Pursuing the perfect cup: NC coffee roaster growing, creating a buzz in java industry

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DURHAM, N.C. -- We've all spent time in the coffee line, waiting for the barista behind the counter to work some morning magic and hand us a cup of steaming hot coffee.

"There is an appreciation now that coffee can be better,” says Brett Smith, CEO and co-founder of Counter Culture Coffee, a wholesale roasting company based in Durham.

But what makes the perfect (or near perfect) cup of coffee? According to Smith and the folks at Counter Culture, it’s the sourcing, storing and roasting that makes for coffee perfection.

“People are not drinking as much on a daily basis, but what they are drinking is more of what we do, which is called specialty coffee,” explains Smith.

Counter Culture produces about three million pounds of coffee a year, taking it from the raw green bean sourced sustainably from 20 countries around the world to the dark color you see at the shop.

Beans are stored, weighed, roasted, tasted and packaged at their new headquarters. Each bag is roasted to order. The giant roasters do most of the work, but it takes the strongest of the five senses to know when the beans are just right.

"It's more than just coffee, there's a supply chain and there is quality at the source, there is quality at the roaster and at the shop there has to be quality there too,” says Lem Butler. He just won the U.S. Barista Championships.

Butler came to Counter Culture after working at his local coffee shop. "I made my way through the back door just bagging coffee for two years,” he explained.

What keeps Butler and the coffee bean roaster's customers coming back is that with Counter Culture they can expand their world of coffee knowledge at training centers and labs.

"No one is building out a network of training centers like we are,” Smith says.

Right now they have 10 of these centers and four more in the works. They invite wholesale customers and the average coffee-fanatic to learn, smell and taste.

"We'll learn about water, we'll learn about equipment how to fine-tune equipment so that it extracts properly we'll learn how to grind the coffee,” Smith explains.

It all comes back to making the perfect cup of joe, which is catching on, because you can now buy Counter Culture in about 400 cafes across the country.

"Ultimately, the experience you get, in the morning, or after a great meal or on a trip, with friends, and the caffeine can stimulate conversation and in all that just makes it this wonderful thing to keep exploring,” Smith said.

So the next time you sit down with a freshly brewed cup of coffee, maybe you'll think not only about the aroma and caffeine but the bean to cup process that at it took to get it there.

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