Once upon a time Counter Culture Coffee was strictly an East Coast affair. For most of the 20 years the company has been in existence, their focus has been aimed at building out their network from a headquarters in North Carolina to training centers in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Charleston, Washington DC, Asheville, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. As of a year ago, the only place you could find a consistent cup of Counter Culture in the Bay Area was the Financial District’s Coffee Cultures and Oakland’s Modern Coffee. That time is coming to an end.
In late April 2015 Counter Culture Coffee threw open the doors on its 12,000-square-foot roasting and training facility in Emeryville, thereby firmly announcing the brand’s intentions to make their mark on the West Coast. I ventured out to the space to get the full tour of this beautiful, light-filled warehouse and sit and chat with a few of Counter Culture’s notable employees. Founder Brett Smith, Head of West Coast Quality Control Katie Carguilo, and the Head of Regional Sales in New York City Jesse Kahn chatted with me about the brand’s big move, the philosophy behind the design, and what the opening of the West Coast roasting facility means for the company.
What compelled you as a company to open in the Bay Area?
Brett Smith: We wanted to move west in order to continue growing. Part of the motivation to move to the Bay Area is that it’s a central location for distribution and allows us to get coffee into other markets that we’re exploring while minimizing our carbon footprint and delivering the freshest coffee possible. In addition, we’re just so attracted to the growing coffee scene in the beautiful Bay Area.
What do you have in store for the new space?
Jesse Kahn: There are really two distinct spaces here: our West Coast roastery, and the Bay Area training center. The roastery is where we’ll roast and quality-control all the coffees that we’ll be selling to our partners in the western US and the training center is designed specifically for coffee education and training. We will be teaching the full curriculum of labs that make up our wholesale education program, Counter Intelligence. We’ll also be hosting Tastings@Ten, our weekly free Friday tasting series that is open to the public. Additionally, we’ll be hosting quarterly ProDev events, in which we select a current topic of intrigue within the coffee community, research it, and present our findings in a roundtable format, often with tastings and hands-on experiments included.
Will the change in location affect what you’re offering on the West Coast, coffee-wise?
Katie Carguilo: All the coffees we are offering are sourced by Counter Culture’s coffee department, but yes, the West Coast roastery is getting some different and exclusive lots. This will allow our sourcing team to continue to focus on small lots, as opposed to having to bulk and create larger and larger lots so that both coasts can roast and offer the same coffees.
What does it feel like to finally be out here?
KC: It’s a great position to be in! CCC West Coast is, so far, like a small roasting company, except that we have access to some of the best coffees and some of the freshest arrivals in the world because we have the sourcing of a quality-focused, decades-old coffee company. It’s exciting to see how things will evolve as we grow.
Tell us a little bit about the design of the space.
JK: The design philosophy for our training centers remains to create learning environments that are supremely functional. Each section of our training centers has a different educational purpose, whether that’s cupping coffee, preparing espresso, steaming milk, or brewing filter coffee. We tried to keep it feeling light and airy by adding windows on both sides of all the interior rooms to let that light permeate every room.
How did the bleachers in the training area come to fruition?
JK: The bleachers were originally an element of our space in NYC. We spent a lot of time talking about our collective memories of being in school, and gymnasium bleachers were something that kept coming up. Since we do so many classes and events, Jane Kim, the architect who designed both the NYC and Emeryville training centers, came up with bleachers for both spaces that incorporate seating for classes, work surfaces for our staff and visitors, cabinetry, etc. It’s amazing to watch how people respond to the bleachers—the desire to climb on them is overwhelming.