Tagged: Counter Culture

Counter Culture Teaches You to “Refine Your Grind”

As you know, grinding your coffee right before you brew is critical for doing Good Coffee right. In fact, the common wisdom holds that the most expensive part of your coffee brewing setup should be your grinder.

Your coffee maker determines how fine or coarse your coffee grounds should be. Usually, directions for grinding your coffee have vague descriptions. One such description, “it should be fine as kosher salt,” frustrates me because kosher salt varies in fineness. Believe me, I’ve checked.

Thankfully, the folks at North Carolina’s Counter Culture Coffee posted a video showing you how to grind your coffee. This video clearly shows you how fine your grind should be for the following brewing methods, from finest grind to coarsest:

According to the video, I’ve been grinding my beans too fine for my Chemex (or what they call a “Large Pourover”). Usually, time is short in the morning, and I just bloom for half a minute and then slowly pour the rest of the carefully measured water. Their method says it should take about four to five minutes, while my method results in something closer to three and a half minutes. I wonder whether that is because I don’t “pour and pause” like I probably should. That’s the only way I can account for my brew time being so much shorter than theirs.

And if you need a grinder, here are five that I’ve owned or have wanted to own:

  1. Small manual handheld grinder: Porlex Mini
  2. Larger manual handheld grider: Hario Skerton Ceramic
  3. Budget electric grinder: Capresso Infinity
  4. Entry level electric grinder: Baratza Encore
  5. Premium electric grinder: Baratza Virtuoso

Regardless of your brewing method or coffee grinder, you should experiment until you get the brew you like. There’s no right or wrong way to make your favorite coffee.

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Chilled Coffee Wars

We’re about a week away from solstice, but in New York City, it’s finally hot and muggy enough to stop craving hot coffee in favor of something chilled. I’ve written in the past that I much prefer making cold brew to brewing hot coffee over ice cubes. About a week ago, I noticed that two very prominent third-wave coffee roasters have chosen sides in this debate.

Counter Culture Coffee, out of Durham, North Carolina, favors pouring hot coffee over iced cubes to make their iced coffee. They insist that the immediate cooling process “locks in flavors and aromatics that other iced coffee processes allow to escape.” You can see their method in this video.

I’ve used this method several times, but as I’ve noted in the past, I generally only do this when I am pressed for time.

Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown, on the other hand, is a big proponent of cold brewing and discourages their customers from pouring coffee over ice cubes. In a recent blog post, they advise against brewing drip coffee over ice. They warn that “it will taste watery and bitter, and you’ll lose clarity and sweetness.” Instead, they recommend cold brewing: “making true cold brew takes time – about 16 hours, in fact – but it’s well worth the effort.” Their support of this method is likely due to their offering cold brew in bottles and nitrogen-propelled cans. If you can’t wait, they, of course, offer ready-to-drink bottles and cans.

However, they’re not entirely against the diluting hot coffee over ice. One method they recommend is using an Aeropress.

Brew Guide Aeropress Hero

That makes sense because it allows for longer brewing time, and the pressure used to brew with an Aeropress seems to extract more flavor than pour over alone.

At any rate, the fact that two first-rate, third-wave coffee roasters suggest competing methods for brewing iced coffee seems to confirm something I learned from touring bourbon distilleries over the past eight years.

There are countless ways to enjoy your coffee, and it’s your call on how to enjoy it. Even if you’re adding booze.

Why It’s Worth Overpaying for Coffee

Coffee Brewing

As much as I love getting a bag of freshly roasted specialty coffee, it is painful when you take a 12 ounce bag of coffee to the counter, hand the cashier a $20 bill, and save for being asked if I need it ground, getting nothing back in change.

Thrillist’s Dan Gentile had Lorenzo Perkins, a coffee instructor at Cuvée and executive council member of the Barista Guild of America, brew and taste ten different “second-wave” brands of coffee. For those who are smart enough to avoid knowing these three “waves” of coffee, here’s a brief primer.

  • First-wave coffees refer to your father’s canned coffee, such as Maxwell House, Folger’s, and Chock Full o’ Nuts. My parents drank Taster’s Choice for most of my childhood and switched to brewing Peet’s in a press pot only about ten years ago.
  • The second wave refers to more specialized brands such as Starbucks, Peet’s, Seattle’s Best, and Lavazza. I’m not sure where a brand like Illy fits in, which is served at theaters, museums, and other institutes of culture, but it comes in a can, already ground fine.
  • The third wave refers to the hand-picked coffee beans that are directly sourced from a single farm with the occasional blend that has been carefully “curated.”

The coffees in each wave also vary in price. Whereas a single sixteen-ounce can of first-wave coffee costs about five dollars at the grocery store, a one-pound of second-wave coffee will cost about a dollar per ounce. As I mentioned, third-wave coffee costs about 50% more, and it’s not unusual to pay about twenty dollars for a twelve-ounce bag.

Are you Down to Brew?

Are you Down to Brew?

Perkins’s tasting and his findings redeemed my silly spending habits: it’s worth overpaying for coffee. He found that Starbuck’s coffee, which I used to consider to be pretty good and will settle for while on the road, smells “gnarly” and tastes “smoky, but not ashy… actually kind of endearing,” and upon having the initial smoky flavor subside, it tastes “very bitter and astringent, but not in an unpleasant way.” For the longest time, I used to be a Peetnik, a subscriber to Peet’s delivery service. I always liked their coffee, but having become accustomed to fruity, third-wave coffees, I can’t drink it anymore. Perkins found that the coffee did have a nice “dark chocolate” aroma. But it let him down in the flavor department. He said it tasted like a cigar, “not a great cigar, more like a Philly. But there’s some sweetness — bittersweetness, but still sweetness — despite tasting super dark.” He also noted that “the darkness would lend itself well to cream,” reaffirming my belief that most people drink coffee as a delivery vehicle for milk and sugar.

Perkins also sampled a third-wave coffee, from North Carolina’s Counter Culture. Here, he noted an aroma of “green pear and cucumber” that seems more familiar to those of us who have been to coffee tastings, known as “cuppings” in the barista world. And the flavor was more suited to hand-picked beans, noting that it was “really juicy and acidic, with a peachy flavor and lots of sweetness.” Doesn’t that sound better than a cigar from the local bodega?

And if you’re wondering if he liked any of the first-wave coffees, he did appreciate the venerable Chock Full o’ Nuts, although he thought Maxwell House tasted “like death.”

I’ll raise a cup of Stumptown’s Burundi Kayanza to that!

Pour Over Iced Coffee

Although I much prefer cold brew for hot summer days, there are days that I cannot wait fifteen hours to brew coffee. I need coffee right now, and I’ll settle for iced coffee. If you’re unsure about the differences between cold brew and iced coffee, let’s distinguish between the two as follows:

cold brew
coffee brewed with cold or room-temperature water for an extended period of time, between twelve and fifteen hours, and then diluted with ice water.
iced coffee
coffee brewed hot at a higher concentration and then served over ice cubes.

I prefer the sweet and complex flavors you get with cold brew. It’s much easier for me to identify the coffee’s “notes,” such as vanilla, caramel, chocolate, etc. It also lacks the bitterness of hot brewing, but you do you have to wait about half a day to extract those flavors. However, when you’re out of cold brew, and the mercury is hovering around 90°, as it is today, pouring hot coffee over ice cubes will do just fine. Also, there’s been backlash against the cold brew craze, which exploded on the coffee scene about four years ago, and some are returning to pouring hot coffee over ice cubes.

The folks at North Carolina’s Counter Culture coffee produced a video for making iced coffee.

Their recipe, posted on their website, uses 30 g of coffee, 335 ml of hot water, and 165 g of ice. I adapted their recipe to brew two small iced coffees, using a Chemex with the following measurements:

  • 40 g of coffee: Bella Vista (Antigua, Guatemala) by Tonx
  • 450 ml of 195° filtered New York City tap water
  • 220 g of ice

While I was glad that I had chilled coffee without resorting to buying it from the local coffee shop, for at least three dollars a pop, I’m glad there will be cold brew tomorrow.