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Thanks for your patience and understanding with the Thanksgiving order fulfillment delay.Our roasting and production departments will be closed on Thanksgiving Day—Thursday, November 26—and the day after. Orders placed after midnight Tuesday, November 24, will be held for roasting and shipping on Monday, November 30.

Orders in transit may experience a slight delay, as the US Postal Service is closed Thursday.

Thanks for your patience and understanding. We hope that you have a safe and happy holiday weekend!


POSTED IN: coffee
Since 2002, coffee has been a major export for East Timor.Sustainability Manager Meredith Taylor visited East Timor last month. It was the first time anyone from Counter Culture has visited the country. Since 2002, coffee has been a major export for East Timor, and Meredith was excited for the opportunity to check out this under-the-radar origin.

Read Meredith's trip report on Flickr.

Pre-competitive collaboration is among the emerging trends in coffee industry sustainability efforts.I started working in coffee a bit accidentally—happening upon a job as a barista until I "figured out what I really wanted to be." After a few years on the job, my former-boss here at Counter Culture, Kim Ionescu, suggested I apply for the Specialty Coffee Association of America's Sustainability Council. Being on the council opened my eyes to how other folks were thinking about the intersection of sustainability and coffee, and I realized I'd found my career path after all. Throughout my time as a barista, shop manager, and then in customer service for Counter Culture, I always came back from industry events that touch on sustainability with a renewed energy—inspired by the prevailing spirit of idealism and collaboration.

I'm happy to say that this feeling hasn't waned in my new position as Counter Culture's Sustainability Manager. I recently had the fortune of experiencing it once again at the National Coffee Association's (NCA's) Sustainability Summit. I participated in the conference itself, as well as some side meetings, and was struck by the convergence of these separate groups on what's needed to make the coffee industry more sustainable and how to move the sector forward. I'm one of those people who always likes to know the big picture on a topic, and, in that spirit, I'd like to share two of the trends I observed in progress at this summit:

Working Toward an Industry Definition of "Sustainable Coffee"
As I said in my NCA presentation, it's not that the lack of an industry-wide definition of "sustainable coffee" is stopping us from working on the issues we know are related—climate change, food security, and environmental protection to name a few. Instead, the lack of a definition makes it hard to establish a baseline for whether initiatives we try are, in fact, making coffee more sustainable. The lack of a shared definition also makes it difficult to communicate to consumers whether or not the coffee they're buying is sustainable or at least moving in that direction. The exciting news on this front is that there's a new industry-wide initiative in the works that's working to propose a definition. I really hope Counter Culture will be involved with this work and that I can write about what's sure-to-be a messy-but-exhilarating process on this blog!

Pre-Competitive Collaboration
Another trend tied very closely to defining sustainable coffee is working with other companies, even direct competitors, on projects in communities where coffee is grown and processed. As a roaster, for example, we share many supply chain partners with other roasters, and there's a growing realization that we can make a bigger impact on issues like food security in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, for example, if we pool resources with other folks also sourcing coffee in that region.

If we're all working within a shared industry vision of what sustainable coffee is, we can design research and implement shared projects that are much-better coordinated across coffee-growing regions instead of doing one-off projects within our own supply chains. For example, the Coalition for Coffee Communities, of which Counter Culture is a member, is working on a landscape survey and gap analysis project in Jinotega, Nicaragua, and the results will help companies figure out how best to work collaboratively in that region. Hopefully, this will lead to producers, exporters, importers, non-governmental organizations, and government bodies all working together with shared metrics and goals—something that sounds simple, but hasn't been the model in the coffee industry in the past.

I came back from the NCA Summit with an enormous amount of renewed energy and a great reminder of why I work in coffee: The industry is full of people dedicated to sustainability—regardless of their job title—and we're nothing if not relentlessly ideal. A sustainable coffee industry has the potential to make a huge global impact, and I'm excited for what we'll be able to accomplish working together.

Meredith Taylor
As I've said in previous posts, we have some awesome employees here at Counter Culture who think about sustainability not only at work, but in their own lives, as well. One of these sustainably-minded folks is Chelsea Thoumsin, the customer support representative at our Philadelphia Training Center. Chelsea knows more about bees than anyone I've ever met and, given that we depend on flowering plants for coffee, I asked her to write about her work with the Pollinator Project and shed some light on the importance of pollinators. –Meredith

In Pennsylvania alone, beekeepers experienced an average of 60% of honeybee colony loss in the April of 2014–April 2015 season."I keep hearing in the news that the bees are dying. Why's that? And what can I do to help?" As a beekeeper, I am on the receiving end of these and many other insect-related questions. These two, in particular, essentially spurred the creation of the Pollinator Project—wildflower seed packets designed to help honeybees and other integral pollinators.

Just how dire is the honeybee situation, anyway? In Pennsylvania alone, beekeepers experienced an average of 60% of honeybee colony loss in the April of 2014–April 2015 season, and, according to Science Daily, the national average of recorded losses was more than 40%. These numbers are staggering, but also considered "normal" over the past decade or so. Extreme losses indicate a larger, more convoluted issue of honeybee health and survival.

These are just a few of the factors of what can cause a colony to die: pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, starvation (due to lack of a variety of nectar and pollen-producing plants), stress of environmental change, agricultural stress (including migratory beekeeping), prematurely failing queen bees, varroa mites, disease (such as American/European foulbrood), tracheal mites, nosema, wax moths, and small hive beetles.

But why do we need pollinators? Pollinators facilitate plant reproduction, and, without them, we wouldn't have more than 85% of both food and plant resources in the world. Honeybees alone are responsible for about 30% of our food resources. Coffee trees are self-pollinating, but studies have shown a 15-50% increase in production when honeybees are aiding that pollination. To state it another way, the loss of pollinating bees would result in about a 33% reduction in coffee production.

Supporting the survival of honeybees is relatively simple for the average citizen: plant pollinator-friendly flowers. That alone provides a more habitable environment for honeybees, bumblebees, hundreds of species of native bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, wasps and hornets (yes, they're important, too), and hummingbirds. Lack of food, aka "forage" to us bee folk, is one of the main contributors of the honeybee's decline, not to mention the vast reduction in populations of other effective and very necessary pollinators we often forget about.

Pollinators facilitate plant reproduction, and, without them, we wouldn't have more than 85% of both food and plant resources in the world.While the idea of sprinkling wildflower seeds to make the world a happier and better place for honeybees seems like a Lisa-Frankean pipe dream, it truly does make a difference in the ecosystem at large. Wildflowers are hearty, they provide habitat for insects and birds, they re-seed easily, and they take minimal resources to maintain and propagate. Pollinator Project seed varieties are selected with the intention of providing forage during all seasons possible.

Since April of 2015, when Pollinator Project came to fruition, enough wildflower seeds have been purchased (and presumably, planted) to cover more than 3 full acres—that's more than 130,000 square feet of land—in solid wildflower mass. This certainly isn't nothing, and the repercussions are great since these wildflowers re-seed and exponentially increase their numbers each season. Another mission of Pollinator Project is to focus on education with the goal of demystifying the role of pollinators—and how we can better support them for their (and our) future. I've hosted presentations for groups ranging from high school students to residents of a boutique hotel, but one common theme rings true: It's inspiring to experience others wanting to make a positive change—for pollinators or otherwise—and I am thankful that Pollinator Project can do just that.

–Chelsea Thoumsin

Pollinator Project is a small business in Philadelphia that fills up much of Chelsea's free time. Twenty percent of proceeds go The Xerces Society.

Our 2016 Origin Field Lab will be in Honduras!March 13–19, 2016

On this weeklong trip, students participate in each step of the coffee production process at origin—from harvest to export—and learn about the benefits and challenges of building long-term coffee relationships.

The 2016 Origin Field Lab will cover the complexities of contemporary coffee farming in general, and in Honduras in particular, and with on-site experiences which will illuminate the intricacies of coffee cultivation and processing for farms of varying sizes.

(Application limited to Counter Culture's wholesale customers.)

We've been working hard over the last few weeks to prepare our upcoming 2014 Transparency Report. One of the metrics we include every year in this report is the "FOB" price paid for each coffee. Following an internal review of the draft report this week, I got some really good questions about this metric merit a post on the topic of price transparency.

FOB stands for "Free On Board" and represents the price paid for a coffee at the point of export, when it is ready to be loaded onto a ship at port. In terms of the coffee supply chain, it's a point that falls somewhere in the middle between what the farmer gets paid and what Counter Culture pays. This is because there are a number of supply-chain steps between us and the farmer: the mill, exporter, international shipper, importer, warehouser, and domestic shipper to name a few. Each of these steps serves a purpose, and each adds cost to a coffee. The wrinkle is that every coffee supply chain is different: Sometimes the mill and the exporter are the same entity; sometimes the coffee comes through a co-op; etc. There are also important distinctions at the farm level between a farmer who does their own processing and a farmer that delivers coffee cherries to a mill, for example. To compare them on the same standard would be confusing. The only point in the supply chain that is guaranteed to happen for every coffee is that it will get on a boat bound for the U.S., and that's why the FOB price is the standard reporting metric in the coffee industry.

The problem with the FOB price metric is that it's neither what the farmer gets paid for coffee, nor the price Counter Culture pays for green coffee. So why do we use it? Isn't knowing what the farmer got paid what we're really after? Well, yes. And, in many cases, we do know how much the farmer actually got paid. But how is knowing that a farmer in Burundi got paid $3.00/lb helpful? How is knowing that or the FOB price helpful, or meaningful across local (country) and international markets? My point is this: Knowing what the farmer gets paid isn't meaningful without a whole lot of context. What we really want to get at is fairness. Is that farmer getting paid a fair share of the final retail price for their contribution to that coffee's supply chain?

The answer to that question is in traceability. Any single price point in the coffee supply chain doesn't mean much; what's really important is how all of the pieces fit together. Can we look at a coffee's supply chain, trace the costs that get added to it between the farmer and Counter Culture, and justify those price points?

Our coffee-buying philosophy is to build supply-chain relationships and use them to push the quality and sustainability of coffees. This philosophy doesn't work unless everyone in the supply chain is committed to it as well. For example, let's say a coffee will taste better if we can speed up the time between harvest and shipment to Counter Culture. Everyone in the supply chain will need to be involved to make that happen and will likely incur cost to do so. If we're successful, everyone should also share in that success, and the only way we can be sure that's happening is through traceability.

Right now, we're reporting the FOB price because, as a common industry-wide metric, that allows you to compare us to other companies. That's just the beginning of what we'd like to do. To be able to incentivize quality and sustainability improvements, to fill in that context that's missing with FOB price, we need to be able to trace price throughout every coffee's supply chain. Then, we need to figure out how to report on that traceability. The forthcoming 2014 Transparency Report is the first step of many in that direction.

Price transparency is a complicated topic, and what I've laid out here only scratches the surface. In a future post, I'll fill in some of the details I've left out here—with specific examples from our supply chains and how traceability has played an important part in those examples.
We believe that forming relationships across the coffee supply chain is the best way to improve coffee quality and sustainability. These buying relationships are similar to social relationships in that the most successful ones are built on good communication and reciprocity. We ask a lot from the people who grow our coffee, and, in turn, we want to support them in what they need to have sustainable livelihoods.

We created our Seeds program in 2010 as a formal mechanism to support coffee-growing communities. Getting high quality coffee from a farmer or co-op isn't just the result of meticulous growing and processing—it requires a strong community to support those growers. Seeds supports social and environmental projects that work to strengthen the coffee communities where we buy coffee. We support 4–5 projects per year, chosen from applications submitted by our growing partners.

Our coffee department's recent travels have given us the opportunity to check in on two Seeds-funded projects from years past: Jovenes Lideres at CENFROCAFE in Peru and the Baroida Plantation School in Papua New Guinea.

We've worked with CENFROCAFE cooperative in San Ignacio, Peru, since 2007. Its members produce our Valle del Santuario, Chirinos, and Huabal coffees. In 2011, CENFRO applied for Seeds funding to start a Jovenes Lideres or Youth Leaders program. By training youth to offer quality control and technical agricultural assistance, co-op leaders hoped to combat some of the issues facing youth in many rural coffee communities: lack of opportunities for jobs and educational development. These issues have lead to high levels of immigration away from rural areas to cities—and sometimes to other countries. Recognizing the need to provide attractive opportunities for the rural youth in their communities, CENFRO developed a set of training programs to provide them with coffee-related job training.

Back from visiting CENFRO just over a week ago, our head roaster Ben Horner had the opportunity to meet two "jovenes" working for the co-op as cuppers after completing quality control training. In creating this program to identify and train youth leaders, CENFRO is a great example of a progressive and forward-thinking co-op.

"With the Jovenes program, CENFROCAFE has identified two areas that are vital to their long-term growth and success: technical assistance on farms and quality analysis in the lab," Ben observed. "The co-op has invested in developing this knowledge and these skills in a select group of their youngest members. It's rare and very impressive to see an organization with such far-sighted priorities. And this is a big reason why we've worked with CENFRO for so long: They're a very progressive cooperative.”

Since we began buying from them in 2010, Chris and Melody Colbran—owners of the Baroida farm in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea—have put a lot of work into improving their coffees, Baroida and Tairora. This relationship is unique in that we get one coffee, Baroida, harvested from the Colbran's own trees, and another coffee, Tairora, harvested from farms in the surrounding villages. The Colbrans recognize that this tie between the Baroida estate and surrounding villages is important and built a school on their property in 2009 to support the coffee growing communities in the area. While they've completed construction and are currently using the school, they've had trouble attracting good teachers willing to travel to and live in this isolated area of Papua New Guinea.

The Colbrans need somewhere for teachers to live near the school and applied for Seeds funding in 2015 to construct teacher housing. When Counter Culture’s head buyer Tim visited the Colbrans in July, they were just getting started on the teacher housing and hope to have most of the buildout complete by the end of the year.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to support and build resilient coffee communities, and that work is bigger than what Counter Culture can accomplish through the Seeds program. Recognizing the need for more collaboration to tackle some of the big issues like hunger and climate change adaptation, we’re working on forming partnerships with other like-minded roasters and I’ll be writing about that soon. Even with those large-scale efforts, however, it’s important to us that we continue to support our partners and to be part of the give and take that comes with any good relationship.
When I first started in this position as Sustainability Manager a few months ago, I knew that one of my biggest tasks would be strengthening our internal sustainability. As I've mentioned before, we've spent a lot of our efforts up to this point focusing on origin programs. It's not that we didn't make any progress on our own operations, it just tended to happen in fits and starts, without an overarching plan. I thought all we needed to do was put some systems into place and and off we'd go.

Now, a few months older and wiser, I realized my plan wasn't really matching up with what I've talked about in almost every blog post: continuous improvement. Sure, if we put systems into place, I think we'd undoubtedly make some gains in areas like waste reduction, but, once those systems were up and running, those gains would eventually stagnate.

We started off 2015 asking every team to come up with a sustainability goal, and our teams came up with some great project ideas. As my understanding of sustainability at Counter Culture grew, I realized that, in asking for these team goals, we'd potentially set ourselves up for a bunch of one-time projects that would only last a year in duration. Not exactly continuous improvement. Instead, we asked the teams to reimagine their goals as initiatives—something that might start as a project, but ends up changing the way that team does day-to-day business. In other words, something that's cumulative as opposed to being finite.

These are Counter Culture's 2015 Team Sustainability Initiatives:

Team 2015 Initiative
Operations Conduct a waste audit and use the results of this audit to create a bin map and mini-training for the team
Support Measure waste, compost, and recycling at the regional training centers, creating a tracking system and entering data each month
Sales Work with the Tech team to classify the equipment Counter Culture sells based upon efficiency of water and energy use; Incorporate this information into sales conversations and make recommendations on how to use equipment most efficiently
Sustainability/IT/Finance/HR Develop a new employee benefit around volunteer hours
Coffee Ensure that every long term coffee-buying relationship has a yearly environmental improvement goal
Counter Intelligence Contextualize resource use in labs by incorporating usage data into presentations and choosing one sustainability metric for each lab
Marketing Amend their editorial calendar for site posts, email newsletters, and social media to include sustainability items on a regular schedule

If these initiatives work as planned, our internal operations will become increasingly sustainable year over year. Equally as important, every team gets the opportunity to get involved with sustainability, and, knowing my co-workers, that's something everyone will appreciate.