Brett Donahue, RoastingBrett Donahue comes from Cleveland, TN, and likes to think that he is slowly migrating northward.
He studied literature and language at Appalachian State University, and fell in love with the geography and culture of southern Appalachia. While in college, he had his first exposure to Counter Culture as a barista at Crossroads Coffee, and has been fascinated with great coffee ever since.
After graduating, Brett backpacked around the Swiss Alps and studied art across Spain. Hungry for more experience abroad, he spent the following year teaching English in Siguatepeque, Honduras. There, he had coffee bushes growing alongside mango and banana trees in his backyard. At the end of that year, he decided to pursue a career in the coffee world.
Brett started with Counter Culture in 2009, and can be found shipping with gusto at HQ in Durham.
Q: What coffee are you currently drinking?
Thiriku from Kenya. This one always jumps off of the cupping table – so complex and bright!
Q: Choose your favorite coffee and brewing method.
I'll have to go with espresso: it's hands-on and dynamic with lots of variables, all going into a symmetrical shot. And, although I haven't put this one into a portafilter yet, Finca Kilimanjaro from Santa Ana, El Salvador, is an absolute favorite, and I’m excited about the new crop coming this fall!
Q: Who at Counter Culture Coffee would you most like to arm-wrestle, and why?
In general, I stay plenty busy arm-wrestling coffee, but I think I could give Ethan Fogelman a run for his money.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A few standby favorites would be Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler, Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge, and Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev.
Q: What keeps you busy outside of work?
Learning to garden, cook, and paint; finding good art and music; scheming up a trip to Iceland.
Q: Share an interesting fact you've learned about coffee while working at Counter Culture Coffee and name the person from whom you learned it.
Extraction is one of the most interesting things I’ve learned about here. In the extraction lab, Kim explained that although coffee is 30% water soluble, you only want 18-22% in the resulting cup. It’s a small window, but it helps to put numbers on the process.
Q: When you were 8 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Second baseman for the Atlanta Braves. More specifically, I wanted to be on a baseball card, doing something an 8-year-old would think was cool, like making a diving catch.
Q: If you could beam yourself anywhere in the world for your lunch break, where would you go and what would you eat?
I'd go to Oaxaca, Mexico, for tamales with mole negro and nopales. A traditional mole has something like 30 ingredients, slow cooked to perfection.
Q: Which Counter Culture Coffee customer is most likely to see you outside of work?
Whenever I’m in Durham, Scratch Baking is a definite stop for stellar pastries and shots of Espresso La Forza. 3CUPS in Chapel Hill is on the way to almost anywhere I go, and they are one of the best shops around.
Q: Brett, you're an avid photographer. What do you aspire to capture with your work? And, what's your preferred format?
I love the spontaneity of photography ... going out with no plans except to catch light on film. As far as location goes, I like to shoot in old buildings. There’s this wealth of history and architecture, as well as interesting lighting and sense of space. A lot comes together at once and makes for an interesting photo.
My trusty Olympus OE-1 is my camera of choice, and I'm partial to good old black and white film.
Q: You were a teacher in Honduras for a year. What did you like most about that experience? Did you have good coffee while you were there? And, do you pick up on the Honduran slang of your co-workers Amalia and Miriam (both from Honduras)?
That year was incalculably wonderful and complex. I loved cycling to neighboring villages with my friend Carlos, spending time with fellow teachers, learning to speak the language, and walking almost everywhere. Teaching was a challenge at first, but rewarding in the long term, as I saw my students pick up the language at lightning speed.
Unfortunately, the best coffee doesn't stay in the country. I bought green coffee at a farmers’ market, but would spend the better part of an afternoon picking out rocks and defects. Still, at that time and place, it was perfect!
Miriam and Amalia and I exchange the classic Buen provecho before lunch.