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Aida Batlle hard at work into the night on an experiment at the mill where her coffee is processed.
Most people dream their whole lives of even a single mention in the pages of The New Yorker, and our longtime friend and partner Aida Batlle earned a 12-page profile in the current November 21 issue – fittingly the annual Food Issue, with articles about some of the culinary world's most interesting trends and innovative developments. Congrats, Aida!
Titled "Sacred Grounds – A revolution in coffee," the article by New Yorker staff writer Kelefa Sanneh chronicles Aida's meteoric rise in the coffee world – from when she first took over her family's farmland in El Salvador to her first Cup of Excellence competition, subsequent stardom, and present day, hands-on collaboration with Counter Culture and a select few other roasters.
Products of an unmatched dedication to quality, all of Aida's coffees are special and precious. This year, we are grateful to offer fresh lots from Finca Mauritania (including a Natural Sundried lot), as well as Cascara – dried coffee fruit to be steeped like tea – from all four of her farms. And our most special coffee, by far, is Aida's Grand Reserve, which this year was crafted from only the peaberries from each of her farms, processed using a variety of techniques learned from Indonesia, Kenya, Sumatra, and Brazil.
Please join us in congratulating Aida and celebrating her wonderful coffee.
POSTED IN: coffee
The Good Food Awards seal, found on winning products, is intended to assure consumers they have found something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good.
The Good Food Awards aim to honor and celebrate "tasty, authentic and responsibly produced" foods. So do we, and, although we're primarily focused on coffee, we believe that all foods should be not only delicious, but also responsibly crafted in a sustainable manner. In its second year, Good Food Awards will be given to winners in eight categories: beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, pickles, preserves, and spirits. Awards will be given to producers and their food communities from each of five regions of the US. The Good Food Awards seal, found on winning products, is intended to assure consumers they have found something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good.
We were especially thrilled to get the news that our Buna Ababa - Haru coffee (a seasonal, washed lot from Ethiopia) was selected as one of only 11 finalists in the coffee category. Hundreds of coffees were submitted for a blind tasting, and, to be eligible, each coffee must be certified organic, have price transparency throughout the supply chain, and comply with the United Nations' principles of labor rights.
Winners will be announced in January 2012 during an Awards Ceremony and Marketplace. Until then, congrats to all the other finalists, and hooray for everyone involved in producing Buna Ababa - Haru!
POSTED IN: coffee
Meister at the espresso machine.
"Wow," you might overhear someone say in a session of Counter Culture's illuminating Beginner Espresso Lab. "I never realized how much went into making a good cup of coffee!"
And it's true: From absolute novices to seasoned baristas, from coffee-shop owners to home espresso enthusiasts, everyone seems to walk out of the all-day class with a new crema consciousness and an excited sparkle in their eyes (though that might just be the caffeine).
As an instructor, I know that even I've learned a thing or two from walking a new batch of students through the espresso-making process: Sometimes all it takes is one newbie asking a stumper of a question, and, before you know it, we're all puzzling out some macchiatto mystery together. Who knew there was so much to discover about a beverage (that is, coffee) that only has two ingredients (grounds + water)??
The moral of that story is that while making espresso is fun and fascinating, it absolutely isn't easy. (And good thing, too – if it were easy, I wouldn't have my job!)
Making espresso is fun and fascinating, it absolutely isn't easy.
At Counter Culture, we believe that knowledge isn't just power, it's everything. And it takes a lot of hard work to amass that knowledge – which sometimes means going back to "school," by attending one of our intensive and immersive full-day coffee labs. Not only do we have to train our hands to operate the espresso grinder and properly tamp a cake of coffee grounds, but we also have to train our tongues to understand what "good" and "bad" espresso tastes like and train our brains to understand all the different ways the former affects the latter.
At least the homework isn't too bad: All our students are required to make and taste as much espresso as they can, to try to develop their palates and grow a vocabulary that will help troubleshoot the occasional too-bitter shot or too-bubbly milk they might encounter behind the bar. Without a solid foundation and understanding of what causes those flavors and textures, every cappuccino seems a little bit mysterious.
Want to come try to stump the teacher – not to mention learn how to make A+ espresso shots? Check out the Counter Intelligence calendar for the next Beginner Espresso Lab near you.
POSTED IN: brewing, education
Incredibly skillful sorting of coffee cherries at Finca Mauritania in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Never one to shy away from an experiment or challenge, El Salvador's Aida Batlle has perfected the traditional natural sundried method used in Ethiopia for centuries. Applying this method to the 100% Bourbon coffee from her Finca Mauritania in Santa Ana has resulted in a rare, wondrous coffee with traditional Ethiopian flavors of ripe berries, wine, and chocolate combined with a distinctive Salvadoran sweetness.
We've worked personally with Aida for years, and this coffee is close to our heart. We are so proud to roast Finca Mauritania Natural Sundried and bring it to you.
POSTED IN: coffee
Counter Culture's main product – fresh-roasted coffee – is the minimally processed seed of a tree fruit carefully cultivated – most often organically – in rich volcanic soil. Counter Culture Coffee Chicago's venture into vermiculture represents not only a tangible way to achieve real sustainability in the life cycle of our coffee, but also a way for us to connect with and support the gardeners and farmers of greater Chicago, as well as provide an introduction to organic soil building in our training center.
Vermiculture at Counter Culture Coffee Chicago
Worm soil, or castings, is among the best natural fertilizers and created entirely from converted waste. The concept is perfect: manage your compostable waste by feeding it to worms, which produce a nutrient-rich fertilizer. We pursued various avenues to make this a reality in our training center and eventually connected with Amber from The Urban Worm Girl, who helped us devise a manageable vermiculture operation that would properly address our waste needs. Amber's operation is fantastic!
Ultimately, the goal is to give our castings to a local urban agriculture project. We've begun conversations with a local group called The Ruby Garden, which give plots to local area families to garden. We've also purchased a bag-resealer, which we'll use to seal fresh worm castings in used coffee bags affixed with newly designed "Worm Compost" labels to avoid any confusion about what's inside.
While it may seem like a long step just to deal with garbage, the worms are really doing most of the work, and vermiculture is truly sustainability in its simplest form. In fact, many of our partnering coffee farms have adopted their own vermiculture operations and use the castings to enrich their soil.
In the end, it's very simple for us. Coffee is an agricultural jewel that flies under most people's radar. Many consume it and never really consider the amount of care and toil the farmers put into providing us with an excellent product. Vermiculture gives us an easy way to take the coffee conversation back to the farm and the importance of organic agriculture.
We're already seeing the educational benefits; our weekly coffee cuppings have included brief introductions to vermiculture and an explanation of sustainability by way of our 5,000 new co-workers.
Best regards,
Josh and Rich
Counter Culture Coffee Chicago
Thanks to Tyler Kaschke for the photos.
Instructor Lem Butler demonstrates a proper pour at Milk Chemistry lab in our Durham Training Center.
Our Counter Intelligence coffee education program aims to empower everyone in the coffee chain. In addition to individual courses and an intensive Professional Series, Counter Intelligence also offers Counter Culture Coffee Steward and Barista certifications.
I took our Milk Chemistry lab yesterday and learned about the chemistry – and artistry – of milk and proper steaming. We tasted a variety of locally available milks – from Maple View Farm (in nearby Hillsbrough, NC) to an ultra-pasteurized grocery brand and a goat milk – and then worked on proper texturing. I'm still not ready for barista competition, but know there is a path and feel like I'm moving forward on it toward Barista certification.
This weekend, our Durham Training Center will host our next Professional Series, a 2-day, hands-on education experience designed specifically for coffee professionals to develop the broad range of specialized knowledge necessary to advance their careers. Enrollment is limited for this advanced-learning format, but, as you can see, there are plenty of opportunities to learn in any of our training centers with new labs in each location added regularly. Click here for our current schedule.
See the photo narrative on Flickr for Tim's notes on each photo from his trip to the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea in July 2011.