Food & Drink

Coffee brewed like tea is how Durham’s Counter Culture aims to take on K-Cups

Counter Culture Coffee

It takes a $20,000 machine to brew a $3 espresso, which in the coffee world can only be described as worth it.

In this gadget-loving and highly caffeinated realm, the latest innovation is a century old: a bag of grounds steeped in hot water.

Coffee, meet tea bag. And if you know tea bags, you already know coffee bags.

Recently, Durham-based specialty coffee roaster Counter Culture unveiled single-serving bags of coffee, inspired by the likes of English Breakfast and Earl Grey. To start, they’re making year-round blends Big Trouble, Forty-Six and the decaf Slow Motion as single-serving bags.

“We thought we could add some convenience to this sustainable coffee thing,” said Kyle Tush, quality analyst for Counter Culture.

Twenty-two percent of American households have a pod-brewing Keurig machine, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. That popularity has nudged specialty coffee makers into thinking more about convenience.

Counter Culture entertained an instant product, but wasn’t happy with the results, Tush said. Then it came across coffee bags by California company Steeped, which Tush said taste practically indistinguishable from traditional coffee after a five-minute dip in hot water.

“I was pretty surprised,” Tush said.

Of course, nothing is more convenient than instant, but when attached to the word coffee, instant refers to dreck and swill.

“Just like any other process, if you put crap in, you get crap out,” Tush said. “Historically with instant coffee, that’s what it’s been.”

Counter Culture a pioneer

Counter Culture is one of the country’s pioneers in specialty and single-origin coffees. In 24 years, the company has become a national brand while remaining in Durham and setting up training centers around the country to teach the cafes that use their coffees the best ways to brew beans.

All that can seem to put the notion of convenience at odds with the heights of coffee, where there’s the choice to wait five minutes for a pourover that smells like flowers and chocolate, or a latte with artfully laced foam. Tush said there can be a reputation in specialty coffee of preciousness bordering on pretension, making for less-welcoming cafes.

The coffee bags, he said, are part of softening that image.

“The industry has wised up to that,” Tush said. “The ultimate goal is getting more people drinking better coffee.”

The single-serving bags are being sold on Counter Culture’s website in packs of five and 10 bags and will be stocked in some grocery stores where the company’s bags of beans are typically sold.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.