Peter Giuliano is one of the truly fascinating interview subjects in specialty coffee, something we’ve come to learn time and time again while writing Sprudge. But for this piece, we’re going to get out of the way and let Mr. Giuliano speak. We sent him a series of questions upon learning of his departure from Counter Culture Coffee; here are his answers, in all their contextual glory.
1. What’s next for you, Peter?
Well, the universe has a way of keeping us guessing…. I won’t know what is truly next until it is already happening. However, I’m looking forward to becoming Director of the SCAA’s Symposium this year!
2. Can you tell us more about your whole Counter Culture experience? How long have you worked there? How has it grown and changed in your time there?
I came to Counter Culture in May of 2000, after getting a call from Counter Culture co-founder Fred Houk a few months before. I picked up the phone one day, and a voice on the other end said “Do you believe in fate?” So I came to North Carolina, and there was this coffee roasting company in a little industrial park. I walked in, and Fred had forgotten I was coming, but co-founder Brett Smith was there, playing an electric guitar for some reason. Cindy Chang (future World Barista Championship Executive Director) was running the office in front, and Daryn Berlin (future SERBC champion) was running the roasting and bagging in back. In a few years, we moved from that place to a larger place, with room for a proper training and cupping room. Now, we have six training centers and two more being built, within which we teach a comprehensive, amazing coffee education program. We’ve built a network of coffee relationships that we cherish, some of which have lasted a decade. We’ve created a system that truly documents and requires sustainable agriculture, transparency, and quality. And we’ve roasted and sold coffees that I didn’t even think were possible in 2000- the kind of coffees I fantasized about when I fell in love with coffee as a barista. We have a culture of experimentation, discovery, and relentless quality. We now have dozens of coffee people, who amaze me with their intelligence, passion, and drive. Kind of amazing to think of, actually.
3. Can you share with us an all-time favorite (or one or two top favorite) moments from your time at Counter Culture?
Funny, I keep thinking of the roaster fires! THOSE ARE NOT MY FAVORITE. Asking me to name my favorite anything is useless, because it makes me feel guilty about hurting the other ones’ feelings.
4. Talk to us more about your new role at Symposium, and how you envision that format growing in the years to come.
I’ve agreed to direct the SCAA’s Symposium, a conference which I helped envision and launch 5 years ago. The goal was to create a space to bring coffee dialogue and understanding to a new level- to be a sort of incubator for great coffee ideas. I’m so proud of what Symposium has achieved so far, but we have the opportunity to make it more accessible and even more powerful. We’re shooting for something that raises the bar yet again- that helps coffee people achieve even greater things through better information and understanding.
5. We recently heard that you just had a baby – congratulations! How’s life with a newborn treating you! Getting much sleep? Best moments so far? Cute photo you’d like to share?
Thank you! My daughter Suzan Yiulan was born 3 weeks ago. So far, we’ve been doing great and I’m in awe of what a good mother my wife is. The best moment was my first eye contact with the little human being, which I am thrilled was captured in a photograph (below). Next best happened this very afternoon, when I helped her take her first swim in the bathtub. I supported her back and she kicked in the water and it made me so happy my heart broke all over the place.
6. Will there be much more travel to origin for you in your future? Where would you like to return to next?
That’s a great question! I treasure the friends I have in the places where coffee is grown, and like most coffee buyers I yearn for the air of the coffee lands. That said, real coffee travel is hard work, and demands a true objective. I reckon I’ll see some of my friends at coffee farms soon, and I look forward to my next trip with other coffee people, sharing experiences and knowledge.
7. If you had one piece of advice for yourself back when you first started at Counter Culture, what would it be?
You can’t tell a young coffee person this, but I always try: take it easy, and focus. It’s so much better to do one thing right than to try to do too much. You’ll have lots of opportunities, you don’t have to take all of them.
8. If you had one piece of advice for someone starting a new coffee roastery, what would it be?
This is an extension of the above. I always tell people, don’t do too much. Start with one coffee, and do it right. It’s so much better to focus on one source, or one relationship, or one coffee and do it absolutely right before moving on to the next one. So many roasters lose their focus by trying to do too much. So choose one coffee, and make it great. And by great, I don’t just mean cup quality- make the relationship great, make the transparency perfect, make a difference in the impact this coffee has on the world. Don’t fake it. Get your roasting right, then roast it right again and again and again. Once you’ve figured out how to do great coffee once, soup to nuts, then you can move on to a second one. Jumping around, traveling too much, spreading yourself too thin is a sure path to mediocrity. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that “what’s in the cup is all that matters.” Agriculture matters. Integrity matters. Craft matters. We are lucky to work with great tasting coffee, and because of this we have to take responsibility for it, and all the implications of our crazy pursuit of deliciousness.