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.
Interested in joining our team? Click here for career opportunities.
Want to experience some of our great coffees for yourself? Browse our current offerings and shop online.
Phil Proteau, Customer Relations RepresentativePhilippe Laurent Proteau was born in Montreal, Canada, in the late ’60s, where his parents went out of their way to avoid the political protests of the day. After attending French school until the age of 11, his family moved to Raleigh in 1979. Great culture shock ensued, as it turned out that Canada and the United States were actually two different countries.
After high school, Phil took on a number of unfulfilling jobs and career paths that included but were not limited to house painting, house building, playground design and construction, burger flipping, structural welding, supervising mental health patients, and creating Autocad drawings for structural engineers. Through most of this he maintained Barista positions, both full-time and part-time, in several independent and corporate coffee shops. He was offered the very first roasting position at Counter Culture Coffee in 1995 by its co-founder, Fred Houk. Without a driver's license or a car at the time—and living in Raleigh and not Durham—he had to pass up the offer.
When his Philadelphia-born wife, Karen, wanted to move back north, coincidentally, there was a job opening with Counter Culture Coffee as the Philadelphia Customer Relations Representative. With the ability to clearly recognize opportunity when it came knocking the second time, Phil jumped at the chance.
Q: What coffee are you currently drinking?
I generally drink what I get in the cupping coffees each week. Lately, I have been taken with the intensity of the new crops of Gayo, Finca Nueva Armenia, and Finca El Puente.
Q: Choose your favorite coffee and brewing method.
Recently I bought a Vac Pot on Ebay. It made beautiful coffee until I cracked it. I have been a long-time pour over fanatic, though. My first Chemex came from a yard sale in 1992. I cracked that, also. My favorite method is a gold mesh cone filter in a ceramic cone holder. I rotate the whole rig, cone, cone holder, and the cup it sits on, as I hold my pouring hand still. I am very afraid I will crack my cone holder.
Q: Who at Counter Culture Coffee would you most like to arm-wrestle, and why?
I don't know if anyone has taken on Daryn Berlin lately; he may have advanced in the brackets. Nonetheless, I think I could take him because his clothes seem to fit too tight for athletics. Then again, he may have a tailored sweat suit.
Q: What is your favorite book?
Salt by Mark Kurlansky. In this age of refrigeration, it is easy to take salt for granted. But when you think about it, most of our favorite foods are fermented, curdled, smoked, or dried with salt.
Q: What keeps you busy outside of work?
These things take up my time: a house with a spouse and a kid, a yard with grass and flowers, my handmade acoustic guitar, cooking, cleaning up the mess from cooking, on rare occasions I go out and draw people with ink.
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.
Tim Hill, our head of roasting, showed me that there is a point during the roasting process where the beans expand, rather suddenly, when the cell walls of the bean sort of melt in the heat. That's when the expanding gases push out on the softened bean and it bubbles up to its final size. I imagine it like a slow popcorn.
Q: When you were 8 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I distinctly remember wanting to be a police officer, fire fighter, or rich. Thankfully, I have become none of those.
Q: If you could beam yourself anywhere in the world for your lunch break, where would you go, and what would you eat?
If I had to relive a nostalgic experience, I would have goats milk and limes in Cuba. If I had to go extravagant, how about some Tourtiere in a rotating restaurant high over Montreal during a snow blizzard. That's only slightly nostalgic.
Q: Which Counter Culture Coffee customer is most likely to see you outside of work (i.e. where do you like to hang out)?
I am often at Milkboy in Ardmore cupping, but I like to sit in Spruce Street in Philly when I can, though lately I have been in Chestnut Hill in Lancaster a lot because it is so beautifully designed and I like to see the Amish farmers in the fields.
Q: Phil, you have built/repaired guitars and designed playgrounds, which is more helpful to your relentless pursuit of coffee perfection, and why?
Commercial playground equipment is subject to a rigorous set of safety guidelines. Since espresso has rarely caused disfigurement, I would not say there is much in common. Guitar building, on the other hand, is a craft were your success depends on knowledge of the raw materials, how your equipment will exert force upon them, and how they interact with one another to produce the tone of the instrument. You know it is right when it feels and sounds right. People debate over the pros and cons of minutia that seems so trivial to the casual observer. The similarities are uncanny. Building guitars strengthened my patience, but I think I do these kinds of things because my brain is already on that wavelength.
Q: Your cupping skills are renowned—of particular note is your incredible one-handed, one-spoon clear of a cupping cup. How long did it take you to perfect that technique? What is that, a gravy spoon?
Peter Giuliano claims that professional cuppers in Latin America scoop out the floaters from two cups at a time with one spoon in each hand. I cannot hear something like that and not give a go at it myself. I take it as a personal challenge. So I started off with one gravy spoon and a thimble. Not really, just one hand and a 10 oz. rocks glass. The spoon is from a bunch of silver bullion spoons that I got at a flea market for $1. It is essentially from Grandma’s silver set. I have done it with two cups at the same time, but it is exponentially harder. I always imagine a guy in Brazil with 100 cups on a spinning round table and his coffee is cooling off rapidly. These folks don’t have time to mess around with every last granule, double skimming each and every cup to obsessive perfection. They have to grab and go. Once you understand the technique it is just a matter of a little practice before you get it pretty clean on the very first swipe.