A Shrine to Cult Coffee: Counter Culture Coffee Opens New Manhattan Training Center

Counter Culture Coffee’s new Nolita space represents an innovative concept in the coffee world. The former carriage house is not a coffee shop, nor is it a retail outlet. The mission? Simply teaching people how to make good coffee.

Disclaimer: I am a fan of Counter Culture Coffee. I owe a lot to the Durham, NC-based roasting company, whose boutique beans powered my college education in that town. Last week, Counter Culture opened an education center of its own in Nolita.

Counter Culture Coffee’s new Nolita space represents an innovative concept in the coffee world. The former carriage house is not a coffee shop, nor is it a retail outlet. The mission? Simply “teaching people how to make good coffee,” says Jesse Kahn, regional director of Wholesale Sales for New York. As the newest and most high-tech outpost of the Counter Intelligence Program, the company’s education arm, the space was specially designed to host cuppings (tastings) and lab-style classes for wholesale customers, professional baristas and home enthusiasts, all while staying true to the company’s focus on environmental, social and fiscal sustainability.

Accordingly, the training center has salvaged-wood counters dedicated to nearly every imaginable coffee-related activity. Among them is a shiny Modbar, recessed below the countertop to nurture one-on-one communication between servers and customers. Another bar faces a set of reclaimed wooden bleachers with built-in drawers where students can settle in for the longer demonstrations. There’s yet another counter space where chefs may prepare food for future pairings, plus an entire nook in the back reserved for espresso—there are four counters, four machines and moveable glass walls to seal this holy nave off from the rest of the large, open main level. Downstairs is geared toward wholesale customers, with an equipment repair station for partners, a small convention space and a practice room for baristas in training for competitions.

What more could a coffee enthusiast possibly want? Sustainability Manager Kim Elena Bullock Ionescu half-jokes that the only thing missing is a coffee farm. She dreams of re-purposing the gently used “gray water” to some sort of botanical end, perhaps even growing a coffee bush or two for the “Coffee Origins” class. But while a Nolita plantation may be a long way off, Ionescu is proud that each detail of this new space reflects the company’s environmental consciousness. Milk is ordered in bulk; appliances are energy-efficient; coffee grounds are composted in the vermiculture (or worm-composting!) station; and free bikes are available to students taking day- or week-long classes.

Ionescu says that in the past, she’s found it a shame to see other Counter Culture training centers decorated with goods from mass-producers like Ikea. She believes that each chair should do justice to Counter Culture’s hard work sourcing ethical beans and developing sustainable business practices. So this time the décor was planned to a T. NYC-based architect Jane Kim created a sustainable space with urban appeal, with thoughtful touches like a bike storage room and round fluorescent light bulbs that somehow shine soft and bright.

Classes and Cuppings

Weekly free-and-open to-the-public cuppings, a Counter Culture tradition, are scheduled for Friday mornings at 10 a.m.  Anyone can drop by to sample their roasts, including the Kenyan Thiriku Pea Berry, smelling of bay leaves and tasting of vegetable soup. Or you may encounter Biloya, a “purpley,” “plum-like” sun-dried Ethiopian with a “milk chocolate finish,” as described by Erin McCarthy, Counter Culture employee and winner of the 2013 World Brewers Cup.

Classes range from the popular Espresso Labs to Milk Chemistry to Coffee Origins. There are only 25-30 hours of scheduled programming per week. Beyond that, the space will be open to wholesale customers to play and experiment with coffee. We can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with!

Counter Culture Coffee’s New York Training Center is located at 376 Broome St, between Mott and Mulberry. Hours and classes are listed on their website.

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Part-time film documentary filmmaker and full-time food lover, North Carolina native Anna Cassell has worked at organic farms around the world, from a garlic farm in upstate New York to a fruit orchard and cafe outside Stockholm. She has slept in barns, buses and on straw, harvested wild cherries, scrubbed the dirt off many carrots, and drunk milk straight from a goat’s teat. She’s always searching for new variations of hummus to make, and will eat an entire bushel of blueberries if left to her own devices.