See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes on each photo from his trip to Buziraguhindwa, Burundi, June 2011.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011 - 5:49pm
Friday, June 3, 2011 - 3:17pm
Transparency is one of our core values, and not only to do we try to embody it; we seek it out in our partners throughout the coffee trade. We published our first Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification (CCDTC) Transparency Report in 2009 and today we are excited to release our 2010 report, which aims to give a succinct, transparent summary of our financial and personal relationships with the producer partners whose coffees received CCDTC in 2010.
We hope you read the report, but, in short, 2010 was a dynamic year for our producer partners and us. Our Coffee Department spent more time on the road than ever to support our mission to improve coffee quality in the cup, quality of life for producers, and quality of relationships with growers. We were reminded of the incredible importance of good communication and solid relationships as we watched coffee prices skyrocket. Thankfully, we have long been committed to open, constant, and transparent communication, and our relationships at origin have never been stronger, helping make 2010 a great year for us and setting the stage for an even better 2011.
POSTED IN: sustainability progress reports
Thursday, June 2, 2011 - 8:03am
I recently got back from a week in Peru and Ecuador, where I had my fill of winding Andean roads and guinea pig lunches while working on relationships old and new: in Peru, with the Cenfrocafe co-operative and the growers of Valle del Santuario, and in Ecuador exploring a potential new partnership. I would guess that 90 percent of you guys are now wondering what's up in Ecuador, since that's a coffee-producing country we've not visited before, but that story will have to wait, because first and more important is the relationship we began four years ago in San Ignacio, Peru, with the five communities of Valle del Santuario.
We arrived at the warehouse in San Ignacio at sunset after a full day in the community of Alto Ihuamaca, and I was surprised to see Renán Neira and two other men comfortably settled on milk crates full of beer bottles playing cards.
"Where were you today?" I asked Renán, who is one of Alto Ihuamaca's representatives in the co-op and usually a fixture at meetings, "I saw your motorbike pass by this morning and I talked to your wife at the meeting, but you never showed up."
"Well," he explained, "With the harvest, you know, I had other responsibilities to attend to today."
"I see," I responded, looking at the card game and raising an eyebrow.
Renán smiled sheepishly as he said, "We finished early. Also, I thought the meeting might be … difficult."
It was neither the first nor the last time during my days in Peru that a member of the co-op's leadership made such a reference – I heard that "things are complicated" for the growers and "they want to talk to you" – to avoid stating outright that growers want a higher price for their coffee this year.
"What do you mean, difficult? You mean because the growers want a higher price?" I asked Renán.
"Yes," he said, looking relieved that I had understood his implied meaning.
"They did ask for more money, but that didn't make the meeting difficult," I commented, "it's what made the meeting good – I mean, that's why I'm here, right? That's why we have meetings."
"True. So it was good?"
"Absolutely. I only wish that everyone could have been there."
"Next time, Elena, next time," he laughed, clasping my hand in an interminable handshake, "and how soon will you be back?"
While I always strive to be optimistic, I wasn't exaggerating or sugar-coating the truth when I told Renán that our meeting was good. In fact, it was probably the best grower meeting I have ever attended, for reasons that I could never have predicted when I stood up in front of this group for the first time and collected votes for a coffee name four years ago. I admit that endless co-op meetings and price negotiations don't make for good stories, the way we usually tell them. Where's the new-relationship magic? Where's the adventure? That said, I always want my trip reports to give a behind-the-scenes look at life on the ground in the communities where we work and right now, growers are having a lot of meetings to talk about price: with their neighbors, with their co-ops and on my visit, with their buyer.
This idyllic little valley may seem remote to me after a two-day journey, but the Peruvian coffee market figured out that this area produced good coffee long before Cenfrocafe's coffee started winning awards. Competition from the local market (multi-national companies with representatives in and around San Ignacio) has only gotten tougher since we started working with these five communities and even since my last visit nine months ago, the commodity futures price for coffee has risen almost 50 percent! So what does such an increase mean to the growers and to our partnership? That's exactly what I aimed to find out.
"Last year's price wasn't as good as the price the year before," said Segundo Llacsahuanga, and other growers nodded their heads in agreement.
"It feels like we are working harder to produce better coffee than anyone else but the price isn't different," explained Soledad Cruz, the group's secretary.
It can be maddening to hear complaints like this because blame for the current situation should rest on the volatile, unreliable international market that for years we – growers and buyers – agreed had no bearing on the real costs of coffee production and great quality. Unfortunately, blaming the market gets you nowhere in negotiation – it's like blaming the weather or something.
Conversations about money are challenging whenever emotion is involved and, in a long-term relationship, emotion plays a role pretty much all of the time. But the point of a relationship isn't to make things easy, it's to make things better. Thankfully, most of the growers took advantage of the opportunity provided by my visit to share their experiences. We spent almost four hours brainstorming around the ways we could structure a contract – including a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of different pricing structures to Counter Culture, the growers and the co-op that supports us – and somewhere in the middle of it I realized that this meeting, boring by many standards, was one of the most meaningful, riveting, powerful experiences I have had in my coffee career so far because I could see the progress we have made in the years of this relationship reflected in the way that growers talk and puzzle, thoughtfully and deliberately, through the implications of different pricing strategies. And while the answer isn't easy, the discussion is.
"So what is the solution this year? Can we decide?" At the end of four hours, a chorus of growers pushed for resolution.
"I know that part of me wants to make a decision today because it would feel good to resolve things before I leave," I said, "but it's only May and we have time, so we should use it. I can talk to my team at Counter Culture about what makes sense for us and you can talk to your families and the growers that are not here about what you want to do, and then we can both talk to the co-op because they are really good at understanding both their members and their buyers."
"We understand," said Soledad, "And we agree. The most important thing is to keep selling coffee to you." And as we left the meeting and moved on to farm visits and lunch (yup, guinea pig), I could hear and feel the buzz between growers about the opportunities this year presents and I felt just as excited as I did on my first visit … just a different kind of excited!
Wednesday, May 25, 2011 - 2:06pm
Although they provide state-of-the-art settings for Counter Intelligence – our cutting-edge coffee education program – our training centers are much more than classrooms. Staffed by teams of passionate coffee experts and equipped with the latest and best brewing, grinding, and handcrafted coffee equipment, our training centers are regional focal points of hands-on learning and shared community spaces where all levels of coffee and food experience are welcome. In addition to our regular schedule of Counter Intelligence courses, Professional Series programs, and public coffee cuppings, our training centers from time to time host tasting and pairing events, brewing and latte art competitions, and focused education events centered around a single technique, tradition, or piece of equipment.
In this spirit of advanced, focused learning, we recently held a series of Lever Espresso Machine Workshops – led by 2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies – at our training centers in Washington, DC; New York; and Chicago. Co-sponsored by Nuova Simonelli, the event gave the lever veteran Gwilym an opportunity to shed light on the lever espresso machine experience from the expert barista's point of view, delving into pressure manipulation, temperature profiling, and the pros and cons of the most manual of modern espresso machines.
All three cities had great turnouts, but the Chicago event (in our newest training center) attracted the most people from both inside and outside the professional coffee community. Our team of Rich, Deanna, and Josh made our entire lineup of espressos available and assisted Gwilym and friends from Nuova Simonelli in leading attendees through the interactive workshop, which was the but the first of many special education events that Chicago coffee lovers can expect from our new training center in the West Loop. Special thanks to Matthew Gasaway for photos of the event; check out the flickr set here.
NOTE: Our delivery carriers will not pick up or deliver on Monday, May 30, in observance of the Memorial Day holiday. Orders received after midnight Thursday, May 26, will be roasted, packaged, and shipped on Tuesday, May 31. Orders in transit may also experience some delay.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 7:55pm
Dear Friends and valued customers,
The world of coffee has changed. Over the past several months the cost of the coffee we purchase has increased by more than 60 percent. There are many factors contributing to the increased cost, including supply challenges and increased demand. We feel as though coffee prices will remain at this level or higher for quite some time.
In response to substantially higher coffee costs, we are raising the prices of our 12 oz blends, effective today. Thank you for understanding that this price increase means that we can continue to maintain the superior standard of our products and services.
Earlier this year, our Director of Coffee and co-owner, Peter Giuliano, and our Graphic Designer, Katy Meehan, collaborated on a comic titled "So What's the Deal with the Coffee Market?" to illustrate these changes and the opportunity it presents. If you would like more information about the current state of the coffee market or have other questions, please feel free to write to us or give us a call at 888-238-5282.
POSTED IN: coffee knowledge
Thursday, April 14, 2011 - 8:31pm
See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes on each photo from his trip to El Salvador in March-April 2011.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - 5:39pm
Since the beginning, Counter Culture has pursued coffee perfection by developing partnerships that ensure prosperity for all people, improving the natural environment, and operating efficiently to minimize our environmental impact – and we continue to make progress in all of these areas. Our Sustainability & Producer Relations Manager Kim Elena Bullock filed an update this week on how we're measuring our progress toward an increasingly sustainable business via proactive, supply-chain auditing.
POSTED IN: environmental sustainability
Wednesday, April 13, 2011 - 3:51pm
Almost two years have passed since Counter Culture Coffee undertook to measure the seed-to-cup carbon footprint of one pound of coffee from Finca Mauritania in Santa Ana, El Salvador. For that project, I relied heavily on our exceptionally responsive and communicative partners along the supply chain – from farm owner Aida Batlle to the exporter, the shipping company, the warehouse, the trucking company, and even the coffee shop customer – to supply energy-use data, which I then crunched using free resources like Carbonfund.org.
When we arrived at a figure of approximately 11 lbs. CO2 equivalent – which includes the energy used to prepare coffee at Peregrine Espresso in Washington, DC – per pound of Finca Mauritania coffee, Counter Culture and Peregrine committed to plant trees in El Salvador that would capture the equivalent of the CO2 emissions that we had collectively generated in the growing, transporting, roasting, and brewing of the coffee.
One of the benefits of our self-directed supply-chain audit was that it familiarized us with the vocabulary, methodologies, and definitions of carbon footprints and greenhouse gas inventories. We talked to organizations that made it sound easy to do a quick audit and purchase offsets, but, having developed a pretty deep understanding of carbon and coffee, we recognized that taking our time to measure our footprint, strategize about reductions, and to find meaningful offset projects was the approach that best suited our dedication to real environmental sustainability. Our internal Sustainability Committee decided that, by 2015, the company would be carbon neutral and we have just achieved the first step toward that goal by completing a greenhouse gas inventory for the year 2010.
Working with Climate Smart, a Vancouver, BC-based auditing firm, we collected data on many aspects of our business, including the gas we burn roasting, electricity powering our espresso machines, fuel we use to commute, and the weight of paper we recycle (or don’t!) and determined that we produced 576 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) last year, or 1.2 lbs. of CO2e per pound of coffee we roast.
The roasting process accounts for a fair portion of our total footprint and our employee commuting does, as well, but our largest impact comes from air travel (and, wouldn’t you know, I’m writing this from an airplane as I make my way to visit our partner co-op in Colombia). While our business model may make it hard to reduce our air travel, the good news is that we have lots of room for improvement in other areas of our operations – from electricity consumption to waste generated – and we are ready to work to reduce our footprint per pound of coffee for 2011 and beyond!
Stay tuned to the Sustainability section of our website for updates on our progress and check out Climate Smart for great information about carbon and resources for businesses and individuals.
POSTED IN: sustainability