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Slingshot Coffee's Jenny Bonchak took second place at the 2015 US Brewers Cup competition!1. Why do you compete?

I compete because it's a big part of my coffee journey! I admit that I'm unabashedly competitive, but it definitely goes way beyond that. I know that competing is a great way to make me a better coffee person—continually improving my palate, thinking even more critically about coffee than I already do—and at the same time, I have a lot of fun learning through preparation and the actual competition.

2. How much work goes into it?

An indescribable amount of work goes into competing. That is, if you want to get the most out of the experience. I have been a coach for another Southeast Regional/US brewers cup competitor for the past three years, so I did have a slight advantage knowing what I was getting myself into. Even then, it was so much different being on the other side! But, all in all, I'd definitely do it again. I loved it.

3. What coffee did you use at the US Coffee Championships and why?

I'm so in love with the coffee I used, and its story really resonated with me, which is why I chose it. The coffee I used was a from a husband-wife team of growers in Jurutungo, Panama, named Jose and Ailenne Gallardo. It's a long story, but the Gallardos sent a random 5lb sample of their '13-'14 Gesha to Counter Culture with barely any information in the package. A few days later, Ailenne sent an email to Tim Hill at Counter Culture to introduce themselves and give more info about their farm and the coffee they sent. They're not well known in the specialty-coffee world; they don't have a name for their farm; they have only been growing this coffee for 3 years. It's insane! But they had so much determination to grow exceptional coffee, and they were so willing to be receptive to suggestions on how to improve in the '14-'15 harvest. And improve they did! The coffee I ended up using was harvested in January 2015 and got to me 10 days before the competition. But, when I cupped it, I knew it was the one. It was juicy and floral and sweet ... and everything that reminds me of my favorite season, summertime. It was a fantastic coffee in every way. I can't wait to brew this coffee again!

4. Who do you learn from/who inspires you?

I truly have learned so much from my coffee crush (and husband), Jonathan Bonchak. I'm continually inspired by how he thinks about coffee, how he tastes coffee, and how he presents coffee to new coffee enthusiasts and industry veterans alike. He's such an incredible coffee professional an all-around stellar human. And, of course, there are so many incredible books and articles from lots of coffee professionals for whom I have so much respect, and those are great learning tools. I am so lucky to have Counter Culture as a partner for Slingshot, and I feel like I've gleaned a ton not just from classes, but from simply being able to taste different coffees with some of the best palates out there. There's so many more people I want to meet and have coffee with ... someday it'll happen!

5. What is the biggest challenge in competing?

The biggest challenge in competing is learning to trust your instinct of when to be confident and when to be critical. 

Bonus: Do you get nervous when competing?

I was nervous ... it was my first time competing! But I do enjoy public speaking, so that helped to calm those butterflies a bit.

Lem Butler competing in the 2015 Southeast Regional Barista Competition—which he won (for the fifth time)!In November, our very own Lem Butler won his fifth Southeast Regional Barista Championship at the Big Eastern regional coffee competitions in our home town of Durham, NC. An incredibly experienced—and inspiring!—competitor, Lem gets  a first-round bye at the US Barista Championships (USBC).

1. Why do you compete?

When I first saw a barista competition, I had no idea what went into the preparation, I just wanted to do it because it looked amazing. I wanted to be a part of the specialness of sharing coffee with coffee professionals. The more I compete, the more I feel connected to the industry as a coffee professional. Sharing a stage with some of the best baristas in the country is an impressive feeling, but when it comes down to it, I find myself reconnecting with that neophyte who wanted to compete to share coffee and ideas for the unadulterated fun of it.

2. How much work goes into it?

Preparing for competition is one of the highlights of competing. I enjoy tasting through coffees to find one that appeals to that reason for competing. I often think as I taste a coffee, "Is this something that folks can get excited about?" but more importantly is this a coffee that I can get excited about? Coffee selection can be quick or a longer process.

Sometimes working on technical aspects of the competition for weeks is all I can do while waiting for a coffee to arrive in the country—which can be a gamble because the coffee might not be "the one."

Lem Butler preparing his signature beverage for the judges at the 2015 Southeast Regional Barista Competition.Signature beverage development is another time-consuming facet of preparation. There is a lot of thought and experimentation I find to be frustrating because of the 85% fail rate for most of my creations, but, when something starts to function, the reward is prodigious. Regardless, there still has to be enough time for full run-throughs, and, for me, this is the most important use of time during preparation. I try to allocate two weeks of full run-throughs; a constant barrage of repetitive drills helps fashion a smoother, more fluid presentation.

3. What coffees are you using at the US Coffee Championships?

For the 2015 USBC, I am using a peaberry lot from the same Kenyan co-op that I used in the 2015 SERBC [Thiriku]. I am using the peaberry lot for the espresso round and the signature beverage round. I will use a blend of the AA and AB lots of the same co-op for the cappuccino round.

4. You taught a barista competition workshop in the past. Who do you learn from? Who inspires you?

I had very little help when I first competed, but there was assistance if I looked. I just didn't know how or where until I found that help at Counter Culture Coffee. [Note: Lem started competing before joining Team Durham at Counter Culture.]

With better preparation and understanding of how the competition worked, I improved to a winning level. Later, I wanted to make sure there was enough information—enough assistance—for baristas who were interested in competing, so I created a class to do just that ... to give back what I was taught. I am always willing to help new competitors prepare for competition, I feel more connected to the industry the more I put into the industry.

I have my mentors, and I have my inspiration. It's the inspiration that keeps me rolling, and mentors who keep me from rolling out of control. I am inspired by the two innovators of our industry: the coffee roasters and the coffee farmers.

Lem Butler with his son, Emerson, at the 2015 Big Eastern coffee competitions.5. What is the biggest challenge in competing?

The biggest challenge in competing, for me, is winning. There are so many skilled baristas, so many amazing roasters, and so much beautiful coffee; how can there be only one winner? Did I outshine my colleagues in the SERBC? No. Will I outshine anyone in the USBC? No. We all just do our best, and the scores determine the rest, but we all go home the same skilled baristas with the same amazing roasters still excited about that beautiful coffee from out there.

Bonus question: Do you get nervous when competing?

I'm nervous right now. Anyone who says they are not nervous, is lying or has no heart.

It's Underdog!As part of the ongoing evolution of our packaging, we redesigned the recycled paper box from our holiday coffee as a new home for two distinct types of limited-release coffees.

Limited-release blends—think 2015 Holiday Coffee and last summer's Equilibrium—are created in contrast to our year-round offerings in that they represent flavor profiles which cannot exist in a single coffee and, by design, only happen once. Think of them as short-run seasonal offerings, like a "summer ale" in beer parlance. Here for a limited time. Look for a new limited-release blend in our new recycled paper box every few months in 2015. The first limited-release blend to appear in the new box is called Underdog—a tribute to less-well-known coffee origins.

In addition to limited-release blends, our new coffee box will be home to some of our more extraordinary single-origin lots: single-farmer lots, single-variety lots, processing experiments, and the like. Our first limited-release single-farmer lot is from Nelson Melo in Timbio, Colombia. We're extremely excited to offer both of these coffees—and even more so in our new packaging.

POSTED IN: coffee


By the Mule of Juan Valdez

We have three coffees from Colombia on our table today, one of which comes from an individual grower we’ve long admired, Nelson Melo, and the other two of which represent single coffee varieties from a community, La Florida, where we’re purchasing coffee for the first time this year.

Style of Tasting


Cupping these coffees—especially the caturra and castillo from La Florida—will be the best way to appreciate their differences.

Notes on the Coffees

Exploring the flavors that coffee varieties impart to our palates is always a treat, and the fact that this week’s varieties also represent our very first taste of coffees we just received from a brand-new relationship in Nariño, Colombia, makes this week’s exercise all the more special! Coffee-driven souls in Durham and Asheville will be glad they opted for slurping over shopping. The castillo and caturra lots are the varieties of which I speak, and they come from La Florida, which is a community of coffee farmers whom we met in an unusual way: instead of receiving a sample from an importer and exporter or a group of farmers, we instead found this coffee through a development project led by the non-profit organization Catholic Relief Services (CRS). The organization’s Borderlands project was founded in 2011 with the intent to develop differentiated markets for coffee producers and, since we joined the project’s board in 2012, Counter Culture has been tasting coffees and making recommendations about how farmers might improve the quality of their coffee and obtain higher prices.

One of the big questions that farmers globally have to wrestle with is that of what variety of coffee to grow, because variety one has different characteristics to recommend it: some varieties offer disease resistance, some are more productive and others have intense, delicious flavors that make them attractive. Along with the advantages, however, there are inevitable tradeoffs and many of the most productive, disease-resistant varieties don’t taste as good as their more fragile counterparts. In Colombia, the varieties decision has been exemplified by a battle between caturra and castillo, with the former being an older type that is susceptible to the coffee leaf rust fungus but tastes good, while the latter is a newer type developed for rust resistance and a questionable reputation for quality. Many farmers have both varieties planted on their farms because it’s still unclear which offers better financial returns and less risk. As a member of the Borderlands project, we have tasted hundreds of samples of these two varieties and we’ve seen great examples of both. Our preference tends to be caturra, but your tasters might not feel the same way, so I’d love to hear feedback from your audience about preferences.

Just north of Nariño is the region of Cauca, home of the farmers responsible for CCC’s La Golondrina coffee these past seven years. Nelson Melo, who is originally from Nariño’s capital, Pasto, leads the Orgánica association and grows exceptional coffee (of the caturra variety, if you’re curious) on his farm outside the city of Popayán. We have loved Nelson’s coffee since we first tasted it in 2007, but because it was committed to another buyer before we started working with Orgánica, we didn’t have a chance to buy it until 2014. The combination of anticipation, superb cup quality, and Nelson’s personal passion for organic agriculture make this coffee one of the most exciting of our year and we can’t wait to share this extraordinary single-farmer lot in January.

Rollout Dates and Availability

La Florida’s caturra lot rolls out next week and should be around for a couple of months, while the castillo lot is just for Friday fun and not something that will appear on our menu. Nelson Melo’s coffee will inaugurate our new limited-release packaging in early January and we imagine we will sell through it in a month or so.

-Kim Elena
Give the coffee lover in your life a lifetime’s worth of better brewing by registering them for a Counter Intelligence coffee course with us at one of our Counter Culture Coffee regional training centers!

We offer many different professional-level classes—from coffee brewing and tasting, to espresso, and even about the origins and training of coffee. Each course is a dynamic mix of coffee theory, tasting, and hands-on experience preparing or comparing coffee in a variety of contexts. Check our course catalogue for more detailed information about our offerings.

While we don’t currently offer vouchers or gift certificates for our courses, you're welcome to reserve a seat in any of our posted classes in advance—check our updated course calendar for dates and availability. Simply register and pay for the course using your own name and e-mail address to keep the gift a secret, and we’ll happily substitute your loved one’s name and contact information after you reveal the present, so they can receive any additional future e-mails or information about the class! 

(If the class you select doesn’t work with your loved one’s schedule, no problem! As long as the space is canceled at least 48 hours before the class start time, you’ll automatically receive a full refund.)

Feel free to email with any questions, and Happy Brew Year!


Brightness in the Winter

Though both of this week's coffees are new to our offering list, I suspect some of you could be convinced to love them before you even try them. Why? Well, this week we'll be tasting another fantastic single-farmer lot from a member of the Yirgacheffe Farmer Cooperative Union (YCFCU) of Ethiopia named Workiye Shallo alongside the inaugural roast of this year's Remera from Rwanda. On your marks, get set, slurp!

Notes on the Coffees

Of the many great coffees we bought this year from individual farmer members of YCFCU, Workiye Shallo's (wer-KAY-yuh SHA-llow) piqued my interest not only because it's another example of my favorite coffee taste profile, but also because she's the only woman out of the single farmers whose coffees we have celebrated this year. In Yirgacheffe, as in most coffee-producing communities globally, women are equal partners in the work of coffee production but seldom hold positions of power or receive recognition. Women are less likely than men to own land, and given how few members of YCFCU own the processing equipment that allows them to create these small, single-farmer lots, Workiye Shallo is a noteworthy exception. Workiye lives in Konga, which is one of many villages in the Yirgacheffe region where we've purchased coffee over the years, and she grows equal parts Kudhume and Wolisho varieties of coffee on the farm she owns with her husband, Ayele.

Remera's return heralds the beginning of our offering list's transition from northern-hemisphere African coffees—the many Ethiopian and Kenyan stars we've been celebrating for the past few months—to freshly arrived, southern-hemisphere coffees from Burundi and Rwanda. This washing station is among the highest in elevation in Rwanda and the family behind it, including mother Epiphanie and her sons Aloys and Samuel, are some of the most curious and well-connected people in the country's dynamic specialty coffee industry. Our collaboration with them over the years has resulted in quality experiments like the excellent sundried natural of two years ago and in our support of their pursuit of sustainability, as well: this year we're pleased to be contributing $5,000 from our Seeds fund to a project to diversify their farms and small farms around theirs by intercropping macadamia trees among their coffee plants. Almost all Rwandan coffee farms are shadeless monocultures and growers have no history of composting, so most rely heavily on chemical fertilizers to sustain their nutrient-poor soils and on mulch grass to keep dry soil from washing down the country's famous thousand hills during the rainy season.

Rollout Dates and Availability

Workiye Shallo's and Remera's coffees roll out on Friday and should be around, brightening our palates, through the middle of February.

-Kim Elena
NOTE: Unfortunately, construction in our Durham Training Center will not be finished in time to host a Tasting@Ten at that location this Friday. All other Training Centers are back on schedule. We're terribly sorry! Please join us next week. Thanks kindly for your patience and understanding.



This week we will deconstruct the fruity, complex Hologram and taste its three components in order to understand what each coffee brings to the blend.

Notes on the Coffees 

Were I forced to reduce Hologram to a single word, I would choose the word fruity because the flavors of sundried natural Ethiopian coffees are unmistakable even in small quantities. But why choose a single word? Especially given that a hologram, by definition, is multi-dimensional. Though it’s not (yet) our best-selling year-round product, the growth in popularity of Hologram and its flavor profile over the past five years is something that excites me, primarily because the coffees that we use for Hologram are so good. Let’s talk about the current version, shall we?

We haven’t purchased coffee from the Asociación Integral Unidas Para Vivir Mejor (ASUVIM) in prior years, but we’re already making plans to purchase more from the harvest just getting underway on these small farms on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. This coffee’s sweetness and milk chocolate flavors are reminiscent of coffee from La Voz, which is located just across the lake. Farming techniques, climate and varieties are similar between the two, and the region seems to incubate unusually good co-op names: ASUVIM’s full name roughly translates as the Comprehensive Association United to Live Better. We’re already buying as much coffee as is available from La Voz and between our company’s growth, the favorable growing conditions around Atitlán and how little age we taste in ASUVIM’s coffee this late in the year, I’m confident you’ll hear more about this group in the year to come. For now, this coffee comprises 60% of Hologram and isn’t used anywhere else.

Second on the table is the inimitable washed lot from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia’s Hama, which is still my favorite coffee among all of our offerings, even a year after its harvest. We use Hama's bright, floral notes to make Hologram more dynamic, especially upon the first sip, but we keep its percentage low (10%) so that the chocolate, fruit, and body brought by the other two components still dominates.

With as many single-producer coffees as we had from Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, this year, including knockout sundried naturals from Aleme Wako and Elias Benata, we opted to dedicate the entirety of Biloya sundried natural to Hologram. Biloya tastes a bit more like chocolate and nut than those single-producer lots, which make it a good fit for this coffee, but it’s the berry flavors—which lend Hologram its characteristic fruitiness—that most people will identify immediately on the cupping table. Also, I expect many people would suspect that it makes up more than its current thirty percent of the blend.

As I mentioned at the outset, the coffees we are using in Hologram are exceptionally good ones. Big Trouble may outsell it, and I’d be a fool to deny people their preferences, but all of the coffees we use in Hologram are better and it’s the same price. Not to mention it comes in a purple bag. I know you’ll all enjoy it, but just in case, I’ll say it anyway: enjoy!

Rollout Dates and Availability

Year-round, my friends. All. Year. Round.

-Kim Elena
Our $3 Holiday Flat Rate Shipping begins today and runs through the end of the year. Save a few bucks on shipping the perfect gift—coffee and coffee accessories—to someone awesome in your life.

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POSTED IN: coffee