The business of coffee relies on the shared passion of coffee people all over the world, and this section is dedicated to introducing the members of our diverse, dynamic supply chain. Here we ask a few fun questions of our partners at origin, our employees, and our customers; and we share their answers with you so that you can get to know them like we do—in their own words.
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Tom Burns, Roasting DepartmentTom Burns grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. The son of two chefs, Tom has always had an obsession with great food, branching out into beer, wine, and coffee. At 17, he moved to North Carolina with his family. After brief stints as prep cook, A/V nerd, hibachi chef, barista, and computer programmer, Tom gave in to his culinary lineage, discovered a love for handmade sourdough bread, and started working in pastry, then made the leap from dessert to coffee. Tom first drank Counter Culture Coffee at the Crossroads Cafe in Boone, NC, while attending Appalachian State, and admits to having a secret desire to work here ever since.
When he isn't learning how to wrangle spinning steel and fire, Tom enjoys all things nerdy and is very fortunate to have a girlfriend who tolerates such things.
Q: What coffee are you currently drinking?
My favorite take-home coffee lately has been Finca Mauritania. It's a great lazy weekend coffee.
Q: Choose your favorite coffee and brewing method.
In the roasting department, love of our Kenya Lots is somewhere between encouraged and compulsory. I wasn't so sure at first, but now I can't get enough. Brewing method? I'm going to have to reach for the Chemex on that one.
Q: Who at Counter Culture Coffee would you most like to arm-wrestle, and why?
Both of the other Toms. At the same time. This town isn't big enough for the three of us!
Q: What is your favorite book?
I've never been able to give a single answer to this question. In rough chronological order, previous answers have been books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Way Things Work, Matilda, Catcher in the Rye, 1984, The Stranger, The Brothers Karamazov ...
Q: What keeps you busy outside of work?
I have to admit that I love the mundane. Farmer's market, cooking, watching bad movies on Netflix, maybe nerding out with either video games or the Internet … sounds like a good weekend to me.
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.
The thing that has kept me up at night since joining the roasting department is what I've learned from Tim and Jeff about how complex the interaction of heat with the coffee bean is. There are a ton of variables that can all affect the flavor in the resulting cup, and I'm trying my best to keep up with how they all work. Coffee is complicated!
Q: When you were 8 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
By 8 years old I had figured out that "being in the future and having a jetpack" was not a viable career path, and so I think I remember settling for a lowly career as a doctor.
Q: If you could beam yourself anywhere in the world for your lunch break, where would you go and what would you eat?
San Francisco, duh. Probably somewhere obvious, like Molinari's in North Beach. Mmm ... cured pork ....
Q: Which Counter Culture Coffee customer is most likely to see you outside of work?
I always have a great cup of coffee when I make it over to 3 Cups in Chapel Hill. I have to give love to Helios in Raleigh, too, since they're also awesome and much closer to where I actually live.
Q: Tom, you grew up in California and frequently compare the food and cultural practices of North Carolina to the Golden State. What similarities and differences do you especially appreciate?
The Triangle has a great emerging food scene, and it's great to see how it has developed since I moved here in 2003. I love me some California cuisine, but I have to admit that at this point I'm not sure I could live without the occasional dose of North Carolina barbecue.
Q: You were a pastry chef in the past. What's the ultimate pastry to accompany coffee and what coffee goes best with pastries?
I don't want to sound boring, but my desert island pastry is the original one and only croissant. Not those prefab machine made ones, either. All that butter and flakiness is just a recipe for success. For a coffee pairing, I'm going to have to give a nod to Finca Mauritania again.