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Over the next two months, we will share stories about organizations doing exceptional work in coffee growing communities where we purchase. We often say that, while we know a lot about how coffee should taste and something about why it tastes the way it does, we know comparatively little about how best to support coffee farmers in their daily lives outside of coffee farming. Farmers might grow the best coffee in the world, but if they struggle to educate their children, put food on their tables, access health care, find clean water, or address other basic needs, our relationship—and by extension, our business model—is not sustainable.

Today, we will take a look at a non-profit we admire out of Burlington, VT, called Food 4 Farmers. Their mission is "to facilitate the implementation of sustainable food security programs in coffee-growing communities." In particular, they focus on collaborative work by emphasizing building local knowledge and capacity for individuals to solve their own problems by working through coffee cooperatives.

"Through a collaborative approach and partnerships, our goal is to transfer the tools and knowledge that coffee-farming families—and their communities—need for long-term food security," said Janice Nadworny, Co-Director of Food 4 Farmers. "One of the most exciting aspects of our work is witnessing this transformation from dependency to self-sufficiency."

The most eye-catching piece of their work to someone like me—who has been a part of and studied a number of non-profit and NGO models—is the following, in their own words:

"We don’t import a simplistic, one-size-fits-all model—we help communities identify locally appropriate solutions and strategies—and support them in managing their progress."

Though they are a fledgling non-profit, their small staff brings a range of experiences from the non-profit and academic world to the table. They are already well respected within and connected to the coffee industry with the likes of Rick Peyser (formerly of Keurig Green Mountain Coffee, currently working with Lutheran World Relief) on their board of directors.

Over the last four years, they have worked to design, implement, monitor, and evaluate food security strategies in Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia.

We are now in the second year of funding a food security project with Food 4 Farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, with CESMACH, a co-op that is part of Union el Triunfo. Food 4 Farmers is currently assessing the strengths and challenges of and resources available to the cooperative as they work to address seasonal hunger.

"Counter Culture has been a key partner in this work, stepping up to make the long-term investments necessary to help coffee-farming families thrive," Nadworny added.

To learn more about the great work Food 4 Farmers is doing click here.

More soon,
Hannah Popish

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There's Only One Grand Reserve

Aida's Grand Reserve enters its ninth year, and, as always, it's at once a delicious coffee and great fodder for conversation about quality, relationships, and what makes a product special.

Style of Tasting

Cup and Brew

Tasters familiar with Aida's Grand Reserve will definitely want to cup it to get as much sensory information as possible, so begin by setting up the two coffees for cupping. Also be prepared to brew a batch or two of AGR to enjoy in at a more leisurely rate either as your cuppers are arriving or after you finish cupping—or both!

Notes on the Coffees

A few weeks ago, I said that Finca Mauritania is an example of how good a coffee can be with average elevation and good varieties when every step of the harvesting and processing of that coffee is flawless. Well, Aida's Grand Reserve, which we purchase from the same Aida Batlle who's responsible for Finca Mauritania's coffee, represents how much better a producer can make coffee when she has the option to complement coffee from better elevation and varieties with perfect processing.

Let me explain. Of the farms that Aida's family owns, Finca Mauritania is the lowest elevation and the only one that is 100% Bourbon variety, while her other farms—Los Alpes and Kilimanjaro—are higher up the Ilmantepec volcano and have more complex-tasting varieties like Kenia, Pacamara, and Typica.

Of course, Aida is not changing the varieties or elevation of coffee from an individual farm. But, unlike most farmers, she is able to apply the picking, processing, and selection techniques—the techniques that make Finca Mauritania so good—to varieties and elevation that are even better.

For most farmers, varieties are difficult to experiment with, because projects require at least five years to produce adequately and experimenting with elevation is impossible—unless you have money to spend on buying more land to farm and planting it with coffee, which, as you might expect, is rare.

Getting back to Grand Reserve, this is the ninth year that Aida has challenged herself to create a small lot of extraordinary coffee from among the many coffee varieties and methods of processing that she has available, and it's also our ninth year selling this coffee.

The idea began as a way to recoup costs from the damage caused by the 2005 eruption of the Ilmantepec volcano and has since become a coffee that Aida is incredibly proud of—over which she spends countless hours agonizing each year. Saying that every batch is unique is an understatement of comic proportions: A few years ago, there were no fewer than 27 different components to Aida's Grand Reserve coming from three farms, three processes (washed, sundried natural, and pulp natural), and three fermentation styles (Kenya, Ethiopia, and El Salvador) within the washed coffee segments.

The 2014 lot is simpler in its composition—which is exclusively washed coffees from Finca Kilimanjaro and Finca Los Alpes (i.e., no naturals, no Mauritania)—but the flavors don't lack for fruitiness or complexity. Though there are fewer components this year, Aida's Grand Reserve is by no means basic, as we're still talking about three varieties (Bourbon, Typica, and Kenia) from two farms and fermentation techniques borrowed from Burundi and Kenya.

Having tasted so many iterations of Aida's farms' coffees over the years, as well as the annual Grand Reserve lot, we have encouraged her to focus on the farms with the best elevation and varieties, as opposed to including all of the farms and all of the processes she knows—as she did in that year of the 27 components. I'm sure there's a sports or musical analogy to be made about demonstrating true mastery through refinement, as opposed to sheer volume, but, for this audience, Aida's coffees probably need no analogies in order to make sense.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Finca Mauritania is already on the menu and Aida's Grand Reserve is slated to roll out in mid-November, pending brand-spankin' new packaging.

–Kim Elena

Chris Colbran of Baroida in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.Theme

Kudos to the Colbrans

This week, we’ll taste and celebrate the first roasts of this year’s Baroida and Tairora from the Eastern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea.

Style of Tasting

Brew Two

As we only have two coffees and they come from the same place, I suggest brewing them both through paper and putting the emphasis on the farm and the freshness of these two lots, as opposed to the cupping ritual.

Notes on the Coffees

Papua New Guinea is a long way from Durham, NC, and, until we started buying coffee from the Colbran family four years ago, Counter Culture hadn’t had a relationship there last more than a year or two. We persisted in trying to find a foothold there because the geography, climate, and varieties are all excellent, and we knew the coffees could be excellent, too.

With that history in mind, we feel extra appreciation for the relationship that we have built with Chris Colbran and his family since 2010—which was the first year they ventured into marketing their coffee directly to buyers instead of selling it to an exporter to blend. The coffee we purchase from their farm, Baroida, and the surrounding Tairora tribe are consistently great and only getting better as the family continues to refine their work.

Though they come from similar geography and varieties, Baroida has typically been more savory and fuller in body than Tairora, which seems true again this year. It’s early yet, though, and this is our first tasting, so please do share your feedback and questions now and as we continue to taste this coffee in the months to come.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Baroida and Tairora roll out on Monday and, between this first container and the late-harvest lots that will arrive in a month or so, we have a good volume of both. Thank goodness for that, too, because we count on these coffees to get us through the dark days of winter and into the springtime, when we begin to anticipate the return of coffees from the northern hemisphere.


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Closer to Home

With the staggering number of extraordinary coffees we have from East Africa, it’s easy to forget that this is still peak season for coffees from some of our neighbors in Central and South America.

Style of Tasting

Cup + Brew

These coffees are different enough to stand out in cupping, so I recommend doing that and following your cupping with a pour-over demonstration of the crowd favorite and a brewing discussion. 

Notes on the Coffees

What can I say about Finca Mauritania that hasn’t been said? Probably very little. I’m going to repeat something I said a few weeks ago when we tasted this coffee, which is that Finca Mauritania is a great reminder of how good coffees can be when every minute step in growing, picking, and processing coffee is done with the utmost attention to detail and quality. The farm's elevation is quite poor for quality, but to find a farm in Central America without a single Catimor-type plant, and to have a guarantee that every single seed comes from a sweet, ripe coffee fruit, then to have it all processed carefully and dried evenly and slowly, makes this coffee capable of competing with and surpassing coffees that have far more geographic and climatic advantages. While Aida Batlle— fifth-generation coffee farmer—would never call herself disadvantaged, in quality terms, Mauritania represents the kind of hard-working, up-by-the-bootstraps story that we love.

With two harvests per year, it’s easy to forget to mention the arrival of La Golondrina, but it’s here! It’s new! Rejoice! Though we never have trouble selling this coffee, that doesn’t stop us from believing it could be better and trying to make progress, which for the growers of Orgánica entails better selection of varieties and slower drying.

Finally, we bid farewell to Concepción Huista this week after another fruitful and fruit-flavor-filled season. We have invested a lot in building this relationship, and, at times, the co-op can still feel a little bit chaotic, but the organization has a strong foundation, and they definitely have some of the best coffee-growing terrain in Huehuetenango, if not Guatemala. It will be back next year, and, with good luck and good management, Concepción Huista will be its best yet.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We'll have Finca Mauritania for another two months, I imagine, La Golondrina rolls out Friday and should last until March and Concepción Huista, as I mentioned, will be no more as of next week.
Hannah Popish talked with Ben Guiles, who works with Counter Culture in Philadelphia in Wholesale Technical Services, about his recent use of the company Green Fund. The Green Fund has existed since 2011 and is a fund wherein employees are able to apply up to $500 in matching funds for a sustainability-related initiative of their choosing. At its inception Green Buyer and Sustainability Manager Kim Elena Ionescu said the following:  “We hope that this Green Fund, like other life-enhancing benefits such as comprehensive health care coverage and matching 401(k) investments, contributes to a healthier workplace, a better work/life balance for our employees, and ultimately, a more successful and sustainable business.” To date we have had a wide range of topics covered, including applications related to physical fitness, home gardens, and green home appliances.

As a recent Green Fund approval, Ben and Hannah took a moment to discuss his latest endeavor—building his second bike from the ground up.

Hannah: 
Why build a bike instead of purchasing a new one?

Ben:
In addition to satisfying the unique requirements I placed upon my new ride, building this bike myself has been a very gratifying process, and I recommend it to anyone. A bicycle may seem intimidatingly mechanical, but its bits are very straightforward in principle and they’re mostly all out in the open, inviting even the slightly curious to understand its workings, and pick up a wrench. So the joy of owning a bicycle can actually extend beyond simply riding it. By understanding how it works, and building or maintaining one on your own, you strengthen your sense of independence, and feel a connection to a tangible object in our universe.


Hannah: 
What’s the most sustainable thing about bike riding?


Ben: 
Bike advocates rightly like to talk about the intersection of sustainability with bike riding: you use less fossil fuel, you spend less money, you become a fitter, healthier person, etc. All of this is completely true and wonderful about a lifestyle filled with bike rides. But what is often overlooked and left unsaid in the conversation is joy. Joy is such a crucial facet of riding a bicycle, and so essential to the long-term sustainability of cycling as a lifestyle. [Yet] how often is sustainability viewed in terms of deprivation?

Cycling brings me a deep abiding joy, which may be counterintuitive to an outsider. I glide past gridlock, face in the wind like a dog hanging his head out the car window, and even on those sweaty uphills I feel that great sense of independence, accomplishment, and freedom that comes with overcoming an obstacle under one’s own power. A bike opens up the entire city and surrounding area to me, unbeholden to public transit schedules and delays, or parking, gas costs, and (most) traffic.

So living sustainably actually has everything to do with joy, and relatively little to do with deprivation. The fact that Counter Culture’s coffee is threefold sustainable and some of the yummiest, most-joy-inducing out there is no accident; one aspect is essential to the other. Such is also the case for a sustainable approach to cycling as a lifestyle.


Hannah: 
If you could tell someone who was nervous about bike riding—I’m asking for a friend—one thing about taking the plunge, what would you tell them?


Ben: 
Tell your *ahem* friend that she is not alone in being a little anxious about leaving the comfort of a metal box while traveling the roads. You can also tell her that a little caution and respect for the risks of cycling—particularly bike commuting—are a healthy thing to adopt and be ever mindful of. However, cycling is a pretty vast universe, with many levels of risk, challenge, and exertion left completely up to your—sorry, “her”—preference and degree of comfort. Stick to trails until you get the hang of it. Learn to ride in traffic on quieter streets, with friends who aren’t new to it. Know the laws in your state and obey them. Be courteous to drivers, even when they aren’t. Get tips from local bike-advocacy organizations. Use lights. Wear a helmet. (Seriously. Do it.)
But you asked me to say *one* thing, so I’ll boil it down to this: like R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, you choose your own adventure.

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Year Round Coffees: New bags / New names

 

Notes on the Coffees

As you’ve likely heard by now, on Monday, October 6, all our coffee will be in new packaging. We’d like to take a moment today to celebrate the packaging and taste our offerings that stay consistent throughout the year.

As our new packaging designs were coming together, we began to consider whether or not the rustic names of some of our year-round products would make sense in bright, modern-looking bags.

We put all of the year-round coffee names up for consideration. Rather than try to update them based upon existing names, we approached the daunting task from the perspective of how the names related to the coffees themselves. What they taste like. What we're trying to do with them from a buying perspective and so on.

Hologram (formerly Rustico) is a name we feel captures the spirit of the coffee: complex, dynamic, and vibrant.

Big Trouble (formerly Toscano) offers a bit of levity. Probably the most tongue-in-cheek thing we've done in a long time. It's a lark, of sorts. Not disingenuous, but playful. Easy to brew, challenging to source.

Fast Forward and Slow Motion (formerly Farmhouse and Decaf Farmhouse) continue to be companion pieces. Fast Forward lets us move quickly through new Latin American coffee offerings. While Slow Motion is about slowing down to enjoy a cup of coffee just because it's delicious.

46 (formerly No. 46) shows us that great coffees roasted dark can still be great: complex, sweet, clean and nuanced.

Apollo got to keep it’s name and with it we continue to get the opportunity to highlight Ethiopian coffees and what we love within them - floral, citrusy, bright notes.
 

Rollout Dates and Availability

Here’s the thing about year round coffees—you can always get them! The components or main coffee will change slightly throughout the year, but the flavor profile will remain steady. You can always find the detailed info on what’s in the bag either on our website or on the back of the bag!
As our new packaging designs were coming together, we began to consider whether or not the rustic names of some of our year-round products would make sense in bright, modern-looking bags.

We put all of the year-round coffee names up for consideration. Rather than try to update them based upon existing names, we approached the daunting task from the perspective of how the names related to the coffees themselves. What they taste like. What we're trying to do with them from a buying perspective and so on.

Hologram (formerly Rustico) is a name we feel captures the spirit of the coffee: complex, dynamic, light, and vibrant.

Big Trouble (formerly Toscano) offers a bit of levity. Probably the most tongue-in-cheek thing we've done in a long time. It's a lark, of sorts. Not disingenuous, but playful.

Fast Forward and Slow Motion (formerly Farmhouse and Decaf Farmhouse) continue to be companion pieces. Fast Forward lets us move quickly through new Latin American coffee offerings. While Slow Motion is about slowing down to enjoy a cup of coffee just because it's delicious.
 

If You're Looking For:


Toscano

Rustico

Farmhouse

Decaf Farmhouse
 

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Kahawa Nzuri!

This week’s coffees are a paean to the flavors we cherish in the coffees we purchase from Kenya.

Style of Tasting

Cup + Brew

These coffees will be equally fun to cup and to brew, so I recommend following your cupping with a pour-over demonstration and brewing discussion. 

Notes on the Coffees

While the names of some of our coffees, like Thiriku, refer to both the name of the farmer co-operative society (FCS) and the washing station from which we purchase the eponymous coffee, Ngunguru is the name of one of three washing stations owned by the Tekangu FCS. Ngunguru and Thiriku hail from the Nyeri region, where we are accustomed to finding our best Kenyan coffees, but this past year, coffees from this region were more difficult to purchase than they previously had been due to the decision by the governor of Nyeri to centralize the sale of coffee in hopes of generating higher returns for farmers. We responded by diversifying our approach and although our coffees spent longer in transit than it has in past years, the coffees we sourced are still outstanding.

Thiriku is a favorite many times over for Counter Culture employees and customers alike, and the coffees we will sell from them this year certainly won’t disappoint. Out of all of the dozen-plus coffees in the shipment of Kenyan coffees that arrived in the warehouse two weeks ago, this lot of Thiriku is the most reminiscent of currant, hibiscus, and other sweet-savory-tangy flavors that have helped build Kenya’s reputation for coffee quality. Before I worked in coffee, I didn’t seek out jams, chutneys, sodas or anything else made from currants—much less the fresh fruits themselves—but after falling for Kenyan coffees, I now find myself gravitating toward them whenever I see them!

You all tasted spectacular coffee from Kambarari during our Pro Dev on Kenya a few months back, so I’m sure there’s no shortage of excitement to taste it again. In a recent Flickr set and report from Kenya, Tim wrote the following about this farm:

“There was one coffee this past year we could not stop talking about, and that was the coffee from Gerald Njagi Chege and his farm, Kambarari. We bought the coffee as soon as we tasted it, and actually flew it in from Kenya and sold it as our first ever single farmer Kenya lot. The sad news of this coffee, is when we visited the farm, we were told that Gerald has past away, and now his sons were managing the farm (I guess that peaberry lot we flew in, was a nice nod to Gerald).

"Kambarari is about 4 hectares of mostly SL28, but of all the farms I visited actually had the least infrastructure.  They ferment in a plastic bucket and wash in a wooden channel lined with a plastic tarp.”

This coffee represents one of our forays away from the model we’ve come to rely on in Kenya over the past five to ten years, which involves buying the top-scoring lots from FCSs in Nyeri that have been selected by the exporter Dorman, and toward working with slightly-larger-sized farms like Kambarari to build standalone relationships. We hope that by exploring beyond the known realm, we can find groups and individuals interested in undertaking projects together that allow us to work more closely and collaboratively with growers the way we’re accustomed to doing outside of Kenya. This particular farm is in Kiamutugu, to the east of Nyeri near Embu, and we have at least three more coffees from single farms for you to taste in the weeks to come!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Ngunguru has been on the menu for a while now, Thiriku just rolled out on Monday and we expect to begin selling Kambarari in mid-October, date TBD.