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Do microlots mater to producers?
The information presented in "Do Microlots Matter to Producers" derives from a study conducted by Counter Culture Coffee and published in March 2012 titled, "The Social Impacts of Microlots: A Coffee Cooperative Case Study in Ihuamaca, Peru." The study aimed to measure the social impacts of microlot selection on members of the CENFROCAFE cooperative in five Peruvian communities where Counter Culture Coffee has purchased coffee over the last five years.
The hypothesis prior to the study was that microlot coffee production may have both positive and negative impacts on communities, with positive impacts including recognition for effort and a return on investment in quality and negative impacts including feelings of envy and competition among fellow community members. The study design aimed to clarify the elements of microlot coffee production that contribute to its success and the areas that need improvement. Data was collected through 13 semi-structured, open-ended, qualitative interviews with microlot-producing and non-microlot-producing members of the cooperative, two interviews with CENFROCAFE staff members who work in these communities, and one facilitated community meeting.
We examined common themes and differences among members, as well as among members and Cenfrocafe representatives. Both microlot-producing members and non-microlot-producing members expressed support for the program and its continuation. Price incentives and pride emerged as the primary motivators for exerting extra effort, and members unanimously feel supportive of the microlot achievement of other community members. At the same time, all members expressed a desire to see the program evolve to address some commonly-cited areas for improvement, including the cupping and scoring system used by CENFROCAFE and Counter Culture Coffee and the on-farm infrastructure required for production of high-quality coffee. CENFROCAFE's staff demonstrated even more positive feelings overall, with a desire to create more, similar opportunities for growers in other communities of members as a top priority.
Limitations of the study include: small sample size, lack of diversity among sample, consideration for cultural congruency of the research design, and the survey instrument. Recommendations for enhancements of the partnership between CENFROCAFE and members as well as for CENFROCAFE and Counter Culture Coffee are addressed. Suggestions for future research are explored with an emphasis on a more participatory approach and an additional focus on economic impact of microlots.
Kim Elena
Our soils are in crisis.
We want to help to reverse a global trend in agriculture that threatens not only coffee quality, but also sustainable food production, groundwater integrity, and our planet's biodiversity. Our new Save Our Soil campaign aims to raise awareness about the widespread degradation of soil health brought about by conventional, chemical-based agriculture and shed light on the critical importance of organic agriculture as the way forward.
Friday, April 20, Counter Culture Coffee training centers in Asheville, Atlanta, Chicago, Durham, New York, and Washington, DC, will host Save Our Soil launch events, which will include a cupping (tasting) of three different organic coffees followed by a presentation about the campaign.
Over the course of the next year, Counter Culture, our customers, and other partnering organizations will hold Save Our Soil events – from organic food and coffee pairings to home composting workshops and organic farmer round table discussions – focused on education, as well as opportunities for organic advocacy.
Save Our Soil is about solutions, and it carries the positive message that we can solve our soil crisis through organic agriculture, which builds rather than destroys soil health. We simply care too much about great coffee, and the communities that depend on it, to sit by while its future is threatened. We hope to inspire people to join us as fellow organic advocates!
Kim Elena
POSTED IN: organic
My first real introduction to Bufcafe was through Coffee Common at TED by Detour, a Canadian Roaster based in Ontario. I spent a week working alongside talented baristas cherry-picked from around the world. We enthusiastically and obsessively brewed coffee. We empathetically served our guests at a dizzying speed, exposing them to a number of different coffees selected for taste and transparency with stories of growth and inspiration.
Now, Counter Culture's Bufcafe is herbaceous and bright with a lip-sticking sweetness. Pair this coffee with a pear tart, apricot glaze, and lavender ice cream? Well, then you have something almost too obscene for words … one might say memorable. But, the question always arises, what exactly makes a cup memorable? What makes a cup of coffee inspiring? It can be argued that it is the flavors in the cup itself, but I believe that flavors and tastes that we remember are ultimately things that we ourselves can internalize or perhaps personalize. Read the full story on facebook.
Allie Caran
Woodberry Kitchen
Note: Our supply of this coffee went much faster than expected, so, thoughtful Allie's reflections on Bufcafe serve as a fond farewell of sorts. Thanks!
POSTED IN: coffee knowledge
We're always on the lookout for brewing gear to help make great coffee accessible at home and on the go. One of our coffee buyers, Tim Hill, came across the Porlex hand grinder a while back and mentioned it to Brian Ludviksen.
Before leading our customer support team, Brian was our long-time tech manager with a knack for putting gear through its paces to objectively evaluate performance. One of the key measurements of any coffee grinder is the consistency of particle size (to encourage even extraction). Tim and Brian are especially keen on the amount of torque on the ceramic burrs in the Porlex because of its resulting grind consistency.
Lightweight, stainless steel, and extremely portable, the Porlex grinder is perfect for home use and travel for any of the handcrafted coffee methods we recommend in our brewing guide.
POSTED IN: brewing
Over the years, we have had our eye on Ecuador, and last year we were finally able to establish a relationship with a group of small, organic coffee farmers based in the mountainous province of Loja.
By providing incentives to farmers for improving quality – along with information to help them do so – we can help growers sustain and improve the quality of their lives, the environment, and their coffee. An obvious incentive is to pay more for higher quality coffee. Which, of course, we do, though the process is anything but simple for producers and our home office alike.
Our coffee department identifies microlots – small lots of coffees selected to provide unique, exquisite taste experiences – by cupping many, many small lots which have been hand-separated and catalogued by our grower partners, and selecting the very best, often tiny lots. A microlot may come from one grower within a community or cooperative of small growers, or it may represent a small lot separated from a larger farm's lot.
Last week, we welcomed a special microlot from Palanda, Ecuador. The coffee was the produce of a single organic farmer, 75-year-old Luz del Carmen Alverca.
Over the years, we have had our eye on Ecuador, and last year we were finally able to establish a relationship with a group of small, organic coffee farmers based in the mountainous province of Loja. The name El Gavilán (the hawk) perfectly suits their coffee – independent and courageous – just as the small farmers of Loja province are independent, heroic, and dedicated to quality and organic agriculture. This was our first El Gavilán microlot, and we are excited to have the opportunity to get to know coffees from individual farmers in the region.
This exceptional Luz del Carmen Alverca Microlot wasn't around for long, but the premium paid for its incredible quality will, we hope, have long-term benefits among El Gavilán producers.
POSTED IN: coffee knowledge
We're super-excited that our own Katie Carguilo won the Northeast Regional Barista Championship (NERBC) in New York this weekend! Congrats to Katie and to Brady Guinn from Boston's Pavement Coffeehouse who finished second in the NERBC Brewer's Cup using El Gavilán. And, big-big thanks to the many talented competitors who used Counter Culture Coffee in the competition. Please join us in wishing Katie luck at the United States Barista Championship, April 19-22, in Portland, OR.
Katie Carguilo, NERBC 2012 Champ
In addition to her high-scoring espressos and cappuccinos, Katie's signature beverage was comprised of nectarine and lemon juices combined with jasmine green tea, sparkling water, and vinegar topped with an espresso preparation of Haru (from a cooperative in Yiragacheffe, Ethiopia) and served in a grappa glass.
"All of those flavors are in the fermentation water," notes Katie, referring to the production process of ripe coffee cherries in Ethiopia in which coffee beans (seeds) are submerged in water to help to remove the fruity mucilage.
The Haru espresso component for her drink was specially sorted for pre-roast bean size consistency by our roasting department. "It helps the coffee ultimately taste better," observes Katie, "because it can be roasted more evenly." For her espressos and cappuccinos, she used Idido Natural Sundried.
"Winning is really exciting," Katie acknowledges, "but even the other times I've competed and not won were very informative and rewarding. It's one thing to make beverages and taste them and to hone your technique but it's another experience entirely to have other people give you feedback that's completely honest. It was so much fun."
Check out Meister's annotated photo set from NERBC on flickr. And, here's an interview with Katie about coffee in general from WNYC radio in New York.
POSTED IN: regional events
In Durham, Counter Culture helped to cover the cost of fiber cellulose attic insulation to increase the climate efficiency of Nathan Brown's home.
Last year, our Sustainability Committee introduced the Counter Culture Employee Green Fund, which offers each employee the opportunity to apply for up to $500 a year in matching funds toward a personal sustainability-related project.
In November, I received matching support to help cover the cost of fiber cellulose attic insulation to increase the climate efficiency of my home – reducing the consumption of heating and cooling resources and costs.
The matching fund helped employees with a wide range of projects in 2011. Josh Dugue in Chicago bought a bike to rely less on a car for transportation. Ben Helfen in Atlanta bought an old-style, zero-emission push mower. In Asheville, Counter Culture co-funded Mary Christensen's worm composting and garden supplies.
Other projects included gym memberships, a high-efficiency washing machine, a rain-water garden irrigation system, home fitness equipment, and more. In its first year, the Green Fund contributed $2,266.01 in matching funds – a great start to the program. We'll keep you updated in 2012 as more projects arise.
POSTED IN: sustainability
We reached our five-year goal in only two years and achieved carbon neutrality at the end of 2011.
After a fascinating and surprising first foray into carbon-footprint measurement at the end of 2009 – a project to track the carbon footprint of Finca Mauritania's coffee from seed to cup – we decided to commit wholeheartedly to carbon neutrality for the company. We set a target date of 2015 because, to tell the truth, we weren't entirely sure what we were signing ourselves up to do.
Every once in a blue moon, a project surprises you by progressing more quickly than anticipated and this Counter Culture's carbon neutrality is a great example of that variety of rare surprise: I'm thrilled to announce that it we reached our five-year goal in only two years and achieved carbon neutrality at the end of 2011 by offsetting our 576-tonne greenhouse gas footprint through tree-planting and fuel-efficient stove construction in Central America.
For more about our road to carbon neutrality, please see my post in our Sustainability section.
Kim Elena
POSTED IN: sustainability