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We’ve got four coffees on the table again this week! To what do we owe this good fortune? The country of Guatemala is the size of Louisiana and Counter Culture’s four relationships are all to the west of the capital city, but similar to last week’s tasting, the geographic proximity belies the diversity of flavor that this week’s table showcases.

Notes on the Coffees

Finca Nueva Armenia is our longest-running relationship in Guatemala and we have been unwavering in our commitment to celebrating this beautiful farm and the work of the Recinos brothers. Climate change and coffee leaf rust have conspired to diminish the quality of a large portion of the farm’s lower elevation coffee, while our standards for single-origin coffee just keep getting higher, and over the past few years we have sold less of the farm’s coffee straight and used more of it for blending. We have an especially small amount of Finca Nueva Armenia’s coffee straight this year, but we are working on next year’s contracts, plans, and expectations this week and believe we’ll see more, better coffee from Finca Nueva Armenia next year. What we do have comes from Grotto, the highest part of the farm, which we’ve consistently found to be fruitier, sweeter, and more complex than the coffees from lower down the mountain.

The town of Concepción Huista lies only about an hour’s drive east of Finca Nueva Armenia, but the farms are much newer and the land belongs primarily to smallholder farmers, as opposed to the larger farms in western Huehuetenango. We bought our first coffees from Codech in 2010 and since then we’ve spent a lot of time working with them to improve their coffees—and occasionally competing with others to secure them. The eight hundred families that belong to Codech produce coffees that range in flavor from flat and nutty, to fruit reminiscent of sundried naturals, to an occasional coffee that is floral and almost Kenya-esque in flavor.

La Voz makes a guest appearance today at a lighter roast level than most of you have tasted it since we pulled it out of the single-origin lineup. Since 2012 they have proven a consistent producer of good, sweet coffees, some of which end up in Farmhouse, some of which we decaffeinate and one of which, this year, exceeded our expectations and made the single-origin ranks. The ability of this co-op, whose mill is on the shores of Lake Atitlán, to operate efficiently and ship coffee early is worth a lot to us, so while their coffees aren’t always the equal in complexity to the previous two on the table, we wouldn’t trade it.

Our newest addition is Sipacapa, which comes from San Marcos, a region roughly between Huehuetenango and Atitlán. The mountains in this area of Guatemala reach some impressive elevations and we’ve had our eyes on it for a few years, though this year marked the first that we zeroed in on a particular co-operative in a community. Hannah visited this group for the first time this year and noted that for a young organization, it’s very organized, dedicated to implementing economically sustainable organic agriculture and capable of supporting its members.

We’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to Guatemala over the past four years and in 2014 we bought more coffee from this country than any other. Good geography, good varieties, good processing techniques and powerful small farmer organizations make this the country in Central America that we keep investing in to suit our growth.

Rollout Dates and Availability

With the exception of La Voz, all of these coffees are available now in the form that you will taste them, and La Voz is roasted a little bit darker in Farmhouse.
La Voz Women's Compost ProjectCooperatives that are concerned both with the environment and with the quality of their coffee are aware of the need for organic compost. Organic compost can be expensive to buy, however, it is relatively easy to make your own if you have some initial capital, especially when you have a willing and able labor force within your cooperative.

This spring, La Voz que Clama en el Desierto, a cooperative out of San Juan de la Laguna in Guatemala that we have worked with for the last four years, applied for funding through our Seeds initiative and was one of the two projects that was selected and approved. Counter Culture and La Voz split the costs of the project down the middle with Counter Culture’s funds covering the majority of the material inputs and La Voz’s segment covering a lot of the labor needs.

Not only did the project focus on compost creation from start to finish (delivery of materials, mixing materials, distributing ready made compost, storing compost for later use) it also had a unique focus on female cooperative members. In total, 60 women received the completed compost to spread on their coffee parcels. Over 35 hectares were fertilized. While there isn’t a direct correlation between solid agricultural practices and cup quality, it bears noting that this year was the first year we sold La Voz’s coffee as a single origin and we have high hopes that this trend will continue in the coming years.

Each year we open the window for Seeds applications once in the spring and once in the fall, ready to support initiatives at the community level that work toward sustainable agriculture and food security efforts at origin. The next cycle for Seeds applicants will begin mid-September and we anticipate more noteworthy applicants and initiatives ahead and producers and producer groups are encouraged to apply here.

In partnership for inspiring work at origin,

Hannah Popish

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Fab Four

Those of us who attended Wednesday’s “Pro Dev: Ethiopian Varieties” were lucky enough to get a sneak peek at and taste of the four single-farmer coffees that we’ll taste this Friday. I don’t know about you guys, but I can’t wait to taste them again! It’s no exaggeration to say that these are some of the best coffees that we’ll have this year, regardless of how you define “best”.

Notes on the Coffees

Olke Birre is a farmer from the kabele, or village, of Haru, who grows mostly Kudhume-variety coffee at an elevation of over 2000 meters. He was one of the first participants in this single-farmer program that we met (at our organic composting workshop in 2013, to which he arrived wearing a gold medal and a blinding smile) and we are especially pleased to have this coffee this year because last year it was promised to another roaster before we had a chance to express our interest. Also, because it is practically perfect.

Mesele Haile lives about a mile from downtown Yirgacheffe in Hafursa, which is a name that Counter Culture old-timers will remember. He grows mostly Wolisho-variety coffee with a smaller percentage of Kudhume and Dega, and his farm sits at 1,800 meters. We also met Mesele at the composting workshop and, in fact, the culmination of that workshop, the collective building of a composting bin, and a coffee ceremony for forty of us took place on his farm.  This coffee arrived tasting a little flatter than we had hoped, so we are tweaking the roast and looking at this coffee closely before we roll it out.

Elias Benata grows mostly Wolisho, but also has some Dega and Kudhume on his farm, which is in the kebele of Biloya at around 1,800 meters. The first single-farmer lots we committed to purchase from YCFCU last year were sundried natural coffees, which takes just as much skill to produce as washed coffee, but requires less up-front investment in infrastructure than building a full washing station on a farm.

Like Elias, Aleme Wako (note that it’s Aleme - pronounced AL-eh-meh, not Alemu, as previously spelled) is a farmer in Biloya, who produces sundried natural coffees on his farm. In Kochere, which is south of the Yirgacheffe district, the farms tend to be a little bigger and newer than farms in Yirgacheffe, and with sixteen acres each, Elias and Aleme have large farms for co-op members.

While we can’t help but get excited about every delicious single-farmer coffee we taste, it’s also important to us to reinforce the relationships we’ve built over the years, so it’s no coincidence that these lots come from the familiar kabeles of Haru and Biloya.

Rollout Dates and Availability

All of these coffees are slated to roll out Friday, August 29, though the squirrely spelling of Amharic names and our desire to continue finessing Mesele Haile’s coffee might mean we begin with two and roll the other two later in the week.


This was my third trip to the Yungas region outside of the larger town, Caranavi, in Bolivia. Maybe it's because it was the first trip I ever took with Counter Culture or maybe because Bolivia is unique no matter how you look at it, this country, its struggles and successes, and its people continue to captivate.

This year, I visited with our long-standing partners from the Cenaproc cooperative who bring us the coffee we know as Nueva Llusta. Last year, there were some outstanding single-producer lots—Justina Ramos, Luis Huayhua, Pedro Quispe, Dionicio Quispe, and Irene Gomez, among them. I wanted to check on the forward motion of this single-producer project, as well as the group as a whole. I also visited with our exporting partner, Maria Ndia, and scouted new relationships through another exporter.

This year is a rough one in Bolivia—weather patterns have led to heavier and more prolonged rain than expected. This in turn has led to a later harvest and lower volumes. Even though the volume would have been lower this year anyway, an almost 40% decrease was not projected. Lower down the mountain, rust has started to become an issue. Higher up the mountain, frozen coffee beans.

However—when coffee is your business, on the producer end and on the roaster end—we find places of hope and we make plans. Over a decade of working with Cenaproc has us well-positioned to support each other in challenging years and lift up how delicious we know coffee from their region to be. We will likely see coffee from Bolivia starting in January or February this year—welcoming back old friends and potentially adding a few new ones to the line up.

Muchos Saludos!
Hannah Popish
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports
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Chelsea in her beekeeping gearChelsea Thoumsin, our local customer service representative in Philadelphia, wrote to us excited about the success she has had with beekeeping—a hobby that she has continued to fund in part with support from Counter Culture’s Green Fund. Here is some buzz around the hobby in Chelsea’s own words:

This is my second year beekeeping. Last year, I helped Paul, bee enthusiast and coffee fan, with his two Langstroth hives in the suburbs and learned a lot as an "apprentice." Back in April, we moved one of the hives—we shall call it the Western hive from here on out—from the suburbs of Berwyn, approximately 20 miles away, to Center City, Philadelphia.

Since the Western hive was basically a full hive already with probably 30,000 bees post-winter, they had relatively little issue starting up in their new habitat. I'm sure the first couple weeks were really confusing, as bees have a little GPS system in their heads and are very much creatures of habit when it comes to favorite food and water sources. Reorienting is serious work. I remember LOTS of bees just flying around in circles during these first weeks trying to reprogram their paths. The human equivalent would be if one were to be blindfolded and dropped off without Google Maps or even a compass. Go ahead! Find your way home.

It's been almost four months since the hives were set up, and it's still hard for me to believe that they're up and running on a balcony in a relatively small space. I like to call it "EXTREME URBAN BEEKEEPING" (mostly in jest). A few weeks ago, I was able to harvest about three gallons of honey from the Western hive. The sales of that honey, along with the awesome Green Fund money supply, has practically covered all beekeeping expenses up to this point.

After my latest inspection or biweekly check-in on the general health of the bees, I decided to make a split with the Western hive. This hive is so strong and healthy that I would love to keep that going. I ordered more materials and built out another hive last week. I took five or so frames of brood (baby bees), food, some nurse bees, and the Western queen, put them into the new hive body and let them go from there. The Western hive will make another queen, and they'll be good to go before wintertime. That's the plan, anyway.

Andrew of Farm51 has been a really great friend and bee-resource, as well. We have helped each other a lot in the bee-scape of things.
Chelsea's bees from the Western hive
It feels really great to have such good support in doing this. Even though I've done all I could with my Green Fund dollars, I really don't think I could have gotten this far this easily without the fund. For reference, one hive's materials from start to finish usually ends up being about $500. As you gain more experience, you can trim some of the fat off this cost, but the woodenware and shipping of goods alone is usually a couple hundred bucks.

If you have any questions at all about what I'm up to with the bees, please reach out. I'm learning more all the time, and it's fascinating to see these ladies—and gents, can't forget the drones—work so hard for the greater purpose of their bee-community.

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New Wave

These are heady times for coffee lovers as we present one new coffee after another. This week, we will taste three freshly arrived coffees, including Finca Nueva Armenia from the lovable Jorge and Javier Recinos, the berry-bomb Banko Gotiti Sundried Natural, and delicious Decaf La Voz.

Style of Tasting

Storytime!

I’m going to suggest that this week you break out the espro presses and really enjoy telling stories and talking about the flavors and provenances of these coffees in a more casual way than cupping allows.

Notes on the Coffees

Finca Nueva Armenia is back and the good news is that it tastes good! You’ll find fruit notes in this week’s coffee that you might have associated with the microlot from Grotto in years past, and this brings us to the bad news, which is that this year, Grotto’s coffee is the only coffee from the farm that made the cut for us to sell as a single-origin offering.

As we have for many years, we purchased all of the farm’s coffee, but we are using all but 25 bags of Grotto in blends and products like Toscano, which is currently 70% Finca Nueva Armenia. The farm’s elevation and old trees left it vulnerable to coffee leaf rust, and we taste the grassy, nutty effects of false maturation more in the 2014 crop than we did in 2013.

Grotto, which is the highest of the farm’s coffee-growing parcels, has fared better and coffee from that area tastes good, so we knew we wanted to sell it. Because it always feels weird to have a microlot without a main lot, we opted to brand it as Finca Nueva Armenia. Heck, when you look at it that way, Finca Nueva Armenia has never tasted so good!

This coming year, your faithful coffee department will work hard with the Recinos brothers to increase the volume of coffee we’re excited to feature, and, thankfully, we have enough years together that neither party has any question whether it’s worthwhile to invest in the work—or whether it’s possible to succeed—in overcoming these obstacles to quality.

Banko Gotiti Sundried Natural is a coffee we want you to be familiar with for a couple of reasons: first,  because its arrival will bring joy not only to those who love to drink straight sundried natural coffees, but also to everyone who regularly drinks Rustico—and that’s got to be a fair number of us, right? Second, this lot of Banko represents the evolution of our strategy for buying coffees in and around Yirgacheffe. (This comes from Gedeb, which is an area south of Kochere, which is south of Yirgacheffe town).

Most of you will remember the first coffee we bought from this village in early 2013: a washed lot from a private mill/exporter, bought because a) our coffees from YCFCU had not arrived and b) it tasted good. We struggled at the time to balance promoting it enthusiastically for having great flavors without confusing this "spot" coffee with the coffees that we actually work on and have an attachment to. Despite the struggle, the quality of Banko Gotitit’s coffee, the elevation of the farms, and the preciseness of the coffee picking wasn’t lost on us, so when YCFCU presented us the option to buy coffee from a burgeoning farmer co-op they were working with in this area, we jumped at the chance. The farmer co-op belonging to YCFCU in Banko Gotiti has only produced sundried natural coffees. Lest you think that’s a strike against them, I’ll add that their sundried natural coffees have won awards among all of the coffees produced in this style by co-ops under the YCFCU umbrella—but they are planning to build a washing station for the coming year’s harvest.

The quality of cherry selection in this area leads to this lot being one of the berriest sundried natural coffees we have tasted, and we look forward to more from this group in the future.

We have put Decaf La Voz back on the table this week because the last time we tasted it, we were still tweaking the roast in anticipation of the roll out, and this represents the coffee and the flavors that our customers—and those of us tough enough for decaf—will be tasting in this coffee. Just like dialing in a coffee for espresso, dialing in a roast is all about tasting, adjusting, and tasting again.

In that vein, it bears noting that both Banko Gotiti and Finca Nueva Armenia are a little bit darker this week than they will be in production, due to, you guessed it, dialing in the roast profiles of these brand-new coffees.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Decaf La Voz rolled out a few weeks ago, Banko Gotiti left the building for the first time on Monday, and Finca Nueva Armenia is slated for August 22.
Counter Culture Coffee and All About Beer Magazine have collaborated with Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. to create “No Middle Ground,” a limited-edition IPA made with cold-brewed coffee. The beer features washed Haru from Ethiopia and an experimental hop known as “291,” giving the beer a bright, fruit-forward flavor profile. No Middle Ground will be available on tap during special tasting events at Counter Culture’s eight regional training centers.

Berkley, CA, on 10/15 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. PT

New York on 10/16 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.

Philadelphia on 10/23 from 6:00-8:00 p.m.