Local Coffee Culture: Organic, Sustainably Farmed and Roasted to Perfection

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While enjoying a random hike through Chapel Hill on a crisp, fall day I spied a small, white flyer nailed to a tree with an arrow stating, “To coffee and wine”. Intrigued, I followed the path straight uphill through an old growth forest. Sure enough, I came out behind the cutest little coffee shop I’d ever seen. It was magical, charming and my first introduction to Caffé Driade.

Currently, I’m enjoying the afternoon with swirling techno beats and colorful, psychedelic art at the Open Eye Café. Who can resist the camaraderie of children running around, business meetings going on, groups of friends laughing and lounging on the couches and singles, like me, buried deep in their computers?  The Open Eye definitely deserves its name, "Carrboro's Living Room". I spend more time in this living room than my own. 

In addition to the amazing coffee shops like Caffé Driade and Open Eye, the area offers quality coffee at a number of restaurants from Peppers, Margaret’s Cantina and Glass Half Full to the Weaver Street Co-op and specialty stores like A Southern Season. 

It’s not by luck or chance that the coffee in town is spectacular. It’s due to the fact that we, unbeknownst to many, have two local coffee roasters that go way beyond the call of duty to make sure that the coffee we buy is organic, sustainably farmed and roasted to perfection.

Counter Culture Coffee

“Most people think of coffee as a beverage, a bean, a commodity or even a drug,” says Peter Giuliano, coffee connoisseur, evangelist, Director of Coffee and Co-Owner at Counter Culture Coffee. “Yet those same people are well-versed in food production. They want to know if their food is local, organic and high quality. Who wouldn’t rather have a rich, juicy, heirloom tomato grown by farmer Bob down the street and sold at the local co-op or farmer’s market than a milly, flavorless, genetically modified tomato from a corporate superstore? Coffee should be the same way; I say should because most people don’t think about it in that light. Coffee is a seasonal fruit and if this fresh produce is grown, handled and prepared with care, it is also a fine culinary experience.” 

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Counter Culture Coffee is located in Durham and world renowned for their high quality coffee roasting. People visit from all over the globe to tour their roastery, learn about sustainable coffee practices and attend their free weekly tastings, also known as ‘cuppings’.  They boast the tagline, “We’re not trying to change the world, just the way it thinks about coffee”.  

“Many people don’t realize that fresh coffee has a rich array of flavors, from apricot and blueberry to chocolate and ginger, without any additives at all,” says Peter while holding a hand of fresh, oily beans underneath my nose. 

From talking to Peter I learn about his travels to foreign lands to find the best coffee farms and how Counter Culture helps these small farmers learn about sustainable farming methods and become certified organic. I never knew how closely they work with A Southern Season by supplying them with fresh coffee and collaborating on monthly posters that highlight the coffee and coffee farmers to help educate the public and help them form a personal connection to their coffee. I also learned that coffee is seasonal; in the spring great coffee has light, fruity and floral fragrances and in the winter it has an earthy, rich aroma. 

Carrboro Coffee Company

Counter Culture isn’t the only roaster in the area. When you drink coffee at Café Driade and Open Eye Café it’s roasted by the Carrboro Coffee Company.

“We are a small-batch roaster,” shares Scott Conary, co-owner of Caffe Driade, Open Eye Café and the Carrboro Coffee Company. “In our roasting facilities we never roast more than twenty-five pounds at a time to ensure that our coffee is of the highest quality.”

Carrboro Coffee Company is newer and smaller than Counter Culture, but they have the same goals of sustainability, fairness, high quality and education.

“We carefully source from all over world by traveling and working directly with the farmers and co-ops, as well as attempting to increase coffee quality knowledge and technical skills,” says Scott. “Our goal is to increase sustainability through directly interacting with the farmers and making sure they are fairly compensated when they are in line with the quality standards we are looking for.”

The Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham areas are extremely lucky. Our local coffee roasters build strong, global community relationships with farms all over the world, from Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia and Rwanda, to Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. They aren’t just sourcing coffee from these areas; they are deeply involved in all aspects of these farms.

In the coffee industry we have a unique ability to directly affect both our own local economies and those around the world, so we aim to do it for the good of all,” says Scott. “Roasting is truly as local as coffee can get in this country, so this is where it truly becomes a local point of pride.”

Scott at Carrboro Coffee Company and Peter at Counter Culture Coffee both sing the praises of knowing the farmers, working within the global coffee communities and educating the food industry and pubic about quality coffee. After our conversations I think about coffee in a much different light. I always bought organic, but I never thought of it as a seasonal, farmed produce and I never knew it could smell and taste like blueberries!

This year Carrboro Coffee Company is expanding their offerings this year to include hands-on technical classes for espresso and brewing equipment, along with history, info and tastings to help educate the public. The training room is located in the Open Eye Café. You can look to their website for more information.

Counter Culture Coffee also welcomes the public to their facilities every Friday at 10 a.m., rain or shine, for free ‘cuppings’ of their latest finds. You can find their weekly ‘cupping’ notes on their website, along with a very interesting blog and profiles on the farms and farmers they work with. They also have training centers in Asheville, Charlotte, D.C. and Atlanta. 

As I’m leaving Counter Culture Peter bags some freshly roasted coffee beans from Kenya and Papua New Guinea. I can hardly wait to get home and brew it, but at the same time, I can hardly wait to come back to try the newest flavors of the week. If you’d like to enjoy a free morning of delicious coffees, learn how to make a perfect brew and delight your palette with flavors you didn’t know existed in coffee, drop by Counter Culture on any Friday.

“There’s nothing more exciting than introducing people to really great tasting coffee,” says Peter. “That’s what we live for.”