The commercials tell us that “America Runs on Dunkin'” and living in New England, we know that to be especially true, as it seems the coffee and food purveyor is on every corner. But you won’t find any Dunkin’ at 374 Somerville Ave., the new home of the Counter Culture Coffee Boston Training Center. I recently had the opportunity to enjoy expertly prepared coffee in the overhauled space with Ryan Soeder, the local customer support representative.
Counter Culture is a wholesale coffee roaster based out of Durham, North Carolina. The company focuses on sourcing the highest-quality coffee, creating real relationships with the farmers and co-ops who grow the coffee and educating people about everything from where the coffee comes from to how to make great latte art. The Boston Training Center on Somerville Ave. is one of several education spaces the company has up and down the East Coast.
“The facility is our beacon to the community,” Soeder (pictured below) said. “We really into relationships. We embody that every step of the chain.”
To that end, Counter Culture creates training centers where both people in the industry (such as those cafes that use the company’s beans) as well as people in the general public can come to learn more about coffee. In Somerville, Bloc 11 and Journeyman in Union Square and Diesel Cafe in Davis Square use Counter Culture Coffee.
“The local coffee scene is rabid,” Soeder said about Boston. “You have to be pretty scrappy to be really into good coffee here.” He added that people in the area have been very receptive and welcoming to Counter Culture since the training center opened in September.
“It’s such a nice little neighborhood,” Soeder said of Union Square, which he also lives near. “Once we dug in, it was excellent.”
Counter Culture offers a variety of classes, like a Milk Chemistry Lab, where attendees learn both the how and why of steaming milk properly. In the Origins Lab, Counter Culture explores where coffee comes from and gets into the agricultural process involved in growing and harvesting coffee beans. There are also espresso courses and a series called Brewing Science, where the six variables of coffee brewing are explored. The first two Brewing Science levels are geared more toward lectures, but in the third level, attendees are free to experiement.
“Brew Science III is a free for all,” Soeder said. The end result is that a barista can embody the motto, “any machine, any grinder, any time.”
Though the classes are geared toward the people who work at the cafes and restaurants that brew Counter Culture Coffee, anyone is welcome to sign up. And Soeder said that so far, the classes have been attended by both people in the industry as well as avid home brewers.
“There’s been a great mix so far and a lot of enthusiasm from home baristas,” Soeder said.
For those looking to learn more about coffee, but who aren’t ready to dive into one of the half-day or day-long classes, Counter Culture offerings a coffee tasting every Friday morning at 10 a.m. The cuppings, as the tastings are called, are open to the public and give the company a chance to build relationships with locals.
“It’s like church for us. We taste coffee in the way that people would taste wine,” Soeder said. “We just had our first couple of cuppings here. They’ve been huge. We’ve had a great turnout.”
Soeder, like many who are now really into coffee, got his start at the other big-name coffee giant, Starbucks, about 10 years ago. After working there for a few years (in between his other careers as a piercer, glassblower and musician), he become more interested in coffee education. And after coming in third place at a world-class latte art competition, he knew he could make a career in the coffee industry.
“I got really into the coffee community,” Soeder said. “I poured myself into it. I thought, ‘this is what I’m going to do with my life.'”
Soeder was set on opening his own cafe in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when an opportunity to move to Seattle prompted him to see what else was out there in the coffee world. After about a year in Seattle, the Counter Culture job opened up and Soeder (pictured above with Jake Robinson, Counter Culture technical support) moved to Somerville to open the Boston Training Center.
“I feel starstruck all the time that I get to work with this company,” Soeder said. And even after a year in the job, “it hasnt worn off.”
After moving to Somerville, Soeder began exploring the local coffee scene and preparing the space at 374 Somerville Ave. for the Training Center opening. The space fits right into Somerville’s culinary and creative scene, with industrial stools, concrete and rustic wood countertops and a cool chalk mural.
“There’s a lot of really cool coffee stuff going on in Boston,” Soeder said. And with it’s new Training Center, Counter Culture is set to become a part of that.