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May 2014 Pro Dev: How Strong is Your Espresso?How strong IS your espresso, really? And, are you sure?

Join Counter Culture for Pro Dev on Wednesday, May 28, at 3 p.m. in our Training Centers as we explore espresso extraction using tools that have become industry standard: the VST coffee and espresso refractometer and the Extract Mojo app.

We’ll discuss how these tools and other VST technology contribute to our understanding of espresso, and why/how Counter Culture uses these tools to objectively measure brewed coffee.

Of course, we’ll be tasting as we go, so come prepared to consume some espresso!

Counter Culture Regional Training Centers host monthly Pro Dev sessions the last Wednesday of the month. Free and open to all coffee professionals.

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Good Judgment 

This week we taste two versions of two coffees: first, long-time favorite Tairora Project from the Eastern Highlands region of Papua New Guinea and a new-to-you coffee from Chema in the Kapchorwa region of Uganda. One bag of each coffee is labeled as tainted or defective, with the Tairora showing flavors of premature aging, or fade, and the Chema smelling and tasting of chemicals.

Notes on the Coffees

We have tasted coffee from the Tairora Project numerous times over the past few months and years, and this isn’t the first time that we have explored its highs and lows by comparing fresh-tasting and faded-tasting Tairoras on a cupping table. In prior tastings, we have acknowledged that Baroida and Tairora aren't necessarily exceptional for being inconsistent when it comes to fading, especially among farms in Papua New Guinea. Rather, they are exceptional for the fact that the Colbrans are happy to bag, label, and ship each day's harvest separately as opposed to blending it all together and mixing the better with the worse. We have also celebrated the work of the roasting department for cupping coffee from every ... single ... bag ... when it arrives before deciding whether it's fit to roast and sell (and over the course of the season, that’s at least 500 bags).

People, including some of you, I’m sure, have asked us whether it's worth the work. The coffee department has always said that it is because the payoff is so good. Tim has worked tirelessly over the past couple of years with Chris Colbran to communicate our experiences and encourage better infrastructure for consistent quality. Being thorough in our assessment and tenacious in the relationship have made it possible to strengthen the relationship and improve quality holistically (not just for Counter Culture's lots) at the same time, which is something we're way better at than the other coffee buyers we know.

If drying is comparatively easy to address, it should be a snap to fix Chema's tainted flavor because the chemical overwhelming the coffee comes from the paint—or perhaps a thinner added to the paint—that is applied to the jute bag. I always find myself feeling a little bit heartbroken when I taste coffees like this because I think about the fate of a bag of coffee hinging on one instant, and I imagine how it could have gone differently. On a less somber note, though, an instance of this same sort of accidental contamination occurred in Honduras in 2007 with ALL of the coffees from the Cup of Excellence competition, and the mill that made the mistake of using bad jute has recovered and since grown to be one of the most successful specialty mills in Central America, if not the world.

Chema's coffee would be a flat-out rejection for many companies, but because we tasted the good stuff first, we knew that some of it was good and as it turns out, only half of the bags are tainted (maybe because someone ran out halfway through, we don’t know). Uganda is a place where we are investing time and energy in cultivating relationships, and this is a new group for us, as well as a relatively young importer. So, instead of dismissing the coffee, we are taking the time to go through it in hopes of building good will and trust for the future.

If this seems like a lot of work, you’re right! As I said before, the payoff is great in Tairora’s case, and it has the potential to be great in Chema’s case, as well. Taking a bigger picture view, these bad flavors pose challenges, but they are of the sort that we as buyers are in a much better position to address than other challenges we face: potato defect, coffee leaf rust and its myriad effects, bad-tasting varieties, and, worst of all, low elevation. Nine times out of 10, if we can taste greatness in an inconsistent coffe,e and the growers or suppliers are willing to put in the work to change that, then we are, too.

Rollout Dates and Availability

We’re down to the final bags of Tairora, so enjoy these slurps! The harvest is underway in Papua New Guinea, and that means next year's crop isn't too far off. Chema will be a component of Number 46 this year, and our future purchases of this coffee aren't yet known, but Uganda is a place with a lot of potential for us. so we'll be hoping to hear, see, and taste more from this group in the months and years to come.

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Newbies

Our coffees this week come from La Voz, a cooperative in San Juan de la Laguna, Guatemala and Dionicio Quispe of the Cenaproc co-operative in Nueva Llusta, Bolivia. They are the newest additions to our offering list.

Notes on the Coffees

The newest newcomer, La Voz: Well, coffee from La Voz is not totally new, as it has been featured in Farmhouse for the last four years. However, it is now its moment to shine and have a spotlight of its own with the name of the cooperative out in front. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, the full name of this cooperative "La Voz que Clama en el Desierto"—or "the voice that cries out in the wilderness"—is one of the best of any we've heard.

Situated right off of Lake Atitlán, they are poised for quality coffee. Yet, we know that ideal growing conditions are only a fraction of what it takes to make what we taste delicious. Co-op leadership and producers put in the work this past harvest and paid great attention to detail in central milling and drying. Despite many coffees from Guatemala this year reflecting inconsistencies, and a decrease in quality due to the ripple effect of leaf rust, La Voz was able to overcome adversity. Honestly, this is the dream trajectory for a cooperative and for buyers: clear steps that lead to clear results.

Dionico Quispe!
As promised, today we will be sipping together Dionicio Quispe's coffee from Nueva Llusta. Despite the fact that we tend to feel less pressure to ensure that coffees from the southern hemisphere arrive early, we also know they'll taste better when they're fresher, so we split up our shipment from Nueva Llusta into two half-lots. In most places, the later part of the harvest captures coffee from higher elevations and tends to produce better quality coffee. Dionicio Quispe's coffee is one of four single-farmer lots we selected from the late-harvest half-lot from Nueva Llusta. Continuing to share single-farmer lots from this group is like finding candy you had forgotten you left somewhere! And, each one has a slightly different flavor than the next. Dionicio's is quite bright and perfect for the warmer temperatures.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Both coffees will be available Monday, May 12. La Voz will likely last 2–4 months. Dionicio Quispe's lot will likely be gone in the blink of an eye—one week +—so, get it while you can!
Oliver Strand wrote about the maturation of the NYC coffee scene in "Where to Find Serious Coffee in New York? Everywhere" for the The New York Times—including a gracious recognition of our NYC Training Center:

"One of the most impressive facilities to open this past year was not a shop. Counter Culture Coffee, from Durham, N.C., turned a former carriage factory in NoLIta into a training center, a 3,600-square-foot, loft-like space with stadium seating. If it were a coffee shop, it would arguably be the best equipped in the city."
 
Our weekly Friday Tasting @ Ten was included along with Everyman Espresso on the accompanying "New York in Nine Coffees" list. The article also features a web-based "101 Places to Find Great Coffee in New York" guide that includes many (many!) of our excellent wholesale partners.

Photo credit: Karsten Moran for The New York Times
POSTED IN: coffee, New York
Congratulations to April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and Ashley Christensen of Poole's Diner, Joule Coffee, and more for winning 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards!

The Spotted Pig's Bloomfield was recognized as Best Chef: New York City, and Christensen was awarded the Best Chef: Southeast honor.

Established in 1990—and often called "The Oscars of Food"—the annual James Beard Foundation Awards honor chefs, restaurants, journalists, cookbook authors, and other food professionals in the United States.
POSTED IN: coffee, Durham, New York

This spring, Counter Culture embarked on an exciting new partnership with six students and a professor at Duke's Nicholas School for the Environment. After discussing research questions casually with Professor Shapiro-Garza for a couple of months, we decided to go all in and work jointly on a master's project that will explore resiliency and issues facing smallholder coffee farmers as they adapt to climate change.

The students have been gearing up for the fieldwork segment of the project which will involve spending time in Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru. In preparation for the fieldwork, the students visited our roastery, co-designed survey tools that will be used to interview people at different levels: from individual households to the farmer cooperative, to key stakeholders in the communities and regions. They have also done literature reviews to help them understand the (admittedly massive) scope of this issue. In addition, Professor Shapiro-Garza and I had extensive conversations with coffee industry actors including certification agency Rainforest Alliance and social lender Root Capital.

We couldn't be more excited to follow along on their journey—which starts right now—and we'd like to invite you to follow along, as well: Facebook and Twitter. We will also periodically post blog entries on our website.

Photo: (left to right) Joanna Furguiele, Brenda Lara, Saira Haider, Martín Ramírez, Mike Younis, and Claire Fox. (Photo credit: Professor Shapiro-Garza).

All the best,
Hannah

 

It has been more than three years since we have changed the prices of our year-round coffees. It has always been our goal to keep our price as low as possible. However, in order to continue sourcing the best coffee and providing excellent value, we are increasing the prices of our blends by approximately 7%.

Effective May 1, 2014, prices for Farmhouse will increase to $14.75 per bag, Decaf Farmhouse to $15.25, No. 46 will to $14.75, Toscano to $14.75, Rustico to $14.75, and Apollo will increase to $15.75 (beginning June 1, 2014).

Thank you for understanding that this price increase means that we can continue to maintain the superior standard of our products and services.
Jonathan Bonchak at teh 2014 US Brewers Cup.Congratulations to 2014 US Barista Champ Laila Ghambari of Cherry Street Coffee House and to 2014 US Brewers Cup champion Todd Goldsworthy of Klatch Coffee. Both advance to the world coffee competitions in Rimini, Italy, June 10–12.

We're proud of all of the hard-working, super-talented coffee professionals from around the country—including our very own 2014 regional winners—who competed in the 2014 US Brewers Cup and Barista competitions in Seattle.

Mid-Atlantic sales rep Jonathan Bonchak—who won the 2014 Southeast Regional Brewers Cup Championship (SEBrC) for the second year in a row—was a finalist in the US Brewers Cup again this year and took fifth place. Great job, Jonathan!

J. Park Brannen—a customer rep from Team NYC—won the Northeast Regional Barista Championship (NERBC) with a polished presentation competed in the US Barista Championship in Seattle with a very strong showing. Great job, Park!

In addition to our inspiring co-workers who did an amazing job in Seattle, a handful of dedicated professionals from our wholesale partners competed ably, as well. 
 

Erika Vonie of Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia—who took second place in the NERBC in January with coffee from our Tairora Project from the Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea—used this coffee again in Seattle. Corey Reilly from Everyman Espresso in New York finished third in the NERBC and competed again in Seattle, as well.

In the Southeast Regional Barista Competition (SERBC), independent barista Dawn Shanks from Peregrine Espresso in Washington, DC, used Counter Culture's Biloya Natural Sundried to earn a third place finish. Dawn competed in Seattle with Idido Natural Sundried. Tim Jones of Jubala Village Coffee in Raleigh came in fourth in the SERBC using a blend of Idido washed and Biloya Natural Sundried, which he used again in the national competition. And, Nathan Nerswick of 5&10 in Athens, GA, rounded out the SERBC finalists in sixth place. Nathan brewed our Baroida coffee—also from the Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea—when he competed in Seattle.

Thanks to all of you for your hard work!