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An Interview With Jonathan Bonchak, South East Bre...

An Interview With Jonathan Bonchak, South East Brewers Cup Champ!

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For the second consecutive year, Jonathan “Peaches” Bonchak of Counter Culture Coffee is your South East Brewers Cup champion! Mr. Bonchak, who manages wholesale sales for Counter Culture at their Durham, North Carolina headquarters, now moves on to compete at the United States Brewers Cup Championship this April in Seattle. He also took home a bevy of prizes, including a Baratza Virtuoso grinder and Esatto scale combo, a Bonavita variable temperature “gooseneck” kettle, a Silverton Coffee / Tea brewer, copy of Liz Clayton’s Nice Coffee Time and much more from Espressoparts.com, a Sturdy Brothers leather apron, a Rishi Tea Simple Brew and box of Iron Goddess tea, a first place plaque from Reg Barber Enterprises, and much more.

We caught up with Mr. Bonchak via email in the aftermath of his glorious victory.

 Jonathan Bonchak, you just won the Brewers Cup for your region. What are you going to do next?

Cup some coffee!  I’ll be doing a lot of that in hopes of finding a coffee to showcase at nationals. Tim Hill (CCC coffee buyer and quality control manager) is my right hand man for this and he’ll be bringing me lots of options, no doubt. He’s visiting Idido (the village / cooperative whose coffees I used to win with) as we speak.

 What coffee did you compete with at Brewers Cup? Please tell us a bit more about it. 

The coffee I brewed was a Grade 1 lot from the Idido Cooperative in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. Idido is located about 30 miles north of Haru, which is the coffee I won with last year and took 2nd with at the 2013 Nationals. Obviously I’m a big fan of washed coffees from this area and those lots that I chose to compete with have been stellar. Juicy body, big floral aromatics, sweet flavors of stone fruit and melon, and clean clean clean!

What brewing method did you employ in your routine, and why?

I used Counter Culture’s Bonmac “classic” pourover cones and did a similar prep as what I did last year, since the coffee was so similar and the prep worked well. I ground coarsely, sifted the fines, and updosed to a 1:12 ratio. Trusting my palate was critical, but context is everything, and you have to calibrate your coffee and brewing parameters against others if you want to learn and improve on where you are at. And that is what I did, continuously.

Mr. Bonchak with 2nd place finisher Colin Whitcomb of MadCap Coffee (at left) 3rd place finisher James Tooill of Argo Sons Coffee (at right).

Mr. Bonchak with 2nd place finisher Colin Whitcomb of MadCap Coffee (at left)  and 3rd place finisher James Tooill of Argo Sons Coffee (at right).

What advice do you have for future Brewers Cup competitors?

Cup as many coffees as possible, as often as possible. In my presentation I spoke, (nervously!) about how we as coffee professionals must also be lifelong learners by default, and I truly believe that. The more we learn, the more we can share our discoveries and knowledge with our customers. That shared discovery, to me, is the pinnacle of the specialty coffee customer service experience.

Where do you think the Brewers Cup will be in 5 years?

That’s tough. Part of me wonders if it might simply merge with the Coffee of the Year competition. At some point, we’re going to have a lot of people who all brew coffee exceptionally well and It’s just going to come down to who can source the highest scoring coffee and present it the best. But my hope more than anything is that Brewers Cup continues to draw attention from the public. All of these coffee competitions are a huge opportunity for us to tell the story of incredible coffees and for the public to experience them.

I know it’s not realistic for competitors to take their $150/lb coffee and hand out free cups to anyone who wants to try it, but I do see a real chance to take the experience to our friends and family and community, and share it with them. How we continue to promote and draw in the public to these competitions is critical to their longevity. They’ve come a long way, let’s not stop now! The crowd at Big Eastern was huge and I’d like for nothing more than to have the yearly competitions looked forward to like any other annual event for the public to enjoy.

What would it mean for you to represent the United States at the World Brewers Cup this year in Rimini, Italy? 

Man, I can only imagine! It would mean a lot…on the one hand it would mean that Counter Culture Coffee would be represented on the world stage again and that’d be awesome. [Erin McCarthy, a Counter Culture tech in New York City, won US Brewers Cup nationals last year. Mr. McCarthy then went on to win the World Brewers Cup.] Personally it’d be amazing to get the chance to meet so many coffee people from all over the world and to share coffee with them. That’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I’ll be doing everything in my power to get myself to Italy! Also, it’d be great to take my wife, Jenny Mac, along since it’ll be close to the time that we’d celebrate our 9 year wedding anniversary.

Also, I really want to have an espresso with Nuova Simonelli icon Gianni Cassatini in his home town!

Gianni Cassatini of Nuova Simonelli.

Gianni Cassatini of Nuova Simonelli.

Photos by Charlie Burt for Sprudge.com. Sprudge.com’s coverage of the 2014 Big Eastern has been made possible by Dallis Bros. Coffee, Counter Culture Coffee and Nuova Simonelli. We’re proud to serve as the 2014 Official Media Partners with the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

Read all of our 2014 Big Eastern coverage here!  


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