Cappuccino as conflict

Competition season often leaves me with an uneasy relationship with a drink I usually find very enjoyable.  I should add that my own view is in no way representative of competition judges, or competitions or anything like that – just a thought rolling around my head.

Generally, it seems, we treat milk as an enemy.  People talk as if steamed milk is trying to hold a pillow over the face of coffee flavour.  We talk about whether or not a coffee “cuts through” the milk.  I’ve never really been thrilled with that phrase or way of thinking about coffee but I have to accept that I am in the minority here. Continue reading “Cappuccino as conflict”

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.

Some Counter Culture Coffee

Usually the incessant and nagging ringing of my doorbell doesn’t mix well with my attitude to mornings in general. The exception to this is when the chirpy postman has a little package all the way from Counter Culture Coffee, organised by the marvellous Chris Owens and M’lissa (thank you so much guys!).

I have, somewhat greedily 1, dug into their Kenya Nyeri (which has made a rather delicious chemex of coffee), and I hope to get a chance to dial a machine in to pull some shots of Toscano later this evening. Also included was their Rwandan Karaba which I am looking forward to as well.

I was a little worried about what would happen to the coffees condition due to its journey, but this first cup has put my worries to rest.

Reviews of the coffees will probably appear in the cupping room in due course for the two single origins.  I don’t really feel comfortable reviewing espresso blends because too much is tied up in the hands of someone like me, which is somewhat dangerous…

Really pleased to have these coffees, going to savour them!   Thank you Counter Culture!

  1. I started the day with a press of the CoE Colombian #1 – I got hold of a little of the roasted sample – I do love this coffee – big congrats to Stumptown!  ↩︎

Green Coffee – A Photographic Guide

(Please let this page load completely before clicking a picture)

I’ve been thinking about doing a green bean gallery for a while, and when I had a little spare time this evening I thought I’d have a go at it. Right from the off I should make it clear that this is not my area of expertise, and certainly down in the second half I might get the order a bit wrong, but it should still be of interest.

This post is mostly pictures. For some people this will all be very familiar, for some perhaps very new. I think the diversity in how green coffee looks is so fascinating that it deserved a post. If you are reading this in a feed reader it won’t be nearly as much fun. If you are reading it here you can either click each picture as we go or you can click on one and cycle through them as they pop up – they are all labelled. For now I just want a gallery, I will try not to rant too much about my personal opinions on certain coffees….

So, from the very beginning…..


The Cherry and the Parchment:

I broke open one of them, and scraped off a little parchment from the corner so you can see all the layers properly. I wish I had some fresh cherries to photograph…

Natural, Pulped Natural and Washed:

For me it is interesting to see how the colour changes across the processing methods (though these coffees are not all from the same farm or region, but hopefully they are “typical” enough to be benchmarks)

Kenyan Peaberry, Harrar Longberry and Sulawesi Kalosi:

I thought it would be interesting to have the slightly orange/yellow tinged Harrar next to the swampy green of the Kalosi.

The evil aged coffees – Monsooned Malabar and Old Brown Java:

I find it odd that the two aged coffees seem to have gone polar directions from their original colours, the Malabar fading away and the OBJ developing that disconcerting brown colour.

Supercritical CO2 Decaf (Colombian):

I’d like to find some more methods of decaf to photograph, and when I do I will add them in here.

Unwashed and Washed Robusta:

The washed robusta is a really clean prep and is a good robusta, even if it isn’t my kind of coffee.

Defected Maragogype and Triage Coffee:

I took my SCAE Barista Level 2 (though I never got round to paying for it, which means I don’t officially have it!) and one of the questions was about Triage coffee. At that time I had no idea what the term meant, and had to ask Alf Kramer who explained that it is pretty much the sweepings that no one would ever admit to buying but some people clearly do….


The next part is something might be of interest to quite a lot of folks. All of the next coffee is from the same mill in Kenya, and we go from AA all the way down to the sweepings. Because grading is partially based on size, sometimes distinctions may not be very clear from the photos.

Kenyan AA, Kenyan AB and Kenyan C

Kenyan PB, Kenyan TT, Kenyan T

Kenyan MH, Kenyan ML, Kenyan Madres/Elephant Ears

Kenyan E (Large screen, fat beans)

Just to be clear the E isn’t the lowest grade – I just couldn’t figure out where to put it. I will stick this post in the Articles section and in time (I hope) keep adding to it.

Comments and suggestions are very welcome….