Go Counter Intel It On The Mountain: Counter Culture’s Counter Intelligence Lecture

Our Sprudge NYC coverage concludes (for now) with a loving, apologetically tardy recap of Counter Culture Coffee’s Counter Intelligence lecture series.

thassa lotta cups

In December of 2010, Sprudge.com was generously invited to sit in on the first-ever Counter Intelligence Professional Series. Hosted by current SCAA President and all-around industry do-gooder Peter Giuliano, this was a 2-day “beyond intermediate” crash course in coffee history, tasting, brewing, roasting, and processing. More like a grad school lecture than a coffee class, Counter Intel may very well be the future of specialty coffee education: a seriously intellectual, academic dissection of where the industry is now, where we’re going and how we’ll get there.

I joined 17 students in the crowded seminar space, the group representing a wide variety of experience in the industry – from 2 years on bar to 20 years owning shops. Most of the students were from the East Coast (Kyle from Columbus, Ian from Delaware, Faith from Philly), though the event was well-represented by Michigan’s Comet Coffee, including Camp Pull-A-Shot scholarship winner Sandy Bledsoe (from whom the pictures in this feature are generously on loan).

day two, y'all

Day one focused on technique, and Peter started by bringing it ALL the way back to the beginning with an intro on Ethiopian coffee tradition. Ethiopian tradition leads us to manual brewing, and Peter laid out that history for us too. Did you know that the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company had the first American pour over bar, in 1988? Because I didn’t. And then it’s science time! Peter G’s partner in lecture time is Phil Proteau, he of Counter Culture Philadelphia. Phil dropped some serious knowledge on us – solubles yield, target solubles, undesired solubles and insoluble material, for starters – before cracking up the room with the following quote on changing tastes in specialty coffee: “If I were wearing parachute pants right now, you would all laugh really hard. If I were wearing them in 1985 you would only laugh a little bit.” Well put, sir.

The day continued with a fascinating roast video from Indonesia, dissection of the Maillard reaction, and a highly focused cupping centered on roast profiles, from unroasted green to your standard nasty French. Later that night, Peter told us about the time he poured a latte for Janet Jackson, “Miss Janet if you’re nasty”.  On to day 2!

Day 2 was primarily focused on tasting, including Peter-led lectures on processing and defects and a chance to cup 23 different varietals. We played around with acids, cupped for defects, and exercised our palates on coffees both startling delicious (Geisha Esmeralda) and intentionally vile (Uganda Robusta, various potato-infected samples). I keep coming back to the college seminar comparison, but it’s worth another mention – Counter Intel felt like some of the better high-level lectures I attended at University. Peter is as fascinating, open and engaging of a teacher as I’ve ever had the chance to learn from, regardless of the subject, be it Sovietology or roast technique. The Q&A that closed out the lecture was lively and full of laughter; people left the event with each others business cards and phone numbers. I felt like I made friends.

Counter Culture is planning to conduct more high-level Counter Intel lectures in 2011, and for everything we’ve talked about in this piece and more, Sprudge wholeheartedly beseeches you to check out these events when they’re announced. Atlanta and DC are the early front-runners! Check back with Sprudge for more info as it’s made available, and to Peter, Phil, and the professional and awesome CCCNYC staff, Sprudge says “thanks”. I’ll leave you with my favorite overheard quote from the event:

Peter G: “Some people are just…fascinated with defects.”

Liz Clayton: “And that’s not just limited to coffee!”

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