445. Alpha. Bravo. Coffee?

2015 January 22
by Michael Sheridan

I have a lot of travel in the coming months, and have been spending more time than usual dealing with the alphanumeric reservation codes that airlines use.  As I recently Alpha-Bravo-Charlied my way through a conversation with airline staff, a random thought occurred to me: what would a coffee version of the phonetic alphabet look like?

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444. B is for Business model

2015 January 20

The B in “Certified B Corporation” stands for Benefit.  But the B Corp certification may be the best one out there for consumers who want a holistic assessment of a company’s Business model.


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443. A Malacara reunion

2015 January 13

Back in September, I published this interview with my colleague Ivania, who was born as a landless worker on Finca Malacara, one of El Salvador’s most storied coffee estates.

I was moved by Ivania’s story.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

José Guillermo Álvarez Prunera, the Finca Malacara owner affectionately known as “Epe,” was so compelled by the interview that he invited us to his farm. It may have been one those polite invitations he expected us to graciously decline, but we took him up on it.  I am glad we did.

Last week, Epe and his sister, María de los Ángeles Murray Álvarez, opened the gates of Malacara to Ivania and her family.  And Ivania and her family opened the doors of her home to Epe and María de los Ángeles. Both parties were kind enough to invite me and a few colleagues along for what was amounted to an extraordinary reunion of the extended Finca Malacara family.



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442. Counter Culture presents single-variety Borderlands lot from La Florida

2015 January 8

In Nariño, Colombia, we have been working for more than three years to build relationships between the 1,600 smallholder growers who participate in our Borderlands Coffee Project and six allies in the marketplace who are part of the project’s Advisory Council.

This year, four of those companies purchased 41 separate lots from 324 different growers, including 16 community lots and 25 single-farm lots.

No one bought more lots than Counter Culture, which came away from the 2014 havest with more than 20 lots: six community lots and 17 single-farm lots. This week it brings the first of those to market: this single-variety Caturra lot from La Florida, where the project will break ground in 2015 on Nariño’s first washing station.


Counter Culture Quality Manager & Coffee Buyer Tim Hill visits growers in La Florida during the 2014 harvest.


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441. Getting by with a little help from our friends: The Borderlands Advisory Council

2015 January 7

Today: how representatives of six leading specialty coffee companies who share our commitment to transform the coffee chain in Nariño, Colombia, are helping us create opportunities for smallholder farmers and developing new sources of extraordinary coffee.

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440. Revisiting our 2014 New Year’s resolutions

2015 January 6

A year ago we made three New Year’s resolutions on this blog:

  • Generate more results-based evidence.
  • Help the coffee sector navigate uncharted waters.
  • Borrow a page from the microfinance playbook.

Today we revisit those resolutions to see how we did on each one in 2014.

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439. The best of Coffeelands: 2014 in review

2014 December 30

The CRS Coffeelands Blog turned five in November.

Here is the content from the blog’s fifth year that you, the readers, liked the best. Or rather, it is is the content you read the most, since in some cases you did not care too much for what I had to say.

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438. The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings series adjourns (for now)

2014 December 17

Over the past six weeks, this blog has been devoted exclusively to the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings–a series of comparative cuppings of Castillo and Caturra samples from our Borderlands project involving leading roasters and importers in the United States, Europe and Australia.  Even when I took a week off from reporting on the results of the cupping events, I dedicated the blog to a discussion of their implications for agrobiodiversity, smallholder livelihoods, policy and industry buying practices.

For readers into this series, the blog’s focus over the past month and a half has been a source of excitement.  For readers who don’t share their enthusiasm for the issues at stake here, well, not so much.  There is welcome news today for readers who fall into both camps.

Tomorrow the events continue with a cupping in Sydney, but the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings series will adjourn today.  We will resume coverage in April, when the jury in the Colombia Sensory Trial renders its verdict and brings all-new-and-improved perspectives to the conversation that is just getting started here.

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437. The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings: George Howell

2014 December 9

Today I publish an interview with specialty pioneer George Howell–my fifth post in the CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings series.

This year marks 40 years since he started The Coffee Connection in Boston.  The SCAA gave him a lifetime achievement award in 1996 for his uncompromising commitment to coffee quality, but he was hardly done innovating in the name of cup quality and inclusive business models.  His work in the late 1990s with the UN and the International Coffee Organization was instrumental in the creation of the Cup of Excellence, which he led out of the gate.  He has continued to lean on the frontier of coffee quality over the past decade in roasting coffee under the Terroir Coffee and George Howell Coffee brands.

To put George’s experience in coffee in perspective, consider this: four of the five cuppers I interviewed as part of this series before my conversation with George–Tim Hill from Counter Culture, Tim Wendelboe, Intelli QC Director Chris Kornman and Adam McClellan of Stumptown–weren’t even born when George started The Coffee Connection.  The fifth–Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia–was still in diapers.  The guy who runs the ICO turned nine that year.  The guy who runs the SCAA was just starting high school.

In short, George Howell has been one of the industry’s preeminent figures for a long time.  He knows more about coffee and coffee quality than almost everyone else on the planet.

And yet, what he tasted in our Colombian varietal cupping surprised him.

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436. The CRS Colombian Varietal Cuppings: Stumptown

2014 December 2

Today I interview Adam McClellan, green coffee buyer for the iconic Portland-based roaster Stumptown, as we resume our series of conversations with specialty coffee tastemakers regarding their participation in our Colombian Varietal Cuppings.

In September, together with Stumptown’s head roaster and quality control manager, Adam cupped sample pairs from 10 farms in Nariño participating in our Borderlands coffee project.

Going into the the head-to-head Castillo-v-Caturra cuppings, Adam and the Stumptown team preferred Caturra.  Coming out of the experience, they still prefer Caturra.  But the performance of the best Castillo samples raised an eyebrow or two in the Stumptown cupping lab.

Below, a summary of the Stumptown cupping results and a conversation with Adam about what those results mean to the company.


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