Camp for Caffeinated Rebels

| September 23, 2009

Ongoing coffee wars: boo to the $4 Starbucks, yay to the $1 McDonald’s. Can’t taste the difference. Right?

I am an absolute novice when it comes to coffee. Remember, I’m the one with the baby taste buds and so yes, coffee has traditionally been too bitter for me. And it makes me pee like nobody’s business.

But when I heard there was two-day coffee camp at Counter Culture, the awesomest, coolest, happiest place, I jumped at the chance. Counter Culture is headquartered in Durham, NC and have training centers from New York to Atlanta. It was started in 1995 to challenge the existing paradigm of cheap, tasteless, lonely coffee. The founders imagined up a company with a passion for “coffee perfection…real sustainability…cutting-edge education.”

A company that hand-selects the best handcrafted coffees from around the world DIRECTLY from coffee farmers and not through anonymous coffee “buyers” and wholesalers? A company that cares about working conditions of its farmers AND the coffee experience of its consumers? A company that develops real relationships? Is that possible?


Folks as far as Wisconsin came for Counter Culture’s inaugural Counter Intelligence Camp, an incredible learning experience that included workshops on everything from the history and origins of coffee, to the coffee buying industry, to how to brew coffee in a gazillion ways. There were café owners, baristas, home enthusiasts. And me.

There is far more that I learned than I can fit here, so stay tuned for a next piece on my hands-on coffee fun. For now, I’m just blown away by the complete harmony between their ethics, philosophy, and action. They KNOW their coffee. They KNOW their farmers. They KNOW their stories. Many companies talk about being green, going organic, but how many actually live and breathe their talking points?

Counter Culture (I swear they are not paying me or even know I’m writing this, I don’t even buy coffee!) is the first coffee roaster to be certified organically in the state of North Carolina. What does certified organic even mean? Well, we’ve all heard the argument that you can be organic without being certified, and while technically true, it’s not so simple. Being certified is more than not using pesticides or using organic soil, it’s an entire philosophy. It’s about complete ecosystems in harmony.


Organic also impacts taste and flavor. I have heard from many coffee enthusiasts that Counter Culture’s coffee is truly one of the best, and this is no doubt in part due to the fact that they proactively reach out to farmers and hand-selects their crops. Their roasts can be seasonal because, well, it depends on what’s good, where it’s growing, and when. There’s no all-purpose blend of non-descript coffee remains. This is the real deal.

At the heart of everything they do are people, fairness, and sustainability. They set the bar, paying the highest prices to ensure the highest quality, partnering with each artisan farmer to ensure environmental, social, and fiscal responsibility. They investigate and evaluate every working condition, including seemingly small details like changing the chairs to be more ergonomic. One story that I was particularly touched was of an intrepid 30-something year old woman named Aida Battle who goes to El Salvador to run her family’s coffee farm without any previous experience and ends up with award-winning and record-setting coffee. Read about Aida here.


How many coffee roasters can equal that? Or the more important question is: why don’t other coffee roasters equal that? That is exactly what Counter Culture is trying to do: change the existing culture and current thinking that coffee should be cheap, tasteless and empty. Coffee is not just caffeine. It is about people; it is about life.


Note: local restaurant favorites with their own personalized coffees. Relationships are global AND local. It can be done.

Join the Rebellion.

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Category: Communities, Featured Articles: Food Politics, Food Politics, Piedmont NC, Travel & Culture, US & Canada

About the Author (Author Profile)

With a flair for spontaneity, pizzazz, creative excellence and her own unique sense of aesthetic grace and perspective, we have our very dear friend, Belinda (or B, to some of us). Although an incredibly accomplished professional and career woman, B’s down-to-earth approach and demeanor transcends all scenarios, communities and people. She manifests, in her day-to-day, the essence of the word “Zomppa” as demonstrated by her extraordinary commitment to creating sustainable and positive change for us and future generations to come. She’s asked for a dog every year since she was five. Check out Belinda’s work on global education research and coaching: or more about her portfolio

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  1. Coffee Dancers | Zomppa | September 25, 2009
  1. Downtown Barry says:

    I happy you enjoyed the experience. Thanks for sharing, you confirmed Counter Culture is the kind of business I want to contribute to….

  2. Downtown Barry says:

    I am happy….

  3. Belinda says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Read more about them – just posted more on what I learned.

  4. I wish there were more people worried about the way their coffee is grown and collected…

  5. Belinda says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. We tend to not to pay attention to those things we take for granted.