Carolina alums Lydia Iannetti, Lem Butler and Brett Smith take a break in Counter Culture Coffee's Durham, N.C., warehouse full of coffee beans from around the world.
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Iannetti, counter intelligence manager, joined the company in 2003. She handles customer education and consults with customers on their coffee program.”
A self-described terrible barista for one summer while at UNC, Iannetti knew of Counter Culture from shops around town and admired the company’s growing reputation for sustainable practices. A friend told her to look for jobs with companies she admired.
So, the Elon, N.C., native applied and got the job. “Over time I became aware of how little I knew about coffee, and ten years later I still learn new things every day.
“So much depends on the hands that make the drink”
“Education is a key part of the business because so much depends on the hands that make the drink. All the care and attention to detail on the coffee farm, in the processing of the seed, and at the roastery are all for nothing if the barista doesn’t brew the coffee well – the best coffee in the world can be poorly prepared, and it won’t taste good. My job is to promote quality practices and attention to detail in those crucial last steps, right before the coffee goes into the cup.”
The company plans to expand beyond its training centers for baristas and retailers in Asheville, Washington, DC, Manhattan, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta.
Butler, a customer support specialist, says “crazy doors” opened when he worked as a barista at the Daily Grind, UNC’s popular coffee shop. He had taken a break from Carolina after, among many pursuits, starting a store, starting the band Sankofa and touring, helping start North Carolina Central University’s radio station WNCU, and working for Americorps.
The Raleigh, N.C., native studied, worked and spent nights spinning vinyl as a DJ. But coffee eventually trumped music.
“Man, I gotta do this!”
Butler’s coffee I.Q. began its rise off the charts when a co-worker invited him to a local barista competition. “A what?” Butler remembers. “There were three barista stations with cameras and music playing. I said, ‘Man, I gotta do this!’”
He started visiting Counter Culture to learn more and prepared to compete. After a 2005 win, Butler won the Southeast Regional Barista Competition four times, and is considered coffee royalty.
Counter Culture’s job offer in 2007 felt right to him as it kept him in something he loved.
Butler’s typical week includes visiting some of his 120 accounts – stores and shops – fixing broken equipment such as espresso machines or consulting on keeping coffee drinkers happy. He also churns lots of email and works with customers in the company coffee center. He sometimes visits coffee producers in countries where his Carolina degree in political science comes in handy.
And, if it takes a cupping to educate a customer’s staff or pouring samples so that a store can sell more coffee, Butler is ready.
“I want them to be profitable, to sell more coffee,” Butler says. “If you buy coffee from our customers and are happy with the product, you’ll come back for more.”
By Scott Jared, UNC-Chapel Hill University Relations
Published October 30, 2013.
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