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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. 

Uganda: where have you been?Theme

Uganda: where have you been?

For about a decade now the Coffee Department has been tasting Ugandan coffees in the lab. Generally speaking, they have not been very good, showcasing heavy faded qualities every single time we tasted them. This never really made sense to us because the altitudes, varieties, and potential quality all pointed to a product from which we would expect great things.

This past year, the same partners in Africa we work with on Tsheya and Kalungu from the Democratic Republic of Congo started having us taste coffees from a cooperative in the Rwenzori Mountains of Western Uganda. Not only did the original pre-shipment samples of coffee taste good, they exceeded every other Ugandan coffee we'd tasted by multiple points.

Why, you might ask? Our partners there, along with other organizations, helped to set up micro-washing stations for the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative. (Before this, all of the coffee was processed as low-grade natural sundried coffee.) In addition to the micro-washing stations, our partners have been working on cupping training, good processing techniques, and lots of other quality-oriented education. Honestly, it kind of seemed too good to be true.

Remember when I said that the pre-shipment samples tasted amazing? Before we bought this coffee this year, we had the opportunity to taste some arrival samples and not just pre-shipment samples. The outcome was sadly, once again, what we always taste in these coffee: fade. This left us at a crossroad. We could forget we ever tasted the amazing pre-shipment samples or figure out how to get the quality arrived here. Of course, we chose the latter.

Knowing that faded coffee was the main enemy of quality, the goals were to move the coffee faster than any other coffee has left Uganda and to make sure that the moisture was as low as possible to make it more stable.

We committed upfront to buying from our three favorite washing stations based upon the past pre-shipments, and the cooperative dried all the coffee to 8.9-9.4%. The coffee was approved on November 22, 2013, when the coffee was still in Western Uganda and arrived in the US on January 23, 2014. This coffee was harvested from late-September through December and arrived in January! The result: it doesn’t taste like stale bread.

Let’s get real for a moment, though. We still face a lot of challenges. From pre-shipment to arrival we still saw a quality loss. Overall, the milling, sorting, processing, and storage of this coffee need to be improved. And, of course, the dreaded potato defect that we thought was going to be very minor is there. (It is low – at about 2.5% of 12 oz single serving brews. For reference, Buziraguhindwa, Remera, Mpemba are at about 5%.)

Regardless, it still should feel pretty great to be tasting two of the lots that represent the best tasting arrivals of Ugandan coffee we have ever seen.

Notes on the Coffees

St. Goret

St. Goret is located in the Kasungu village on the Rwenzori Mountains. Fifty-five famers are a part of this cooperative. Varieties grown are the same as the other cooperative: Nyasaland, SL14, and SL28. (Nyasaland is supposedly a descendant from the original Jamaican Blue Mountain Typica, but that is unconfirmed.) Processing is dry fermentation, but we don’t know for how long, yet.


Buthale

Buthale is a located in the village of Buthale – hence the name – and also in the Rwenzori Mountains. The cooperative has 221 members. Dry fermentation and same varieties.


Rollout Dates and Availability

Currently we are reviewing these coffees for instances of defect and consistency. While the Buthale has a cleaner flavor profile, the St. Goret is more dynamic and interesting. We will likely roll out one of these on March 3, if the quality and consistency is fair.

Theme

Building Toscano

This week we are hoping to give people a glimpse into the development of our year-round products, in particular Toscano. The focus of the conversation will be around the idea of flavor profile, as well as the idea of building year-round products at the farm level. Increasingly, we are working with skilled farmers who are manipulating processing, variety, and doing specific lots to make very specific flavors. This is our mission in coffee: to make producers into craftsmen. This also allows us to focus on single-origins that may or may not be single coffees.

Style of Tasting

Cupping

While, of course, pulling this as espresso would have seemed logical, it is good to remember that Toscano is a good coffee option for those looking for something full-bodied, nutty, and chocolate-y.

Notes on the Coffees

Toscano Ecuador

First on the table will be coffee from Ecuador. This coffee is from our partners at Fapecafes in Loja, Ecuador. This year, the coffee did not meet the standards we set for our El Gavilan coffee, and that is why we will not see an El Gavilan main lot offering. While the coffee didn’t meet the single-origin standards, it was still good and had great notes leaning towards cocoa, nut, and also with less acidity. Based on that, we worked with the cooperative to buy this lot solely for use in Toscano, and this roast is the first attempt. It is roasted to an Agtron 60. Overall, this is a good attempt, but it is not all the way there. We will likely slow the roast down a minute or two and lighten the roast by about 2 points. 

Toscano Bolivia

Second on the table is the coffee from Bolivia. One of our favorite trial versions for Toscano in 2013 was with Illimani, from Caranavi, Bolivia. NOTE: this coffee does not come from Nueva Llusta, but rather a different area and group. This particular lot is a total experiment. It is 70% washed and 30% pulp natural processed from a single producer named Silverio Nina around the area of Illimani. We contracted this coffee solely as an experiment – hoping that the pulp natural would bring some sweetness and body to the the mix. Overall, we are happy with the sweetness, but think that the fruit notes are too far from the profile we hope for for Toscano. We will likely go back to the drawing board on the blend, and introduce yet another washed coffee from Bolivia into the mix to make this ready for production.

Rollout Dates and Availability

The Ecuador version of Toscano is going to start being roasted on February 6, and will continue to be Toscano for approximately 5-6 weeks. The Bolivia version of Toscano will actually go into production likely in April. So, you are likely asking what will be in the middle: Costa Rica. Say what! Yes, indeed – but you will just have to wait for that story.

– Tim

Part One


Spending a week in Colombia, my first time in the beautiful country, was truly a whirlwind with multiple purposes. I skirted the countryside, starting in the town of Gigante in the department of Huila, then passing through Guadalupe, Pitalito, La Plata, and ending in Tambo and Timbio, both in the department of Cauca.

The first goal was to deliver results from the survey on microlots that 122 producers in three states participated in during January and February of 2013. Not only were results delivered, but together we dug deeper to uncover greater meaning in some of the results and continue adjusting research questions as well as the greater research purpose. All told I was able to speak with 101 of the 122 participants in a series of 5 meetings in 5 separate towns. As Nelson Ramirez, Virmax’s Director of technical training who accompanied me the first three days, said, “This is a marathon!” The majority of the survey respondents are not ones from whom Counter Culture purchases coffee. However, seeing the overlap in their responses to the survey will only aid us in understanding our supply chain in addition to the overarching situation facing high quality producers in Colombia.

Part two contains reflections that bring together analysis on this segment of the research. Some of their reactions were more surpising than others. Perhaps most surprising to me was their enthusiasm that they would indeed love to participate in a similar study in the future – they are honored that someone down the supply chain values their day-to-day experience enough to ask detailed questions. In addition, I loved hearing what else they thought would be important to study pertaining to the cultivation of specialty coffee. I am sitting on a ton of information – if anyone is looking for a research project, holler!

The second goal was to spend time with our old friends at Organica, purveyors of La Golondrina coffee. This group is one that has truly ridden the waves of hard times, under the strong leadership of Nelson Melo, and continues to prove themselves as fighters and committed to specialty coffee. Not only did I share the survey results with them but we shared meals, sat in on a board of director’s meeting, and, of course, visited producer’s on their farms.

Lastly, Nelson Melo has been building a relationship with a nearby cooperative over the last three years. He was eager to have Counter Culture make the acquaintance of Federación Campesina de Cauca.

The trip was incredibly full in more ways than one and I am excited to share some of that with you here.

Part Two


What follows are some of the overarching themes uncovered by the five meetings held in Gigante, Guadalupe, Pitalito, La Plata, and Tambo.

Over the course of these meetings I delivered results from the survey on microlots that 122 producers participated in during January and February of 2013. Not only were results delivered, but together we dug deeper to uncover greater meaning in some of the results and to continue adjusting research questions – as well as the greater research purpose. All told, I was able to speak with 101 of the 122 participants.

After sharing the research, each group responded to the following questions:
  1. Why did producers invest such a large amount of their premium money into fertilizer?
  2. Why did producers choose to renovate with variety Colombia more frequently than other varieties?
  3. How are producers overcoming current challenges in producing specialty coffee?
  4. What are they doing on their farms for this harvest that are practices they think will lead to higher quality?
  5. How was the process of being interviewed? And of receiving the results of the study in this way?
  6. If you could study anything else in regard to the production of specialty coffee, what would you want to study?

I hope you'll enjoy some of their answers as much as I did.

Saludos!

Hannah

Thanks for the photos, courtesy of Alejandro Cadena and Nelson Ramirez.
Despite the widespread perception to the contrary, any roasted coffee can be brewed with pretty much any brewer to make great coffee as long as you start with high-quality coffee and pay attention to your brewing parameter. We put together a short video with Team NYC's Meister to elaborate.

And, for the month of February, we're hosting an Instagram offer with a chance to win a bag of our current featured coffee, Remera. Check out the #anycoffeeanybrew page for more information.
We've stocked up on new coffee-related gear for 2014, including new T-shirts, totes, and a new mug. Drawing from our extensive Counter Intelligence curriculum, we selected a couple original art pieces for these useful expressions of coffee obsession. One cleverly illustrates the proper extraction ratio for pour over coffee (roughly 98% water and 2% coffee), while the other demonstrates level tamping, a crucial element to pulling a good shot of espresso. Available now!


 
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