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Ken and Lem in a Brewing Science I lab in Durham!
Recently, I have been mulling over the great coffee conundrum: How is it possible that something so simple can also be so complicated?
 
Think about it – brewed coffee only has two ingredients, right? Ground coffee beans and water. They should go together effortlessly and flawlessly every time, right? Just like peanut butter and jelly, a perfect, always-delicious combination that's the easiest thing in the world to synthesize.
 
Except, well, it's anything but easy.
 
Sometimes, when I think about all the things that impact the way that those two ingredients interact, I get a little lightheaded. How much water, and how hot should it be? How much coffee, and how coarse or fine a grind? How long should I let them hang out with each other, and in what kind of brewer?
 
Hold on a second, sorry. I'm suddenly a little dizzy. (Just kidding. Sort of.)
 
But it's true – to coffee-driven people in constant pursuit of that perfect cup, the sheer number of variables involved in bringing two seemingly simple ingredients together can be overwhelming and maddening. Or, it can be an exhilarating challenge – the thrill of the chase! And, it's for the latter group of bean-heads that we've created a new series of labs: Brew Science I, II, and III, all designed around exploring what it is that makes delicious coffee delicious, and, hopefully, to help coffee-lovers learn how to troubleshoot problematic brews.
 
Want to unlock the mysteries of grind size, dwell time (the duration of water in contact with coffee), agitation, even temperature? Then this is definitely the lab for you. In Part I, we examine the aforementioned variables, brewing batches of coffee in Clever drippers. Part II introduces both a new set of variants and a slightly more complicated brew method: The pourover cone, as designed by Counter Culture and developed by Bonmac. Part III is super-exciting, especially for brew geeks: We'll simply be playing around and trying to dial in on a host of different extractors, such as Chemex, Aeropress, and, yes, even a vacuum pot!
 
So if you're gearing up for that New Year's Resolution you made – you know, the one about brewing and drinking better coffee in 2012? – now's the time to mark your calendar for all three parts of Brew Science. Hope to see you there!
 
-Meister
 
POSTED IN: brewing, education
 
See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes from his trip to Ethiopia in November 2011.
 
See the full set on Flickr for Tim's notes from his trip to Kenya in November 2011.
Aida Batlle hard at work into the night on an experiment at the mill where her coffee is processed.
Most people dream their whole lives of even a single mention in the pages of The New Yorker, and our longtime friend and partner Aida Batlle earned a 12-page profile in the current November 21 issue – fittingly the annual Food Issue, with articles about some of the culinary world's most interesting trends and innovative developments. Congrats, Aida!
 
Titled "Sacred Grounds – A revolution in coffee," the article by New Yorker staff writer Kelefa Sanneh chronicles Aida's meteoric rise in the coffee world – from when she first took over her family's farmland in El Salvador to her first Cup of Excellence competition, subsequent stardom, and present day, hands-on collaboration with Counter Culture and a select few other roasters.
 
Products of an unmatched dedication to quality, all of Aida's coffees are special and precious. This year, we are grateful to offer fresh lots from Finca Mauritania (including a Natural Sundried lot), as well as Cascara – dried coffee fruit to be steeped like tea – from all four of her farms. And our most special coffee, by far, is Aida's Grand Reserve, which this year was crafted from only the peaberries from each of her farms, processed using a variety of techniques learned from Indonesia, Kenya, Sumatra, and Brazil.
 
Please join us in congratulating Aida and celebrating her wonderful coffee.
 
Best,
Mark
POSTED IN: coffee
The Good Food Awards seal, found on winning products, is intended to assure consumers they have found something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good.
The Good Food Awards aim to honor and celebrate "tasty, authentic and responsibly produced" foods. So do we, and, although we're primarily focused on coffee, we believe that all foods should be not only delicious, but also responsibly crafted in a sustainable manner. In its second year, Good Food Awards will be given to winners in eight categories: beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, pickles, preserves, and spirits. Awards will be given to producers and their food communities from each of five regions of the US. The Good Food Awards seal, found on winning products, is intended to assure consumers they have found something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good.
 
We were especially thrilled to get the news that our Buna Ababa - Haru coffee (a seasonal, washed lot from Ethiopia) was selected as one of only 11 finalists in the coffee category. Hundreds of coffees were submitted for a blind tasting, and, to be eligible, each coffee must be certified organic, have price transparency throughout the supply chain, and comply with the United Nations' principles of labor rights.
 
Winners will be announced in January 2012 during an Awards Ceremony and Marketplace. Until then, congrats to all the other finalists, and hooray for everyone involved in producing Buna Ababa - Haru!
 
Best,
Mark
POSTED IN: coffee
Meister at the espresso machine.
"Wow," you might overhear someone say in a session of Counter Culture's illuminating Beginner Espresso Lab. "I never realized how much went into making a good cup of coffee!"
 
And it's true: From absolute novices to seasoned baristas, from coffee-shop owners to home espresso enthusiasts, everyone seems to walk out of the all-day class with a new crema consciousness and an excited sparkle in their eyes (though that might just be the caffeine).
 
As an instructor, I know that even I've learned a thing or two from walking a new batch of students through the espresso-making process: Sometimes all it takes is one newbie asking a stumper of a question, and, before you know it, we're all puzzling out some macchiatto mystery together. Who knew there was so much to discover about a beverage (that is, coffee) that only has two ingredients (grounds + water)??
 
The moral of that story is that while making espresso is fun and fascinating, it absolutely isn't easy. (And good thing, too – if it were easy, I wouldn't have my job!)
 
Making espresso is fun and fascinating, it absolutely isn't easy.
At Counter Culture, we believe that knowledge isn't just power, it's everything. And it takes a lot of hard work to amass that knowledge – which sometimes means going back to "school," by attending one of our intensive and immersive full-day coffee labs. Not only do we have to train our hands to operate the espresso grinder and properly tamp a cake of coffee grounds, but we also have to train our tongues to understand what "good" and "bad" espresso tastes like and train our brains to understand all the different ways the former affects the latter.
 
At least the homework isn't too bad: All our students are required to make and taste as much espresso as they can, to try to develop their palates and grow a vocabulary that will help troubleshoot the occasional too-bitter shot or too-bubbly milk they might encounter behind the bar. Without a solid foundation and understanding of what causes those flavors and textures, every cappuccino seems a little bit mysterious.
 
Want to come try to stump the teacher – not to mention learn how to make A+ espresso shots? Check out the Counter Intelligence calendar for the next Beginner Espresso Lab near you.
 
POSTED IN: brewing, education
11-4-11
 
Incredibly skillful sorting of coffee cherries at Finca Mauritania in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Never one to shy away from an experiment or challenge, El Salvador's Aida Batlle has perfected the traditional natural sundried method used in Ethiopia for centuries. Applying this method to the 100% Bourbon coffee from her Finca Mauritania in Santa Ana has resulted in a rare, wondrous coffee with traditional Ethiopian flavors of ripe berries, wine, and chocolate combined with a distinctive Salvadoran sweetness.
 
We've worked personally with Aida for years, and this coffee is close to our heart. We are so proud to roast Finca Mauritania Natural Sundried and bring it to you.
 
Best,
Nathan
POSTED IN: coffee

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