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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.

 

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Twice as Nice

Idido and Haru are names that have become very familiar to us as Counter Culture has steadily deepened our relationship with the Yirgacheffe Coffee Farmer Co-operative Union’s washing stations in these two villages near Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Every year we aim to increase the amount of coffee we buy from these two groups, as well as to explore the most exciting new coffees and flavors that we can find, and this year we have both more volume and more unique offerings from this incredible region of the coffee-growing world than we have ever had before.

Notes on the Coffees

Haru and Idido represent a shift in Counter Culture’s perspective on coffees from Ethiopia (and, it could probably be argued, from East Africa in general). Until we focused on these washing stations, we were basically just cupping coffees every year to see what we liked, and it was difficult for us to have much of a story to tell about any individual coffee or to feel justified investing time, energy and money in building relationships. By committing to YCFCU and staking a claim to these two washing stations, we weren’t necessarily saying that other washing stations were incapable of producing equally great coffee, or that no one else could buy coffee from these groups, but that we would rather try to get to know these groups and try to realize any untapped potential that they had than to cup through samples to find the best ones.

Over the past four years, we have undertaken experiments at the co-op level with Haru in processing and at both washing stations to sort coffees and gauge the results, and we have also gotten to know some individual farmer members of these washing stations through visits and the organic compost workshop we hosted in 2013. YCFCU’s manager Takele Mammo has always been involved in these projects—if not their coordinator—and he has been, generally, enthusiastic about experiments and ideas for special, unique, higher-value coffees.

When he announced in 2013 that YCFCU would, for the first time, sell coffees from individual members who process their coffee on their own equipment on their farms, we couldn’t wait to try them. We were quite pleased with the lots we bought from Mammo Boki and Tegegu Ocholo, but we did recognize the potential conflict between supporting the co-operatively owned washing stations and diverting attention to these single-producer projects (unlike growers of our single-producer lots from Latin America, farmers like Mammo Boki have infrastructure and scale that is very different than most farms in Yirgacheffe and out of reach of many members of these co-ops).

What to do? Well, we decided that instead of choosing between them, we would choose to both continue growing with and supporting the co-ops and also buy coffee from individual growers, ideally members of these co-ops and communities with whom we have relationships. In addition to the Idido and Haru we’re happily sipping now, we are anticipating the arrival of single-farmer lots from Elias Banata, Olke Birre, Alame Wako and Mesele Haile with excitement. They ought to be great! On that note, though, in our blind cupping of pre-ship samples, Idido still took all the votes for best coffee on the table, so don’t let your appetite for the goodies to come keep you from stopping to smell the roses, or more likely, jasmine, in your cups this week.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Idido and Haru are both rocking and rolling right now, so order up!
Bryan Duggan and WaterRx Water FiltrationThere have been some notable changes around our company in regard to water filtration. To gain a better understanding of the new facets of filtration and its impact on our facilities and our customers, Hannah Popish, Coffee Buyer’s Agent, sat down with Bryan Duggan, Technical Department Manager and lead mastermind of the new system.

H: What made you realize it was time for a change in regard to how we manage water filtration at our headquarters?
B: Well, we changed filtration here because we started working with WateRx in New York. We were looking for a better option to recommend for our customers (cafes), and a great coffee shop called REX told us about these WateRX. All the units are really customizable so the water qualities can be exactly as you want them to be. The three units we have here are made so that we can change the makeup of the filters internally and thus the taste of the water pretty easily.

H: What can you tell us about WateRx and why did you decide to use them?
B: WaterRx is a company based out of Cincinnati, Ohio, and they are a national water filtration brand. We decided to go with them because the filters are super reliable, they need very little service and upkeep and they last significantly longer than any other filters we’ve used in the past. This ties into the green aspect of the filter—the medium, meaning the filtration material, is all natural minerals and rocks. Once you need a filter change you can dump it outside with no issue and no disturbance to the natural environment. We were really sold when we realized how durable the filtration is and it’s unique ability to process large volumes of water—the filters never break!

H: Can you give us a breakdown of how the filtration works?
B: First, water enters through the top of the unit and then there are three layers of medium (made up of rocks, sand, salt, and resin) that remove unwanted items from the water. Unwanted items include bacteria, rust, dirt, chlorine, arsenic, mercury, odor, and color.

H: What is the key takeaway for people who don’t know much of anything about water, water filtration, and its impact on coffee and the environment?
B: Number one would be that properly filtered water makes your coffee taste better. Second and equally important is that adequately filtered water makes your machines last longer. Sustainably speaking, the tanks we are using now only have to be recharged 50,000 gallons, or every 12-18 months, and can be reused. Our previous filters only lasted 3-6 months and had to be thrown away. 

H: What does “adequately filtered water” mean exactly?
B: The simple answer is that it is water that is free of chlorides, arsenic and anything harmful. The water also has a balanced hardness. We have used the set of parameters that La Marzocco recommends for our water.

H: What else do you want us to know about the filters?
B: The big filter that we use in the coffee and tech departments track the amount of water used. The tracking means that you can check on averages used and you can decide if you need to reduce your usage and it allows you to know your carbon impact. Also, this makes it easier to know when you need to “recharge” the system, meaning, swap out the old filtration material.

H: Who currently uses this filtration?
B: A handful of our accounts are already implementing the new filtration: Open City in Washington DC, OK Café in Astoria, NY, Brunswick in Brooklyn, and Big Bear in Washington DC. In terms of our training centers they are in place in NY, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Durham and we are recommending the filtration for all new accounts in those areas.

H: What’s next in the world of water filtration?
B: We will continue to develop our water parameters so that we can make the water taste as delicious as possible for our coffees. As we calibrate we will move this filtration into all of our TCs. WateRx is a great partner to continue to work with!


Normally, we don't visit Ethiopia and Kenya in July. The harvest is long past, and the coffees—hopefully—have long-been shipped. However, this year, with so many projects we are working towards, we knew that spending more time face-to-face with the people we are working with was going to be needed.

A few of you also know that I have a 8-month-old boy. And, even though his middle name is Addis, after Ethiopia of course, leaving him to go to Addis Ababa and other countries in Africa is tough. So my plan: 4 countries, 11 days. Not only were Kenya and Ethiopia musts, Rwanda and Burundi are just finishing up their harvest for the year, and this is normally the time I get to catch up with the producers of Buziraguhindwa, Mpemba, and Remera. So that was a must, as well.

With that please take a stroll through, my 4/11 trip report.

Honestly, this whirlwind trip showed me how important working with the right people is to the success of any coffee and any project.

-Tim Hill, Coffee Buyer and Quality Control Manager
POSTED IN: coffee, origin reports

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Seasonal Shift

We chose this week’s three coffees because they’re all new, which is a very good reason for all of us to taste them and a tried-and-true recipe for a fun Friday morning at Counter Culture Coffee.

Style of Tasting

Cupping

Pretend it’s 2010, back before we began questioning the sanctity of the three-coffee-Friday-cupping formula, and line these suckers up.

Notes on the Coffees

This is the first year we have decaffeinated coffee from La Voz in Guatemala and I’m sure glad we did, because this is a really good decaf from a coffee grower group we really like working with. It’s challenging to keep decaffeinated coffees tasting fresh and we work hard to offer single-origin decafs that meet the same standards for quality, transparency and relationships as our more popular, celebrated, caffeinated single-origin coffees. It takes a while to get coffee to Swiss Water Decaf in Vancouver and then back down here, and in this case, in the time between this coffee’s shipment from Guatemala and its arrival in Durham, we managed to sell through all of this year’s caffeinated coffee from La Voz. Fear not, it will return next year and meanwhile, I encourage you to treat this decaf with respect because it’s a far sight better—by any measure—than what most decaf drinkers are used to imbibing.

We have all become familiar with Concepcion Huista over the past few years, which is the name of the town in northeastern Huehuetenango where the Codech co-operative has its headquarters. Coffee arrives at Codech from a myriad of communities and farmer groups around Concepcion Huista and this year, one of our goals with the co-op was to isolate a few communities where we knew, based on topographical information and our tasting experience, that some of the best coffees were growing. This week we taste coffee from farms in and around Pojtaj (pronounce the j with an exhalation most similar to the h for something resembling pohhh-TAHHH), which is one of two single-community lots we have. We haven’t yet decided whether we want to sell Pojtaj or Tzunhuitz (zoon-WEETS) straight, but regardless, you all have a fruity, community-specific coffee to look forward to, as well as a single-farmer lot from a fellow named Pedro Gomez. We have invested a lot of time and energy into Codech because we have tasted coffees from here that are unique in flavor among other Guatemalan coffees and because their growing conditions are among the best in Central America.

The last time we tasted Apollo, it was 100% Haru and I believe I included as a caveat that it might not stay that way for long. Today we taste Apollo made with Idido Grade 2, which is a perfect harmony between coffee and product. According to the Ethiopian system for grading coffees, grade 2 coffees receive less sorting than grade 1 coffees and as a result are a less expensive and generally a little bit less refined (note that I said generally - in fact, in some years from some places, grade 2 coffees have actually out-scored grade 1 coffees). The jury is still out on whether it’s always worth the extra money for the top grade, but in Idido’s case this year, grade one takes top billing so we are selling the fruitier, cleaner Idido Grade 1 straight right now and roasting Idido Grade 2 a little bit darker for Apollo.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Decaf La Voz is available to sell Friday and will be available for the next few months, while Pojtaj (or Tzunhuitz) will roll out another week or so later and probably not last as long. Apollo is available year-round and will be Idido Grade 2 for a while, unless it changes, in which case, we’ll let you know and you’ll likely taste it.