East Coast Roadtrip – Ashville and Charlotte

Ashville seems to be something of an odd place considering its location. I wasn’t aware of its reputation as being one of the more relaxed, liberal (though I hate the word) cities in the South, but when you get there it does have a very different feel. I also appreciated the rocking chairs in the Counter Culture training centre there!


Happily rocking away

The presentation was in the evening, so we wandered around town a little with Mary who runs the training centre there. I bought a book or two (on Chris Deferio’s recommendation – Thanks Chris!) and we drank too much chocolate ganache of various flavours. The event that evening was very different to the one in Durham, but not in a bad way. The focus was a bit more onto espresso techniques and it was mostly baristas from nearby shops and one lovely chap who was a pro cyclist and also a bit of a coffee nut who trains in the mountains when Canada is too cold. Latte art seemed pretty popular…

pouring latte art on the floor

Kneeling and pouring latte art

After the event a few of us hung out for drinks and we got chatting to a couple of guys from the Dripolator, a shop in town. We vowed to make it there for breakfast before leaving town, and we I ate my first vegetarian meal of the trip – I’d never had tempe before so I was curious!

The shop was cool, a big space but its layout meant it felt quite intimate wherever you were in the room. Coffee was drunk, and thanks again to Jay the owner for his hospitality and also for the awesome Dripolator mug.

Me, Jay and Anette

Me, Jay and Anette

After Cindy had purchased a suspicious green smoothie we hit the road heading back across to Charlotte for the event that evening.

Brent and Banks have a great space to work from, and the event that night was pretty full. We tried to sneak in a quick dinner at Dish before hand, but it was quickly becoming clear that sneaking in a meal in the South is pretty hopeful.

A good mix attended the talk, though a fair few from a rival local roastery which was interesting. I always like the bit afterwards where you get to chat people, hang out and it becomes a bit less formal. One couple had driven up from Greenville for the event, which was cool – especially as they were huge hardcore coffee people and a few other local enthusiasts had turned up as well.

Talking in Charlotte

Talking to the audience in Charlotte

The hotel we stayed at was lovely – the Blake, and it cemented itself as memorable by having a member of staff who was convinced Anette was someone famous “under cover”.

After a fine breakfast, and some NASCAR discussion we hit the road towards Atlanta, with a pitstop ahead at the home of the chemically imbalanced – Greenville.

East Coast Roadtrip – Counter Culture Roastery, NC

I confess I knew more about Counter Culture’s coffee than I did about the company itself. I was excited to visit their roastery and also we were honoured to stay in the House of Chang.

I also confess that the change in the clocks caught me off guard and it took me a little while to realise that all the people rapidly filling the Counter Culture training room were not overly punctual!

I wasn’t sure how many to expect for the event, and it turns out the NPR interview had been heard by more people than I’d expected. The idea of the presentation was to do a little introductory talk about my history in coffee and then to move into some single estate espresso, first cupping the coffees then pulling them as shots. What we didn’t bank on (or I didn’t anyway) was that around 75 people showed up to listen and that is a lot of people to have cup at once, especially as the majority hadn’t ever cupped before.

Peter Giuliano did an amazing job of organising and guiding them through it and then Anette and I pulled shots of the Kenya Gaturiri and Biloya on the FB80 whilst SERBC champ Lem Butler pulled shots of the Finca Mauritania PN on the their Linea. The response was amazing from those that were already well into coffee and those that were merely interested. I think we often underestimate the general public’s capacity for coffee and taste exploration, and it was a crowd I really enjoyed talking to. I won’t pretend that Dan Kehn of home-barista didn’t make me nervous by filming the whole thing, and in truth I’ve yet to bring myself to watch all the video he posted.

talking in Counter Culture

Talking to the Counter Culture training room, full of people

Sig drink speaking

Standing room only, which was nice

It was the kind of audience you really want to talk to. A mixture of people, backgrounds and interests that were all motivated by wanting to drink better (in every sense) cups of coffee. I really enjoyed the event, and it was kind of odd signing lots of stuff afterwards. (I never know what to write! Sorry if I scrawled anything stupid on a reader’s card.)

The roastery itself was very cool, and I am grateful to Counter Culture for them being so transparent about their operation. I was incredibly jealous of their setup – with the one bag (60kg) Roure and the one bag Renegade as main productions roasters and then 10 kilos Samiac (I think I spelled that correctly) for smaller batches of really special stuff. Tim Hill did a great job roasting up the coffees I sort of asked for (my e-mail about the single origins was more philosophical than direct…) and I wish I could have chatted to him for longer.

After we’d finished cleaning up Peter Giuliano appeared with some dried coffee cherries (minus the beans) and proceeded to make a variation on qishr, which is a tea made from the dried husks. I think it was traditionally sweetened but just steeping the cherries in hot water was surprisingly sweet and the general agreement was that it was like rosehip tea. I didn’t expect it to be as delicious as it was.

Peter and Qishr

Peter and Qishr

After a quick drink with the CCC crew we headed out to eat at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill. Cindy, Anette, Peter and I were joined by Brett (the co-founder and co-owner of Counter Culture) and I had the most memorable food experience of the trip (just) with the Shrimp and Grits there. Everyone who has had it there talks about it fondly and it could well be my ultimate comfort food. I want to eat it again right now, because I am writing about it. So good. If you go to Chapel Hill and don’t eat it there then you are officially crazy. The chef, Bill Smith, briefly appeared to say hello and talk to me about a meal he had once had where they had roasted the fish in tobacco leaves (he also had been listening to NPR!)

The next day we hung out at the roastery again, and also I talked a little with Lem about his performance for the upcoming USBC and also about his sig drink and the like. Lem has a very natural, relaxed charm and it was a fun couple of hours.

Lem practising

Lem pulling shots and making drinks for us

We couldn’t leave Durham without a quick coffee at 3 Cups (I am such a coffee tourist, I have to buy all the t-shirts) and also to the Loco Pops just around the corner (the cookies and cream one is so very, very good) before filling ourselves way to full at Mama Dips. A final coffee at Open Eye and we hit the road and headed down towards Ashville.

East Coast Roadtrip – Washington, DC

Washington’s event was the first one in a Counter Culture training centre, and I was curious to see how it would be set up. We were due to cup at 10, but first we headed to a place called Tryst for a little breakfast and coffee (thank you David, for coffee and for suffering my request to make me whatever was good – sorry for being difficult!)

Cindy and animals

Cindy makes her animals fight for our entertainment

Anette thought the animal crackers were a nice touch and I realised I was drinking my first proper milk drink of the trip!

Then it was time to cup. The open cuppings at Counter Culture have a different approach to most cuppings I have been to. They tend to only cup three coffees, and the discussion afterwards is quite intense with a lot of descriptors going up on the white board.
I agreed with Aaron on my favourite coffee of the three – for me the new Peruvian Valle de Santuario microlot beat out the Rwandan coffee and the Idido Misty Valley on the table. Most people liked the Rwandan Nyakizu, and I can see why – very clean, high acidity (I thought) but still balanced. Amongst the cuppers was Greg Scace, and I confess to getting sidetracked talking about pressure and all things a bit nerdy.

Cupping in DC

Cupping in DC



At the end of the cupping Nick Cho and Trish arrived, but then were hustled out of the room along with everyone else so I could do a phone interview on NPR (which apparently is a big deal around here!) Having not said anything too stupid we headed out and everyone piled into cars and vans to get some lunch at Open City, before eating way, waaay too much gelato (and excellent gelato I might add) at Dulcezza. Rob, the owner showed us the production area and I loved this old bit of kit for making churros:

churro machine

Old machine for making Churros

Post gelato coffee and lounging around was provided by the Big Bear cafe, and the press of the Biloya there really hit the spot.

The presentation that evening was on a few things – my background in coffee, food pairing and some competition/signature drink stuff. There was a nice crowd and the training centre was beautifully set up (I chose the 3 group FB-80 to play on, over the 3 group Linea…) but still these sort of talks do make me nervous when there are a lot of very wise coffee people in the room. It went pretty well and a fair few people stayed behind after to chat about the sig drinks, more about food pairing ideas or just to talk coffee. Some of the baristas from Easton had made it down so they must have had an overload of my ramblings!

Talking in DC

Starting my talk in DC

Not many went out to dinner, and I enjoyed some calmer coffee talk and debate with Nick, Trish and Cindy over some fine Peking Duck.

A quick thank you must again go to the Jensen/Ultimo household for hosting us during our stay in DC – much appreciated. The next morning we headed to Murky Coffee in Arlington for a quick cup and also for me to have a chat with author Michaele Wiseman who joined us for lunch afterwards. Finally the sun came out (until then it had been Londonesque rain) and once lunch was done it was time to hit the road again and head down to Durham, NC and the home of Counter Culture.

inside Murky Coffee

Inside Murky Coffee Arlington


Aaron looks especially happy to be in the school photo

East Coast Roadtrip – Easton and Baltimore

As I said in my last post the next event on my calendar was the barista jam at Easton, presented by Counter Culture and Troy from Cosmic Cup did a lot of the organisational stuff and hosting on the evening and day. We got in to Easton and bumped into John Hornall from Chestnut Hill Coffee at the hotel and had a good chat. From there we met up with the rest of the Counter Culture crew – Brian, Phil and Peter to eat fine Italian sandwiches and to talk more about Molly Ringwald.

The Jam opened up the night before with registrations, a keynote speech from Jon Lewis (that Jay Caragay filmed and I hope puts up on youtube) and then a talk from Peter Giuliano about sustainability and exactly what it can encompass and how far away we are from being a genuinely sustainable industry.

Jon Lewis

Jon is 18 grams of coffee

After that it was time for the Spro down. $10 bought you three minutes in which you could pull 3 times and most people served the last of those. Three stations were set up as we had 30 people to get through and I judged the second station with Devlin from New Harvest (who supplied the coffee). The coffee was very interesting – 1 yirg, a kenya, 2 roasts of a harrar and a sumatran coffee. The levels of acidity in it didn’t lend itself to well to updosed short shots and Rich from Aldo was the barista who progressed from our station to the final three with a slightly longer and more balanced shot. Phil from Counter Culture and Austin (a barista from New York) were the other two in the final. Again Rich pulled a longer and more balanced shot and that won him the day. I think he was quite surprised. The trophies were described as being from the Nick Cho trophy cabinet. (apologies for the coffeed injoke)

Devlin and Aaron Ultimo

Devlin and an excited Aaron Ultimo

rich aldo wins

Troy presents Rich his trophy

There was a really nice atmosphere and we headed to bed reasonably early, in order to spend more time being cross with the incredibly loud airconditioner whose sole purpose was to wake us up every hour on the hour.

The next day the jam started early and I was teaching (I use that word loosely) an espresso class. Lots more people turned up that day and the way it worked was to split them into two groups. It meant that I had a one hour espresso extraction class with a 3 group GB5 and 40+ people. It quickly degenerated into a question/answer session which was a lot of fun. I was somewhat nervous having Scott Rao in my second group as I tried to explain my theories about approaching brew recipes with a view to the components in your coffee and their roast level. People seemed to agree with what I was ranting about, and the atmosphere in the room was great.

talking to the baristas about espresso

Giving the espresso extraction class

There were a lot of people at the event I enjoyed meeting or catching up with again, and the demands of the roadtrip made leaving halfway into the day quite frustrating even if we were heading somewhere quite exciting. I could have spent hours talking to Jon, and the conversation about sig drinks between Jon, Jay and I was just getting interesting when the call of the road became too loud to ignore.

It was great to meet a load of baristas there, and that jam seemed to me to be what barista jams were all about – interaction, fun and lots of great coffee. Congrats to everyone who worked hard on it.

So on the road and a quick stop in Philedelphia for a tasty espresso at a brand new store called Spruce Street (thanks Faith), and a waffle that I hope was worth the parking ticket (I thought it was!) before heading down to Baltimore as we had reservations at the Woodberry Kitchen. If you read Jay’s blog you have probably heard of the place and my expectations were pretty high.

Spike, the owner and chef, met us on the way in and I was later quite excited when he took our menus away and made decisions for us. The setting of the restaurant is fantastic, a beautiful old brick building, high ceilings, wonderful detail and to back it all up Spike and his chefs can really, really cook. Cindy, Ryan Jensen, Anette and I enjoyed about 5 courses I think, and Ryan and I shared a fantastic bottle of wine.

Spike came over at the end for a chat, and asked if I had had coffee. His barista apparently had been primed but I had decided against it, because for a long time now I had been against espresso in restaurants, but he insisted and I had to eat my words as the shot Mischa (his barista) pulled really was very, very good. In fact the best espresso I’ve ever had in a restaurant. (I am aware not every place has a 2 group Cyncra and a dedicated barista!) I was impressed and for once a great meal was improved and not ruined by the coffee.

Us at the Woodberry Kitchen

Mischa, myself, Anette and Spike at the Woodberry Kitchen

I love the feel of the place, and the level of care and detail in every section impressed me, and it sounds like what they are planning to do next is going to be amazing.

After this we headed into DC, guests at the Jensen/Ultimo household – but more about that in the next post….


The last couple of days have been great! Three different parcels, all cool stuff.

First off was a large box from Compak. I had no idea what this might be and I opened it up to find this:

Large cup from Compak - WBC Prize

They had planned to give it to me in Tokyo but it had got stuck en route and hadn’t made it in time. I have no idea if it is possible to pour latte art in it (it must be at least 4 litres in size!) but I will try…

Then I had a very kind gift from Guido at La Marzocco – three of their books.

La Marzocco book with vintage machines

Many of you probably know I am a fairly obsessive collector of books – and I do love machine books with all the old drawings and photos of beautiful vintage machinery.

The third package came from Cindy Chang at Counter Culture Coffee.

Coffees from Counter Culture

The box had six bags of their coffee – two bags of Toscano and then coffees from Mexico, Nicaragua, Kenya and El Salvador – this being the first time I’ve tasted the coffee from Aida Batlle, having read so much about her in the last couple of years.  It did not disappoint.

So – lots of coffee to drink from a giant cup, whilst reading.  My weekend sorted!

Thanks to everyone for their kindness.