selected it as a single-farmer lot.

The other single-farmer lot from Valle del Santuario, Moisés Vicente, has a similar story, and in fact, so does every other co-op member whose coffee we have selected to stand on its own in years past: they do well consistently but hit that highest-tier mark only once. When Hannah asked Bartolo at a meeting last month what he did differently this year to improve the quality of his coffee, he struggled to pinpoint anything unusual. This seems like a glitch in a system that was designed to both reward quality and to provide incentives for better agricultural practices, and it's one that we wouldn't be so aware of if it weren't for our survey of this co-op back in late 2011 and early 2012. You've all heard plenty about this research by now, but I'll include the link just for kicks.
 
Our research in Peru led to a stronger relationship and more trust with the growers of Valle del Santuario and the Cenfrocafe co-op, but it also left us with questions about why growers weren't achieving repeated success in Peru when we knew it was possible. Hannah and I decided to do a follow-up study focusing on the agricultural practices and behaviors most associated with repeat success and we took up that study with smallholder farmers in southern Colombia including, but not limited to, the members of the Orgánica association behind La Golondrina.

Arismendes Vargas, Gloria Tejada and Manuel Melenje are all members of that group who have received quality premiums multiple times over the years, but no farmer has produced microlots more consistently than Nelson Melo, and your faithful coffee buyers could not possibly be more tickled to have this grower's coffee to share with all of you after many years of knowing and admiring Nelson, his family and his leadership in the Orgánica association. Nelson's coffee has gone to another buyer since 2005 – predating our connection to Orgánica – and every year that we have tasted it, Nelson's coffee has been exceptional even among Orgánica's many laudable single-farmer lots. We have waited patiently for seven years and that patience paid off, but the tiny amount of this coffee we have will only be available to order online. Sales will begin later this month sometime, though I'm not sure quite when.
 
Enjoy, please, and as always, send your questions and feedback my way.

– Kim
Good morning, cuppers!
 
Sorting at Mpemba.With 52 weeks in a year and three coffees (on average) in each of our weekly cuppings, it stands to reason that we have read, spoken, and learned about – not to mention brewed and tasted – 156 coffees together since this time last year! Of course, one could argue that we have repeated coffees, but anyone who has cupped as long as you all have knows that our understanding of coffee grows through repetition. In the depth-versus-breadth debate, I fall firmly on the side of depth. In any case, it has been a heck of a year in coffee, and it means a lot to me to have gotten to share thoughts from the Coffee Department on all 156 of 'em.
 
The last of 2013's Friday cuppings showcases three stellar coffees from Burundi. Our story begins with the washed coffee from the Buziraguhindwa washing station in Kayanza, which we have been purchasing since 2010, making it our longest-running relationship in Africa. Is that surprising? Given how new the whole country is to the specialty coffee industry, I'd say it's kind of surprising, and we certainly have longer track records of purchasing from washing stations like Ndaroini in Kenya, but those purchases haven't been in consecutive years. The strong relationships we now count on to bring us awesome coffees – see: Haru, Idido, Remera, etc. – have been built on the model of Buziraguhindwa and the lessons we have learned in the years we have been working with them.
 
We were really excited to get to buy coffee from Mpemba in 2012 because we weren't the only buyer interested in the Kazoza N'Ikawa cooperative's first coffees from this washing station. Good elevation, solid infrastructure, and a well-respected manager are universally appealing, but we were especially committed to getting connected to a cooperative because most of our successes in Burundi, including Buziraguhindwa, had been with privately owned washing stations. Elsewhere in the world, almost all of the coffee we buy from small-holder farmers comes to us through producer cooperatives, which come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees of effectiveness but, at the end of the day, share a measure of accountability to the individual, as well as potential for empowerment that private washing stations don't.
 
After last year's lot of Mpemba arrived tasting fantastic, we were doubly pleased with our decision to grow, and in 2013 the washing station's coffee took fourth place in the Burundi's Golden Cup Competition. In most of our cuppings this year, Mpemba's coffee has been the more complex of the two in flavor and brightness, but I'll be curious to hear whether you find them to be distinctly different, and how.
 
Finally, the coffee that will inevitably generate the most discussion is Buziraguhindwa's sundried natural coffee, which is, as far as we know, the only sundried natural coffee exported from Burundi. Despite similarities between climate and geography across the coffee-producing countries of East Africa, Ethiopia has remained the only producer of sundried natural coffees for export – which is a way of saying that all countries make them but they're mostly not good. Buzi Nat – as I know this coffee will be nicknamed – is the result of curiosity and of our ability to experiment within our supply chains.
 
I feel like a broken record when I say that our strong relationships and our persistence are the foundation of innovation, but it's true, and it's important to understanding who we are and what we do. The reason that Ramadhan, one of the owners of Buziraguhindwa, was intrigued by the prospect of sundried natural coffee wasn't because he got some tip that it's a market poised for massive growth but because we were excited about it and committed to it before it even existed (which was the case with our first coffee from the washing station back in 2010, as well). The story of our sundried natural coffee from Bufcafe in Rwanda last year bears many similarities to Buziraguhindwa's and now Sam, the mill manager, wants to produce an entire container of sundried natural coffee for us– which is, like, 10 times as much as we bought from him in last year. I don't know if we'll actually want that much, but it feels like a testament to Counter Culture's ideas and our approach.
 
Though this story is far from complete, I can never fit everything I want to say into a single e-mail and I've got 52 e-mails to write in 2014, I'll leave you now with the hope that today's cupping is a great conclusion to this great year.
 
–Kim Elena
 
Our production of roasted coffee has continued to increase, which is truly great. As a result, the needs for the infrastructure necessary to process all of the coffee have also increased. Here at our headquarters in Durham, this has meant added personnel and added technology on our production floor. Thomas Nickles, our IT manager, is always looking toward green and sustainable options for growth. Most recently, he began to explore what it would take to do more with less – employing the services of NComputing. Here’s what he has to say:

"After finding some greener laser printer alternatives and moving all our our main infrastructure to the cloud, I wanted to significantly reduce the amount of physical computers needed on the production floor for both sustainable and logistical reasons. I didn't just want to keep adding desktop computers wherever needed.

"So, when I was doing some local volunteering for the Obama campaign and saw they were using this great technology from NComputing that enabled them to get many workstations out of a single desktop, I thought that was perfect for Counter Culture but needed to test it a bunch for the wear and tear of our production floor. I've been super-pleased with the results of this technology plus our operational and managerial IT costs for roasting and production have been significantly reduced."

So, what does this look like? With NComputing's vSpace virtualization hardware and software, we can now have many workstations running from a single desktop. Each one of these green workstations runs on less than 10 percent of the electricity used by a normal PC. In Durham, we'll be able to reduce the amount of actual desktop PCs needed by 75 percent. Normal PCs are being replaced by this newfangled excitement as we speak!

-Hannah
Counter Culture Coffee recently joined forces with Chapel Hill, NC's HOPE Gardens for their fall fundraiser.
 
Initially conceived as an agricultural education space for the University and Chapel Hill community that would produce seeds for marginalized farming communities abroad, HOPE Gardens quickly developed into a community space with a local purpose. In the fall of 2008, students from UNC's HOPE (Homeless Outreach Poverty Eradication) committee of the Campus Y developed HOPE Gardens as a tool for social justice right here in our community: a transitional employment program for homeless individuals and an inclusive community garden, each meant to facilitate relationships and dialogue among the student, homeless, low-income, and broader Chapel Hill communities in a side-by-side work environment.
 
In essence, HOPE Gardens creates a community space that fosters relationships, educates the community, and addresses barriers to food access through shared efforts in sustainable agriculture. Counter Culture was pleased to be able to support with a such an important initiative in one of our local communities by donating a Farmhouse subscription to their fundraising raffle.
 
On November 17, some 57 individuals gathered at Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe to support HOPE Gardens for their fall fundraiser. The three-course meal, which was prepared and served entirely by volunteers with Vimala's guidance, included local grass-fed beef, pumpkin soup, and sweet potato custard. After the dinner, Alice Ammerman from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention spoke about the importance of emphasizing social justice through food equity and read the poem that she wrote for HOPE Gardens' ribbon cutting in 2009. The evening concluded with the raffle and live jazz performed by UNC students.
 
In total, the event raised over $2,500 to support programs such as HOPE Garden's free cooking classes and sponsored plots.
 
If you think your organization might be a good fit for Counter Culture's partnership, and you are located close to one of our eight Training Centers, don't hesitate to get in touch here.
 
Thanks,
Hannah
As we say in our Direct Trade report, Cenfrocafe is truly a model among cooperatives, and they are a joy to visit and learn from each time. This visit included all of the usual elements – from producer meetings to meeting with cooperative leadership, cupping, and, in general, hearing about highlights and challenges currently facing the group.
 
Cenfrocafe has grown by almost 30% this year in its volumes. The coffee we received from this group and sell as Valle del Santuario and La Frontera has been exceptional this year. Our hope is to continue to hone in on even greater volumes of this quality coffee. Already on the larger side with 2,680 members, they have 240 more members going through the one-year trial period. They are, after 12 years of operation, getting to be a well-oiled machine. In addition to the business of coffee, they are intentionally working on helping producers with diversification efforts, health resources, and continued integration of youth and women in the cooperative. Of course, they still have kinks to work out in stabilizing volumes, lot separation, and best representing the needs of cooperative members.
 
Leaf rust is beginning to prove challenging, and some producers have lost up to 3,000 trees or more as a result. Conversations about how to prevent and renovate are serious. And, continuing to have the conversation about producing quality coffee alongside conversations about protection and disease resistant varieties is inevitable. The hope is that Cenfrocafe can continue to take a proactive role in regard to producers' needs for prevention training and on-farm investments.
 
Coffee quality this year was lagging in July and August at the beginning of the harvest, but they had higher hopes as they saw great improvements in October. I believe our coffee this year reflects that change. And, it again emphasizes the benefits of being by the cooperative's side – as true partners – not just for one harvest or one great run, but through the ups and downs.
 
I hope you'll enjoy these photos of my last week in Peru!
 
Abrazos,
Hannah
 
From the embed above, click [full screen] and [show info] for Hannah's annotated notes on each photo. You can also view Hannah's trip report on Flickr.
 
Bilal Sarwari works with adolescents in psychiatric crisis through therapeutic gardeningOur own Emily Davis in Atlanta made a fruitful connection with a local partner, Bilal Sarwari, who works with adolescents in psychiatric crisis through therapeutic gardening. The group is located in Decatur and, as Bilal says, the "program has been a great source of stress relief for our clients, and we even have adult clients who come down from our other facilities [who] volunteer."
 
Here's a little bit more from Bilal about exactly how our Atlanta Training Center's coffee grounds help:
 
Coffee grounds are essentially prepped for use in sustainable agriculture: they are wet (bacteria and fungi need water to grow), they are ground (provides increased surface area for microorganisms to attach), natural deoderizers, and rich in nitrogen (seeds contain a great deal of DNA per capita and DNA consists of nitrogen base pairs). Essentially, coffee grounds make great compost and worms love it – and I love earthworms.
 
Secondly, your coffee grounds provide a natural defense against ants. After two years of hard work, our soil is rich and loose. Ants love to build their colonies in our garden beds. Last year, I read an article from that suggested using coffee grounds against ants. I tried it on an ant pile and two days later the ants were gone. I was amazed. Now the gardens smell like finely-roasted beans, and I don't have to worry about the health effects of dangerous pesticides on our clients' growing bodies.
 
Our hope is that other local groups close to our various training centers feel similarly inspired to use our excess coffee grounds. The possibilities are endless!
 
Thanks, Bilal, for truly multiplying the good that can come from what has previously been considered a waste product.

Thanks to Thrillist and their panel of judges for the generous acknlowdgement.
 
 
(Suffice it to say, we were thrilled with where we landed on the list; sorry about the pun.)
 
 
POSTED IN: coffee
Michael Hession and the Gizmodo team stopped by our Manhattan Training Center for a look around with Team NYC's Tommy Gallagher.