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Counter Culture is Coffee Up Close and Personal

By John DiGilio in Food on May 5, 2011 4:00PM

For a lot of people, coffee isn’t just a morning ritual, it’s a way of life. Coffee connoisseurs, proud baristas, growers, roasters, you name it - a growing portion of the population lives and breathes by the bean. Behind the scenes is a whole coffee world and culture that makes our lattes and mochas possible. It’s what makes them taste so good. With its new training center, Counter Culture Coffee is looking to open up that fascinating world to Chicago’s coffee lovers.

We visited their new Chicago Training Center and it was an experience best described as both eye-opening and palate-pleasing. Headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, Counter Culture is looking to make a big splash in the Chicago market. Their assault on the city’s coffee scene will proceed along two fronts. With a fantastic lineup of sustainable and organic blends, sourced directly from farmers around the world, Counter Culture brews will appeal to even the most finicky of the city’s coffee drinkers. We are already hooked on their amazingly smooth and robust Decaf Jagong from Sumatra. Equally as impressive is their new Chicago Training Center in the West Loop. It is a place where seasoned coffee pros as well as neophytes looking to make a better cup at home can get a hands-on look at the entire coffee making process, from planting to processing to brewing the perfect cup.

We spent time with Counter Culture’s Rich Futrell and his new Chicago team, cupping, drinking, and talking coffee. Futrell is "excited to bring Counter Culture's unique approach to coffee education and wholesale support to Chicago," and Counter Culture is deeply invested in making sure that they transmit the knowledge of how to make a great cup. Says Futrell, "We are unique in the way that we consider our customers to be partners, since our brand is represented in the cup by every barista who makes our coffee. We don't just sell them coffee, we work very closely with them on everything from branding to presentation, barista training, menu development, bar layout and design, work flow, pricing - you name it, we have a deep brain trust that is available to all of our customers."

The training space is large, bright, and equipped with a fantastic array of coffee technology. Here, the public is invited to not just visit, but get their hands dirty (literally!) learning about beans and how to brew them. The whole purpose of the Center is to bring coffee drinkers closer to the object of their addiction. In just a few hours, we not only felt educated but were ready to run home and put what we learned into practice.

The staff at the Counter Culture Chicago Training Center are friendly, enthusiastic, and exceptionally knowledgeable. Their goal is to create a community space for coffee, food, and culture, as well as education. Public cuppings are scheduled every Friday at 10 AM. If you have ever wondered how the experts determine how to best brew a particular blend, this series is for you. We were transfixed by the process. Additionally, they are kicking off a series for coffee professionals that has been appropriately dubbed “Counter Intelligence”. This one is for baristas and coffee shop owners looking to enhance their skills. Finally, the Counter Culture crew is looking to bring in some of the industry’s best for talks and demonstrations. Already on May 5, the 2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies will be hosting an espresso workshop that is open to the public.

When you truly enjoy something, it is often easy to overlook the hows and whys that make it possible. With coffee so readily and easily available in this grab and go society, it is easy to take it for granted. Counter Culture Coffee wants its drinkers to savor and appreciate the experience - to stop and smell the beans. Their blends are already showing up in city coffeehouses; we had our first cup at Dark Cloud Coffee Studio in Lincoln Park. With a team now on the scene and a new Training Center, Counter Culture is taking Chicago’s coffee culture to a whole new level of enjoyment.

Counter Culture Coffee’s new Chicago Training Center is located at 177 North Ada Street in Unit 106.