Greetings friends and fellow coffee lovers, and welcome back to my table here in the corner of this cafe. We’ve got a lot to get to today, so let’s get to it.
Last week, I had the good pleasure to finally try two of Counter Culture Coffee’s roasts at Istria Café in Hyde Park—their Finca Nueva Armenia and a selection from a microlot, located on the same farm, called Grotto. Ever since I started taking coffee really seriously a couple years ago, I’ve been told over and over again by various coffee lovers who know way more about the topic than I ever will, “You have got to try Counter Culture Coffee.” Now that I have finally tasted, I have seen that their coffee is good and that I really should have taken the advice of my peers a long time ago.
Since their inception in 1995, Counter Culture Coffee has been at the forefront of not only bringing only the highest quality coffees to the public, but has also been demonstrating a commitment to fairness and sustainability with every person involved in the process (in 2008, they even established their ground-breaking Counter Culture Direct Trade Certification) and a commitment to the education of their employees, the employees of the stores that serve their coffee, and even to the general public.
Scattered across the country east of the Mississippi River, Counter Culture has established a program called Counter Intelligence—an educational program designed to keep the general public informed about the many subtleties and nuances of the coffee industry. Counter Intelligence features a curriculum that is made up of courses, seminars, and hands-on training—it’s a school for baristas, coffee connoisseurs, and appreciators alike with classes like Beginner and Intermediate Espresso Lab, Origin Field Lab, and Comparative Cupping. Counter Intelligence also features a free-to-the-public coffee cupping on Friday mornings in all of their regional training centers (in Asheville, NC; Chicago, IL; Washington, DC; Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Durham, NC; New York City, NY; Charlotte, NC; and Philadelphia, PA).
Obviously, Counter Culture Coffee is providing a lot of avenues for coffee lovers the world over and a lot of programs and practices to get excited about. And as excited as we here at the Table In the Corner of the Cafe get about direct trade, sustainability, and commitment to employees and general public, we get just as excited about the quality and taste of the coffee a roaster is producing. This is, after all, a coffee review table.
The two coffees I tasted at Istria last week are both from the Finca Nueva Armenia farm in Huehuetanango, Guatemala. The farm, owned by brothers Jorge and Javier Recinos, is regarded highly by coffee professionals all over the world, having won a number of international coffee tasting contests and has also become one of the first certified organic coffee farms in Latin America. The farm is nestled in the Cuchumatanes mountain range, where their coffee grows at elevations of 1200-1900 meters—perfect conditions.
The first coffee I tasted was their Finca Nueva Armenia, named for the farm it comes from; this coffee is grown in the lower levels of the farm, at elevations of 1200-1700 meters. The second coffee was their Grotto, which is grown in a microlot located at the very highest point of the farm, at elevations of 1700-1900 meters. One farm, two growing locations. However, despite the fact both coffees come from the same farm and are grown and harvested by the same people in somewhat similar conditions, I was surprised to find that the two of them tasted radically different from each other.
- Finca Nueva Armenia: The first of the two was a pretty challenging cup of coffee. A lot of different flavors—some flavors which aren’t terribly common in coffees, as a matter of fact—presenting themselves at different points of the coffee’s temperature made this coffee one of the more interesting roasts I’ve had in some time. Immediately post-brew, the Finca Nueva boasted a well-rounded body that was warm and inviting—a sweet, almond nuttiness prevailed the flavor and the aroma had that peanut buttery scent that is so common in Central and South American coffees. However, as it cooled, the nuttiness didn’t just dissipate—it disappeared entirely, and was replaced by a sharp, pungent juiciness; the type of pungent juiciness found in granny smith apples or green grapes that makes your lips pucker up. It wasn’t so sour that it rendered the coffee undrinkable—it was delicious, in fact—but it was sour enough that it surprised me once the sweetness was gone. Once the coffee got to room temperature, though, the flavors dulled quite a bit, which was simultaneously relieving, as it gave my palate a much-needed rest from the flavor overhaul, and a bit of a letdown, as I never want to taste the end of a cup of coffee’s life. Fortunately, it left just enough aftertaste—not much, but enough—to stick with me for a short while.
- Grotto Microlot: The Grotto microlot coffee, on the other hand, was an entirely different animal. Whereas the Finca Nueva started off nutty and cooled down to an intensely pungent juiciness, the Grotto started off with a sweet fruitiness, then cooled down to a slightly less sweet chocolate-covered-caramel mildness. Also, the fruitiness of the Grotto wasn’t equal to the juiciness of the Finca Nueva—rather than a sour, juicy granny smith apple, the Grotto featured a much sweeter, less juicy strawberry or red currant. There was also a hint of rhubarb in the flavor, which made the coffee reminiscent of a warm strawberry rhubarb pie. As the coffee cooled down, the fruitiness got even more intense and a palate-coating chocolate flavor also began to emerge. Really, the only similarity between the two coffees was the low acidity and slight aftertaste. And, of course, they shared high quality.
The Bottom Line
I am always amazed at how radically different coffees from very similar regions can be from each other; I was blown away at the incredibly vast difference between Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s Sumatra and their Sumatra Blue Batak and their respective region of origin’s proximity. This time, Counter Culture Coffee has once again proved that no two coffees are alike—and they did it with coffees not only from the same region, but from the same farm! I’m genuinely impressed with Counter Culture’s Coffee as a roaster and purveyor of fine coffees, and also as a company. They are truly doing remarkable and exciting things for the industry and I’m eager to see what they come up with next.
Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.