Counter Culture Coffee is headed west: the North Carolina-based specialty coffee roaster will open a 12,000-square-foot roastery and training facility in Emeryville, Calif., at the end of April, and, perhaps of more immediate interest for those of us in Los Angeles who love good coffee, the company will open a training and educational facility this fall in Silver Lake.
Founder Brett Smith notes that there’s been considerable interest over the last few years in Counter Culture’s coffees from all over the western U.S., and from L.A. in particular. “It’s a great opportunity to come in and be part of L.A.’s growing coffee scene,” he says.
The move comes as Counter Culture celebrates its 20th anniversary. Founded in 1995, the company is considered one of the pioneers of the direct-trade model for sourcing coffee, which promotes direct relationships with farmers and ethical, sustainable practices.
Unlike other roasters, Counter Culture is strictly a wholesale operation. Thus if you want a cup of Counter Culture coffee, you’ll want to seek it out at places that carry Counter Culture beans, like H Coffee House in Los Feliz. Without a retail component to maintain, the company can devote much of its focus on supporting the restaurants, cafes and other partners that brew its coffee.
“We wanted to stick with wholesale,” Smith says, “and do what we do as well as we possibly can.”
Which brings us to Counter Culture’s unique coffee education and training centers. On the theory that coffee knowledge is power, the company has built eight of these centers across the country; wholesale partners can come in and taste coffees and get hands-on support while baristas and other professionals can advance their education through various courses (“Milk Mechanics”, say). The facilities also host educational public events, like cuppings, lectures and home brewing classes.
“Initially, we weren't sure what to call it,” Smith says, referring to Counter Culture’s first training center that it opened in Charlotte, N.C., in 2005. “But we realized early on the benefits of bringing people into our facility, tasting coffees together and building strong relationships. Over the years, we’ve built on that idea, and it’s become a venue where we can continue to share our knowledge and learn together.”
Three more training centers are slated to open later this year, including one near Sunset Junction in Silver Lake that is being designed by Design, Bitches. There are not yet many specifics about the space, but even in generalities, it sounds like a Hogwarts for amateur and professional coffee enthusiasts alike: It will be outfitted with all sorts of coffee gadgets, and there will be an area dedicated just to espresso exploration, another to manual brewing and yet another for cuppings and tastings.
Like the other training facilities, there will be courses for coffee professionals. And it will be open to the public for classes and events like Tastings@Ten, which take place every Friday at 10 a.m. and lets visitors taste coffees alongside the Counter Culture crew.
Overall, Smith says, the facility will be a “high-level exploration into coffee technique and brewing and will be an opportunity to introduce coffee to consumers and others who are relatively new to coffee.”
But before it launches its Southern California operations in the fall, Counter Culture plans to open its Emeryville roastery and training center to the public on April 25. When it’s officially up and roasting, Smith says, it will supply the coffee for accounts located in the western half of the U.S.
And before that, Counter Culture will release a single-origin coffee celebrating its 20th anniversary on April 3. According to the release notes, the coffee will be from be from Hacienda El Roble in Colombia — “one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable coffee farms” — and roasted “especially to highlight enduring, well-loved flavors in coffee: sweetness above all, over a round, plush body.” Happy, happy birthday, indeed.
Counter Culture’s training center will open this fall at 1601 Griffith Park Blvd., in Silver Lake.