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Hello, East Timor!

After an eight-year hiatus, Counter Culture is bringing coffee from the tiny island nation of East Timor back to our offering list and this week we’ll taste the fantastic specimens we’ve chosen to purchase from the communities of Huapu and Lacau.

Notes on the Coffees

Had you asked us a year ago to describe coffee from East Timor, the answer would probably have begun with vague references to muted acidity and heavy body and ended with the caveat that we haven’t tasted much coffee from the island since Counter Culture stopped buying what long-time customers of ours might remember as Maubesse in 2006. Back then, it was an alternative to Sumatran coffee—the two islands are close geographically and until East Timor’s independence in 2001, they belonged to the same country, Indonesia. Though Sumatra was by far our best-selling single-origin coffee, we never developed much of a market for coffees from East Timor and, eventually, lackluster sales combined with inconsistencies in quality, complex logistics, and distance, led us to stop buying the coffee.

Eight years later, we are happy to re-introduce East Timor to our list of origins in a completely different context: this coffee won’t compete with Sumatra because we don’t currently source coffee from Sumatra, and while the body is still creamy, its undeniable acidity and stone-fruit flavors couldn’t be further from the flat, muted character of the olden days. It comes from smallholder farmers who grow coffee organically between 1,350 and 1,800 meters, which is higher elevation than most island coffees and undoubtedly contributes to the coffee’s tangy brightness. Despite the fact that the infamous Timor variety—the spontaneous hybrid of arabica and canephora coffee species—originates on this island, the farmers in Letefoho grow primarily typica coffee plants, so you should not expect to find the vegetal or woody flavors of the catimor, castillo, lempira or IHCAFE 90 types that we have sampled in our varieties tastings over the past few years.

Never has a representative of Counter Culture visited the country, and compared to other islands in the region like Sumatra and Sulawesi, it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention from quality-focused buyers in the North American coffee industry (when was the last time you read a trip report from East Timor?). We found Huapu and Lacau through the same Hong-Kong-based company, MTC Group, that introduced us our now-beloved coffees from Baroida and Tairora. MTC has built its business by sourcing coffees from the Pacific, including Australia’s few coffee farms, and we feel extremely fortunate to have access to these coffees (and as an aside, if you’re interested in learning more about East Timor from the perspective of MTC, this excellent trip report overfloweth with history and photos).

We bought a container of coffee from these producers this year and would have bought more but for the fact that they’ve never sold it to the United States before and their organic certificate is for the Japanese market, not ours. Next year we’ll be able to sell it as certified organic, which will allow us to buy more of it and use it in more products, and we can’t wait to continue developing this potential.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Both Lacau and Huapu roll out on Friday, and assuming they hold their flavors, they should be available for purchase through the middle of March.

-Kim Elena
Give the coffee lover in your life a lifetime’s worth of better brewing by registering them for a Counter Intelligence coffee course with us at one of our Counter Culture Coffee regional training centers!

We offer many different professional-level classes—from coffee brewing and tasting, to espresso, and even about the origins and training of coffee. Each course is a dynamic mix of coffee theory, tasting, and hands-on experience preparing or comparing coffee in a variety of contexts. Check our course catalogue for more detailed information about our offerings.

While we don’t currently offer vouchers or gift certificates for our courses, you're welcome to reserve a seat in any of our posted classes in advance—check our updated course calendar for dates and availability. Simply register and pay for the course using your own name and e-mail address to keep the gift a secret, and we’ll happily substitute your loved one’s name and contact information after you reveal the present, so they can receive any additional future e-mails or information about the class! 

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Feel free to email training@counterculturecoffee.com with any questions, and Happy Brew Year!
Fabretto was founded in Nicaragua in 1948 when a Salesian missionary named Reverend Rafael Maria Fabretto found numerous impoverished children on his visit to Nicaragua.The deck is stacked against a lot of small coffee cooperatives. They are focusing intently on how to keep yields and quality high while keeping members happy with prices. Cooperative members have various needs that include access to affordable, healthy food; healthcare; and extra money for education for their children. This is where, ideally, supportive non-profit organizations can step in to help. A non-profit like Fabretto—one that is truly based in the community and, as such, knows the needs and solutions from within—is rare.
 
Counter Culture actually learned about Cinco de Junio, a Nicaraguan small cooperative we've purchased from for the last five years, because of their connection with Fabretto. With a grant supported by the Buffett Foundation and implemented alongside Catholic Relief Services, Fabretto was doing an analysis of community needs in Las Sabanas a number of years ago. They realized that Cinco de Junio's members and their families needed greater agronomic education, and that they could benefit from expanded economic opportunity—since Cinco de Junio was the only game in town. Luckily through their partnership—and, then our partnership—we were able to support Cinco de Junio in exactly this way.
 
Fabretto was founded in Nicaragua in 1948 when a Salesian missionary named Reverend Rafael Maria Fabretto found numerous impoverished children on his visit to Nicaragua. In its early days, it was a number of children's homes. Today, the organization has seven main educational centers in Nicaragua and focuses on securing livelihoods through education as well as food security efforts. (They also have supporting foundations in two additional countries.) "Padre Fabretto," as they call him in Nicaragua, was so influential that there is often a photo of him in family homes.
 
Kevin Marinacci, Fabretto's President and Chief Executive Officer for almost 25 years, took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about the work of Fabretto:
 
Hannah: What is Fabretto doing right now that you consider to be the most successful piece of your work?
 
Kevin: We believe in education as means to a livelihood, and we have seen this work. Through our SAT program (Rural Secondary Education) families like those in Cinco de Junio are able to connect with external and commercial partners. It's a virtuous cycle—we invest in education and make education relevant to what their livelihood is. So, especially in the high school programs, teaching about sustainable agriculture makes it more likely that producers can then innovate and get out ahead in terms of market viability and trends. I also think that focusing on diversification into crops with chia and honey is important as it provides the opportunity to leave a more resilient rural economy for the students that are part of the cooperative.
 
Fabretto has seven main educational centers in Nicaragua and focuses on securing livelihoods through education as well as food security efforts. H: Could you talk about a key challenge for small cooperatives?
 
K: I think consolidating the gains they've made and positioning themselves properly is what's needed. It is hard for small cooperatives to say no (both internally and external). They have to start to define who they are as a cooperative, say that ideas are welcome, but communicate clearly that they are taking the premium market route and need people to be on board with what that means. With external partners, they have to be strategic about how they are going to connect with lenders to reinvest in their farms.
 
H: How is Fabretto involved in the day-to-day operations of Cinco de Junio?
 
K: We have a staff member of Fabretto who spends time on the ground visiting Cinco de Junio. He helps strategize and links them with opportunities like grants for technical assistance projects submissions for loans with Root Capital.
 
H: Can you share a hope for the future?
 
K: I'd love to see Cinco de Junio be so successful that they match our contribution to the education programs dollar-for-dollar or underwrite the investment for education. That would be a home run if they invested in SAT, because it would mean that they believe in the impact of education.
 
H: Thanks for the chat and for the great work you are doing!
 
K: We're not experts, by an stretch of the imagination, but we've been privileged to play a role.
 
 

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Brightness in the Winter

Though both of this week's coffees are new to our offering list, I suspect some of you could be convinced to love them before you even try them. Why? Well, this week we'll be tasting another fantastic single-farmer lot from a member of the Yirgacheffe Farmer Cooperative Union (YCFCU) of Ethiopia named Workiye Shallo alongside the inaugural roast of this year's Remera from Rwanda. On your marks, get set, slurp!

Notes on the Coffees

Of the many great coffees we bought this year from individual farmer members of YCFCU, Workiye Shallo's (wer-KAY-yuh SHA-llow) piqued my interest not only because it's another example of my favorite coffee taste profile, but also because she's the only woman out of the single farmers whose coffees we have celebrated this year. In Yirgacheffe, as in most coffee-producing communities globally, women are equal partners in the work of coffee production but seldom hold positions of power or receive recognition. Women are less likely than men to own land, and given how few members of YCFCU own the processing equipment that allows them to create these small, single-farmer lots, Workiye Shallo is a noteworthy exception. Workiye lives in Konga, which is one of many villages in the Yirgacheffe region where we've purchased coffee over the years, and she grows equal parts Kudhume and Wolisho varieties of coffee on the farm she owns with her husband, Ayele.

Remera's return heralds the beginning of our offering list's transition from northern-hemisphere African coffees—the many Ethiopian and Kenyan stars we've been celebrating for the past few months—to freshly arrived, southern-hemisphere coffees from Burundi and Rwanda. This washing station is among the highest in elevation in Rwanda and the family behind it, including mother Epiphanie and her sons Aloys and Samuel, are some of the most curious and well-connected people in the country's dynamic specialty coffee industry. Our collaboration with them over the years has resulted in quality experiments like the excellent sundried natural of two years ago and in our support of their pursuit of sustainability, as well: this year we're pleased to be contributing $5,000 from our Seeds fund to a project to diversify their farms and small farms around theirs by intercropping macadamia trees among their coffee plants. Almost all Rwandan coffee farms are shadeless monocultures and growers have no history of composting, so most rely heavily on chemical fertilizers to sustain their nutrient-poor soils and on mulch grass to keep dry soil from washing down the country's famous thousand hills during the rainy season.


Rollout Dates and Availability

Workiye Shallo's and Remera's coffees roll out on Friday and should be around, brightening our palates, through the middle of February.

-Kim Elena
NOTE: Unfortunately, construction in our Durham Training Center will not be finished in time to host a Tasting@Ten at that location this Friday. All other Training Centers are back on schedule. We're terribly sorry! Please join us next week. Thanks kindly for your patience and understanding.

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Hologram

This week we will deconstruct the fruity, complex Hologram and taste its three components in order to understand what each coffee brings to the blend.

Notes on the Coffees 

Were I forced to reduce Hologram to a single word, I would choose the word fruity because the flavors of sundried natural Ethiopian coffees are unmistakable even in small quantities. But why choose a single word? Especially given that a hologram, by definition, is multi-dimensional. Though it’s not (yet) our best-selling year-round product, the growth in popularity of Hologram and its flavor profile over the past five years is something that excites me, primarily because the coffees that we use for Hologram are so good. Let’s talk about the current version, shall we?

We haven’t purchased coffee from the Asociación Integral Unidas Para Vivir Mejor (ASUVIM) in prior years, but we’re already making plans to purchase more from the harvest just getting underway on these small farms on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. This coffee’s sweetness and milk chocolate flavors are reminiscent of coffee from La Voz, which is located just across the lake. Farming techniques, climate and varieties are similar between the two, and the region seems to incubate unusually good co-op names: ASUVIM’s full name roughly translates as the Comprehensive Association United to Live Better. We’re already buying as much coffee as is available from La Voz and between our company’s growth, the favorable growing conditions around Atitlán and how little age we taste in ASUVIM’s coffee this late in the year, I’m confident you’ll hear more about this group in the year to come. For now, this coffee comprises 60% of Hologram and isn’t used anywhere else.

Second on the table is the inimitable washed lot from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia’s Hama, which is still my favorite coffee among all of our offerings, even a year after its harvest. We use Hama's bright, floral notes to make Hologram more dynamic, especially upon the first sip, but we keep its percentage low (10%) so that the chocolate, fruit, and body brought by the other two components still dominates.

With as many single-producer coffees as we had from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, this year, including knockout sundried naturals from Aleme Wako and Elias Benata, we opted to dedicate the entirety of Biloya sundried natural to Hologram. Biloya tastes a bit more like chocolate and nut than those single-producer lots, which make it a good fit for this coffee, but it’s the berry flavors—which lend Hologram its characteristic fruitiness—that most people will identify immediately on the cupping table. Also, I expect many people would suspect that it makes up more than its current thirty percent of the blend.

As I mentioned at the outset, the coffees we are using in Hologram are exceptionally good ones. Big Trouble may outsell it, and I’d be a fool to deny people their preferences, but all of the coffees we use in Hologram are better and it’s the same price. Not to mention it comes in a purple bag. I know you’ll all enjoy it, but just in case, I’ll say it anyway: enjoy!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Year-round, my friends. All. Year. Round.

-Kim Elena
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Competition Is None

The Big Eastern competition opens on Friday and for this week’s tasting we’ve chosen three coffees that have appeared in the routines of competitors in barista and brewer’s cup competitions at the regional and national levels over the past two years.

Notes on the Coffees

After making its competition debut as part of Jonathan Bonchak’s routine for the US Brewer’s Cup in Seattle in April of 2014, Olke Birre’s coffee is the choice of multiple competitors in both brewing and espresso realms this weekend. In blind cuppings of our many Ethiopian coffees, Olke’s coffee consistently takes the top spot for its balance of floral aromatics and clear-as-a-bell citric acidity. In addition to possessing one of the most perfect flavor profiles we can imagine, this coffee’s appeal is compounded by the fact that it hails from a single farmer and that we know him personally, which is unusual in Ethiopia. Plus, as I’ve told you many times before, he is a head taller than most farmers and was wearing a gold medal when we first met him, so he made quite an impression.

Next up is Ngunguru, one of our current offerings from the flavor capital of the coffee world, Kenya. In the spirit of full transparency, I’ll admit that I meant to send Thiriku, on the wings of which Lem Butler soared to victory in the Southeast Barista Championship in 2012, but ended up typing Ngunguru, instead. Oops. But never you mind, for this coffee’s complexity is equal or superior to that of pretty much any other coffee you could imagine. It’s precisely that complexity—the combination of brightness, mouth-watering savory notes, and brothy body—that make Kenyan attractive for competition settings where unique tastes, memorable descriptors, and creative flavor pairings win points.

Papua New Guinea’s Tairora rounds out the lineup with juicy flavors that are reminiscent of today’s other two coffees, but with a fuller body and more notes of nut and sweet spice than we usually find in East African coffee. Erika Lee Vonie, now at Everyman Espresso, took Tairora to the national stage in April of this year and combined it with herbs and fresh cucumber for a delicious signature beverage. Of today’s three coffees, Tairora was harvested most recently, and, after two years of struggling with both shipping delays and inconsistent quality, it arrived early and is tasting great. We are very thankful to have found the Colbran family and their coffee farm, Baroida, four years ago, and Tairora, which comes from smaller farms around Baroida, demonstrates the mostly unrealized quality potential of these highlands.

Rollout Dates and Availability

All three coffees are available now, but Olke Birre’s time is running out, so savor these last sips. Ngunguru will be around through December, at least, and we hope Tairora will last through March, though it's selling like hotcakes, so I’m not making any promises. 

-Kim Elena
Root Capital is a 15-year-old non-profit organization with headquarters in Cambridge, MA—and satellite offices and staff across the globe—that has been getting a lot more attention from the coffee industry over the last few years. A "social investment fund," Root Capital promotes prosperity in poor, environmentally vulnerable places in Africa and Latin America by lending money, providing financial training, and helping connect farmers to buyers.

In partnership with organizations like USAID, Keurig Green Mountain, and Starbucks, Root Capital has become well known for offering low-interest rates on pre-harvest financing loans for farmers.

Coffee farmers generally receive one payment a year for their entire harvest. This means planning out expenses can be difficult, and, once preparations for the next harvest come around, they often have little money left over to invest in their crop. As such, they often look for loans to be able to apply to their agricultural needs each season. Root Capital sets itself apart from micro-lenders like Kiva because they are loaning amounts upwards of $40,000 each time.

Lending money to smallholder farmers can be risky. If a farmers experiences difficulty meeting volume or quality expectations with their crop, they would not meet sales goals and, ultimately, would not be able to pay back the loan. One way lenders mitigate this risk is by charging high interest rates. Root Capital, on the other hand, chooses to provide low interest rates—offers ongoing training to farmers to help to ensure their ability to repay the loan. They also engage in conversations about best practices for environmental stewardship and long-term sustainability.

I have long appreciated Root Capital's transparency: they openly share both their operation's approach, as well as a commitment to sharing the metrics used to measure what success means.

Counter Culture has been watching their good work for some time and continually tried to identify places of overlap, as well as potential partnerships. Our first entré came this year when we brought Root Capital into a study regarding coffee farmers’ adaptation to climate change that we embarked on with Duke’s Nicholas School of Environmental Management.

Root Capital and Counter Culture have a shared interest in applied research—meaning, we don’t want to do research just for the sake of researching something. We want the research to be of use, to generate an agenda, to mean something concrete on the ground to the people who were initially involved in the research. This type of project is unique in that it brings together a university, a coffee roaster, and an NGO. None of us working alone would be able to understand the issue as comprehensively as we are now able to working together.

Mike Younis, one of the six Duke students involved in the research, had the opportunity to tack on some extra time with Root Capital in their offices in Lima, Peru, as part of the overall project. Here’s what he had to say about the experience:
"It was very exciting for me to be a part of Root Capital's mission to support rural prosperity. Following up my master's thesis research on Climate Change Adaptation for Coffee Growers in Latin America with an internship at Root gave me a greater appreciation of the organization’s expertise with the important issues faced by its clients and passion for tackling these challenges in order to improve the the livelihoods of those in Root Capital communities. I am grateful for the opportunity that Counter Culture Coffee, Root Capital, and the Nicholas School of the Environment provided me with this past summer!"

Both of our business and Root Capital's business are impacted by external factors that can be hard to control. We each have to look for ways to protect ourselves and our supply chains from risks—in this case the vulnerability brought on by climate change. When farmers are impacted by climate change, their overall supply of coffee is less stable, and they are less likely to be able to repay loans or have a consistent supply for buyers. Root Capital and Counter Culture Coffee will benefit from better understanding the impacts of climate change and hopefully be better poised to be a part of the solution.

Moving forward, I believe that collaboration among interested parties from different industries and organizations—all with common goals and interests—will only continue to blossom within the coffee industry. Results from the climate change adaptation study will be shared on our website and elsewhere late-spring 2015.

Hope you’ll keep following along and be in touch with any questions or comments!

-Hannah Popish