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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!


 
POSTED IN: brewing, coffee

Where We Started

As many of you may recall, we started an inquiry about microlots back in the Winter of 2011 when we spoke with 13 farmers from the Cenfrocafe in Peru about their experiences. While we learned a lot, one of the major challenges with this study was that none of the producers interviewed had repeat success as microlot producers. The common sentiment that microlot premiums were a result of luck was understandable but did not point – from a quality perspective – to how we could encourage other producers with concrete suggestions. And, we knew that producers with repeat microlot premiums exist in other areas where we purchased.

Phase II

While we felt we received valuable feedback from our partners in Peru, we were still looking for more streamlined feedback for producers. Ideally we would have more quantitative metrics in regard to farm and investment practices – as well as greater proof of the positive impacts of microlots. So, with this in mind we hatched a plan with one of our exporting partners, Virmax, in the fall of 2012. As a purveyor of microlot coffees who have built their business model on high-quality, differentiated small lots, they had many of the same questions we did about the repeatability and common characteristics of microlot producers. This time, because of Virmax’s long-established, data-rich microlot program in Colombia, we decided to focus our inquiry there. What made this group different as well was that all producers interviewed were previous recipients of the microlot premium.

Together, we designed the survey instrument (going through about seven iterations) and helped train promotores (technicians) who would be going into the field to interview producers. From January – February of 2013 surveys were administered, and, at the end of February, Kim Elena visited some of the producers interviewed, as well, to gain more of an understanding.

Analysis

The spring found us realizing just how much data we were now sitting on with 122 coffee producers interviewed. Though starting to sift through the data was fascinating, neither one of us had the time or the full expertise to do the analysis required for a study of this scale. So, thanks to a mutually serendipitous meeting, we were able to partner with Ruth Ann Church, a woman who is both a coffee buyer – who also buys from Virmax – and who is currently working on her Master's Degree in Community Sustainability, to assist in the analysis and reporting part of the project. Ruth Ann and I recently did a live webcast moderated by Kim that talked about the research process and further research questions that you can check out anytime.

Similar to the first phase of research, much of what we heard about good practices was no surprise. However, the data did begin to point to what microlot producers may have in common with one another, both in their farm practices and in their use of the extra income from the premium.

In particular, the data showed the group of farmers that had 3 microlot years in a row as opposed to 1 or 2 microlot premium years were more likely to fertilize based on soil analysis, use family members for coffee picking, prune intentionally, plant the Colombia variety, and use three specific drying practices (sliding roof, parabolic patio with beds, and patios with net floors). In addition, they are more likely to invest the premium back into on-farm costs, such as fertilizer, than in family needs.

While the data points to some interesting results, there is still more to understand. In particular, understanding exactly which practices are strongly correlated with – not just happening alongside external factors we may not have controlled. An example here is that yes, those who sold microlots 3 years in a row seem to plant more Colombia variety when they are renovating. However, we also know as an aside that Colombia variety does not necessarily result in flavors that we would reward for quality. Thus, we will continue to refine, to filter results through what we know, experience and continue to expect. And, hopefully get still closer to sharing pertinent feedback with producing partners.

The open-ended questions allowed us to get at the experiential side, and we were pleased to continue to understand producers’ motivations, challenges, and higher level perceived community impacts of the microlot premiums. I'm Colombia now sharing the results and hoping to gain still more analysis based on producers’ reactions to the research.

What’s Next

I don’t think either one of us could have imagined that when we embarked on this "microlot question" in 2011 we would be here now – with a lot more information and still more questions. Ideally, what we have put forth over the last two years encourages others within the coffee industry to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask, to find answers that will ultimately be of benefit to those throughout the supply chain. We are also more than happy to be available for others who have questions about the process, about how to create their own mini-research project, or about our findings in general. 
Read on for the full report!

Thanks,
Hannah
Hello, cuppers!

What a week it has been; I hope you're all staying warm. Life continues apace and there are coffees for us to taste, so let's hop to it!

There's not a lot I can say about Valle del Santuario that you haven't all heard before, given the number of times it has appeared on our cupping tables over the past seven years. Our relationship with the Cenfrocafe co-operative of San Ignacio, Peru, is one of our strongest, but it hasn't always been that way - in late 2008, after our second year buying coffee from the five communities of the valley, the coffee department had a serious conversation about whether to continue working with the cooperative because we had heard rumors that they hadn't distributed price premiums in a timely fashion and growers felt dissatisfied. We opted to continue because we were able to address our concerns with the cooperative and, five years later, I'm glad that we didn't react to a rumor we heard through an importer and opted to be patient, work on the relationship, and commit to better, more frequent communication in the future.

Our next coffee is a good one to follow on the heels of that story because Remera represents a long-term bet still in its early stages. We have known Epiphanie and her son Sam, owners of the Bufcafe and Remera mills, for many years, but it was Tim's trip in 2012 that opened our eyes to the family's potential as a collaborator as opposed to simply a supplier. Last year's Bufcafe Natural Sundried was a runaway hit and a subject of much curiosity, especially - judging from online ordering records - among coffee industry folks, and although the washed coffee we're buying from Remera is more in line, flavor-wise with what you might expect from another very good Rwandan coffee, it's still a treat and it's got a lot of potential for growth. Sam is a regular fixture of coffee department discussions as someone who represents the next generation of producer-leaders both in terms of his youth and his vision for quality. His quality improvements and his experiments with sundried naturals continue (we have our fingers crossed that we'll have some sundried natural coffee from Remera in a couple of months). Also, Sam plans to attend the conference on potato defect that we'll be sponsoring with a portion of the proceeds from sales of our holiday coffee, which we are hopeful will help us make progress against this frustrating obstacle.

Last but not least, we have Buziraguhindwa Natural Sundried, which we've been brewing more than ever since it showed so well in competition last weekend. We have been waiting two years for this coffee experiment to materialize and while it paid off handsomely, we have certainly had fits and starts along the way and questioned whether or not the potential was worth the time, effort and, one year, the financial hit of the coffee arriving unsellable. The clean but intense fruit in the flavor of this coffee, however, makes it all feel worthwhile because despite the fact that we don't buy a lot of this style of coffee compared to washed coffee, we do want to have more options than just Ethiopia for this flavor profile and in order to get there, we have to build it patiently and take the long view.

Enjoy the coffees, please!

-Kim

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