counter culture coffee

Coffee Ice Spheres

Keep your cold brews cold without worrying about your ice diluting your meticulously crafted drink.

Ice Molds can be found here:


Tsheya eya!

The first time we ever had Tsheya was at Joule in Downtown Raleigh. Joule is a part of the Ashley Christensen empire, and is currently the most upscale Coffee shop/Bar/Restaurant hybrid in the area.  I think the only other place that serves coffee, alcohol and food all in the same place is Helios. But, more on Joule in an upcoming post. This post is about Tsheya.

Since we were on the go and just wanted a quick(er) fix, we ordered a pour over to-go. All I could taste and smell was the overwhelming aroma of peanuts. Boiled peanuts, to be exact. Ever since then, I haven’t touched Tsheya.

However, I gave it a try this week because the description says bright citrus, stone fruit and only light savory notes, which was nothing like the first time I tasted it. When I brewed it as a pour over for the first time, it was nothing like what we had at Joule. It was super bright with a mouth watering fruity aroma. The tartness was so refreshing and juicy to me, while the slight savory notes gave it a balancing factor.

So what happened at Joule? I have to say it was the paper cups! I think that maybe the paper cup was not rinsed, or it was a bad choice in the selection of paper cups to use. I’m really glad to have experienced this whole series of events because we now have made a mental note to make sure that the paper cups we use to serve our coffee will not carry any weird tastes.

We’ve been back to Joule a few times and we love that place! As mentioned earlier, we’ll have a post about Joule soon!

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D.I.Y. Slow Drip Cold Brewer

Everyone’s drinking cold brew. A few companies, like Stumptown Coffee, have even started bottling it to sell at coffee shops and grocery stores.  Popularity is on the rise because the cold brew method prevents certain acidic, bitterness-inducing compounds from appearing, creating a smooth and syrupy finish well-suited for iced coffee. That, and the equipment used to achieve that delicious nectar looks totally badass.

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This is the Yama cold water drip tower. It makes delicious cold brew coffee, but more importantly, it looks like a steampunk meth lab (think Heisenberg in goggles and a top hat). It also costs $295 and takes up a lot of counter space. No, we’re not expecting you to use this at home.

A little searching online got us to Cafe Prima’s DIY Cold brew tower using the Aeropress and just a standard water bottle. We decided to give it a test run.

As you can see by the slow, methodical dripping, this D.I.Y. method is essentially an unholy combination of an Aeropress and Chinese water torture. The brew took a total of 1.5 hours for 330 mL of water to pass through and we ended up with 280 mL of brewed coffee. If you’re interested in why we used 185 degree water for pre-infusion, check out this really interesting article about combination hot and cold brewing.

Sometime in the near future, we’re going to attempt to create a more advanced model that more closely resembles the Yama Brewing tower. Expect more glass, controllable valves, and gnarly wood.

Vietnamese Style Black Eyed Pour Over

It’s finally getting warmer outside now! This past winter was long and brutal for the South. The only acceptable type of polar vortex here is the one happening in our drinks.

So, we’ve finally begun to dedicate some time into developing specialty coffee drinks that we can offer seasonally (or permanently based on popularity) on our truck! So exciting! After filming the video, we roamed through the aisles of Whole Foods picking out various spices, dried flowers, berries and fruits that we can incorporate to enhance and compliment the flavors already present in various coffees.

The whole car smelled amaaaazing. More drinks coming soon!

An Update.

So, we haven’t really been able to work on espresso drinks because the non-pressurized basket for the crappy De’Longhi machine is still on backorder at Seattle Coffee Gear until sometime in April. Meanwhile, we’ve just been practicing a little latte art here and there. We’re really happy to get some great feedback from friends and family. We’re especially flattered to have requests to try our coffee! Hopefully, that can happen as soon as we get the new basket and get everything calibrated. I’m really excited, and at the same time curious, even dubious, as to whether the De’longhi will be able to perform. Its like expecting a Honda Civic to compete in a race amongst Ferraris.

I was going to post a latte art video today since its Thursday but decided to do something different and a lot better. Expect a longer video next week!


Meanwhile, we’re loving this milk from Maple View Farms and trying out the Bourbon variety and La Golondrina. We’re still catching up on all the new coffees from CC. Happy weekend!

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Regarding the Palette

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My great-great grandfather witnessed the bloody Chinese revolution and overthrow of the Qing dynasty. Such a victory was a huge step forward for China, but he was still skeptical and ended up basically saying, “to hell with it” and left China. Rightfully so, since the following decades were wrought with conflict, poverty and bloodshed. As a simple farmer, he didn’t really understand politics. All he wanted was the means to a peaceful way of life. He traveled south, fell in love with the rich, fertile lands of Cambodia and never looked back. There is a saying that is passed down through our family that originated from that wise farmer. “You’re never truly rich unless you know how to eat and drink well.”

So, my family is Chinese by blood, but our heritage is deeply rooted in Southeast Asia. My parents were born and raised in Cambodia, but their period of peace and relatively easy living was forcibly ended by Pol Pot and his regime of genocide. Fleeing with just the clothes on their back, they found themselves in a refugee camp in Vietnam. Shortly after, they gave birth to my brother and I.

Coffee was introduced to Vietnam in the 19th Century as a by-product of French colonialism. French coffee is characterized by a very dark roast, creating an intense smokey and bitter flavor. At the time, milk was at a premium (if you could find it) and refrigeration was a luxury, so the Vietnamese started using condensed milk. It didn’t require refrigeration and it was the perfect compliment to such a dark, bitter, and intense coffee.

Coffee in our family has always been REALLY DARK and NEVER, EVER ACIDIC. In fact, when my mom first tasted Counter Culture’s Ikawa Rwanda, she gave me the same face a toddler would give if you fed them a lemon. She was clearly over-exagerating. Its just that since she’s had the same Cafe du Monde and Starbucks dark roast style of coffee her whole life, she associated acidity to something being rancid.

It wasn’t until less than two years ago that I’ve journeyed out of my comfort zone and started tasted a wider array of artisanal single origin coffee and coffee blends. I guess when you really love coffee, you want to embrace all different types of coffee, just as one would embrace all sides of a loved one. I loved going to local coffee shops such as Jubala and Sola, drinking amazingly crafted coffee accompanied by a book (usually Murakami) and soaking in the coffee shop culture. At one point though, I started to make crappy coffee at home because I was just so sick of getting my daily, routine stomach aches. Maybe I was depressed. I do remember the coffee that got me out of my rut, Counter Culture Ikawa Burundi. Shortly after, my stomach aches were gone.

It takes time, but don’t force it.
I’m no connoisseur, but from personal experience, I’ve learned that it takes time to embrace different tastes, especially bitterness. Jimmy and I both had times in our lives where we hated eating bitter melon! Why, I would wonder, would people want to eat something so bitter? But was we got older and our attitudes changed, we’ve discovered that bitter melon is one of our favorite foods.

A natural progression also occurs when developing a palette for craft beer. When first introduced, one may start off with a belgian white or a hefeweizen. While heavy, they aren’t harsh to the palette and are quite sweet, citrusy, and delicious. It draws the unsuspecting novice in. From there, you would probably make your way through brown ales, porters, stouts, and then onto the almighty IPA. Bright, floral notes and refreshing, almost grapefruit-like tartness keep you hooked. Once you’ve reached this point, you’re done for. You’ve descended into the depths of beer-snobbery. You’ve tested the waters, now come on in. The water’s fine.

Bitterness gives complexity. Acidity brings brightness. I don’t prefer one over the other and I’m not suggesting they they are on opposite sides of the spectrum. When searching for good coffee, I look for whatever is the most balanced.

Professional Advice
I’m a huge fan of Erin Meister from Counter Culture Coffee. In Tastebud Training: How To Become A Better Coffee Taster, Miester gives several important tips:

1. Sip Before Sugar

To many people, coffee is a seemingly overpowering flavor, with strong bitterness or smokiness that can seem harshly unapproachable at first. That’s often our first reaction to things like beer, wine, and fine liquors, too—until, that is, we develop a taste for them… Nobody ever developed their taste for beer by dumping sugar in it, and neither will you for coffee by doing the same. -Erin Meister

2. Practice Makes Perfect

3. The Nose Knows

4. Compare and Contrast

5. Quit Smoking

For the whole article, click here.

An exciting journey..
A whole world of coffee is out there, spanning regions all over the globe. Think about how many hands have touched your coffee. All of the people that have affected it and the people it has affected. Take a moment to consider the forces at work that get those beans from that farm in Rwanda to your kitchen counter. From a handful of green coffee beans to that rich, caramel-colored crema. You are the end of the line, the final stop. How those beans conclude their journey is determined by you. You are the author of the finale, the director of the swan song. Make it memorable.

Thrillist’s Best Coffee Roasters in America (10/2013)

In October of last year, Thrillest came out with their list of America’s best roasters, voted by the most notable coffee writers and coffee nerds in the nation. I think this list still stands very well today.

Here’s the full article on

1. Counter Culture Coffee Durham, NC

2. Stumptown Portland, OR

3. Madcap Coffee Grand Rapids, MI

4. Intelligentsia Chicago, IL

tmg-slideshow_xl-1with their badass truck! Photo by Intelligentsia

5. Heart Roasters Portland, OR

For the whole list, click here.

How to REUSE your Spent Coffee Grounds

If you google “what to do with old coffee grounds”, there are quite a few articles that list the many ways of doing just that. Some are a little absurd and not very practical, while others are great and not weird. For example, using coffee grounds as an exfoliating facial mask? At the same time it’s saying you can use it as a green alternative to wood stain? See where I’m going with this?

So, I want to take the best tips and put our own spin on it. Hope there’s at least one in here that will apply to you! This article was inspired by


Sputnik Coffee Blog: Pour Over #2 (Failed)

Its Thursday! Almost there guys! The weekend is approaching but unfortunately for people in Raleigh, I believe theres also a little winter storm approaching tomorrow? We are all so sick of it.

So just like there’s good news and bad news mentioned above, there’s also good news and bad news concerning this pour over run. The bloom was good. I dialed my grind back a notch to 30 instead of 31/32 and got a bigger bloom. However, either the dripper or dripper stand was tilted, causing the coffee to run down the side of the dripper and the all the way to the dripper stand. What a mess!