Caffeine Scene! A look into the coffee culture of the Triangle

Malted Matrimony: Coffee + Beer

By: Kelsey Snell

Tuesday night was nothing but Southern. Downtown Raleigh’s Beasley’s Chicken and Honey supplied the Mason jars and fried chicken, and three good ol’ boys from Kinston, N.C. poured the beer from a cooler. Mother Earth Brewing offered tastes of their new coffee stout, Silent Night, as a sneak peak before the beer was officially released in hometown Kinston on Wednesday.

It’s a good thing that Mother Earth’s head brewer likes good beer, but, for the sake of this new holiday stout, we’re glad that Josh Brewer appreciates good coffee too.

“When you blend the two together, it’s a beautiful marriage,” said Brewer, who roasts his own coffee. His home roasting hobby was actually what began the partnership with Durham roaster, Counter Culture Coffee, who specially tailored their 1922 Mocha & Java blend for the coffee stout. The final product is a smooth balance of coffee and molasses finished with that must-have bourbon barrel punch.

Just like Mother Earth’s Silent Night, the Triangle boasts the right balance of good beer and good coffee, so it makes good sense that local brewpubs would marry the two.

Tobacco Country’s new addiction

At the start of 2011, Durham was named one of the New York Times’ “Top 41 Places to Go in 2011” because of the foodie reputation that’s growing from a barren tobacco country past. “I remember when it used to be ‘Top 41 Places to Die,’” said Jason Cole, beer aficionado of Carrboro Beverage Company & Bottle Shop on Main Street in Carrboro. Downtown Durham’s preserved American Tobacco Historic District, the Lucky Strike cigarette factory turned glistening city center, epitomizes the rebirth of Bull City.

Tyler Huntington, proprietor of Tyler’s Taprooms and opening the newest restaurant location in Raleigh’s Seaboard Station this week, used to be a brewer for Red Hook Brewing in Seattle, a front runner in craft beer. Huntington was a part of the development of Red Hook’s Double Black Coffee Stout in 1995 which was one of the first coffee stouts and made with coffee from Seattle neighbor Starbucks. Although the brewery stopped making their coffee stout in 2000, the Double Black was back for a limited time in 2009 and only on tap in Seattle.

Cole said that North Carolina has one of the fastest growing beer markets in the country, if not the fastest. Most of the Triangle’s top breweries recognize the complementary nature of beer and coffee and have developed their own dessert-worthy stout and porter concoctions. Chapel Hill’s Carolina Brewery and Bull City Burger and Brewery in Durham teamed up with Counter Culture to create limited time coffee stouts. Carolina Brewery uses Counter Culture’s Jagong Sumatran roast for their Jumpin’ Bean stout, and Bull City is experimenting with their Watts Oatmeal Stout, adding chili powder and Counter Culture coffee. Carrboro’s Jessee’s Coffee & Bar roasts their own house blend called The Kind Coffee, and owners Jon and Chyenna Jessee worked with Kind Beers, a microbrew newcomer in Charlotte, to create their coffee oatmeal stout that was recognized in the 2011 Carolina Championship of Beer. Raleigh-based Big Boss Brewing Company and Larry’s Beans paired up to brew the Aces & Ates winter stout (Johanna’s current favorite). If you’re mountain bound, look for coffee stouts from Highland Brewing and Black Mountain’s Pisgah Brewing Company.

Courtesy of Kelsey Snell

“People who drink great coffee drink great beer”

Cole leaned on the counter with a few empty tasting cups littering the top and took a break from unpacking a new shipment of singles and six-packs. “Craft beer and the coffee revolution go hand-in-hand,” he said. “It’s all about natural ingredients and taking a brewed beverage that’s fair trade and embracing the culture.” Cole said the craft beer beginnings harked back to the Northwest—the same stomping grounds of coffee culture.

“A lot of people who drink great coffee drink great beer,” said Lydia Ianetti, Counter Culture customer relations representative. She worked with Brewer through the roasting and tasting process and went to Mother Earth on Silent Night brew day to try brewing something other than her average morning joe.

Microbreweries and home brewers make coffee stouts and porters many different ways, and it all comes down to one question. When do you add the coffee? Brewer said that after the hops were added to the Silent Night malt and the beer was whirlpooled, he steeped straining bags of the course-ground coffee for an hour and a half before fermentation. He said when you add the coffee on the hops side of the process, the subtle flavors balance out as opposed to throwing in strong-brewed coffee at the end of brewing or during a secondary fermentation.

Beer is tasted and coffee is cupped, but taste sensitivity is refined the same way with each one, searching for body, balance and sweetness whether it’s a sip of beer or shot of espresso.

Barista to butcher

Coffee is an irresistible ingredient for experimental and exotic foodies from the barista to the butcher. Escazu Artisan Chocolate’s Goat’s Milk bar (Another of Johanna’s favorites) was recently named a finalist for the 2012 Good Food Awards, along with other local companies including Counter Culture Coffee, Miss Jenny’s Pickles and Farmer’s Daughter Brand. Escazu infuses cascara, or the coffee plant’s outer cherry, into a ganache. The fruit is dried and can be steeped to make tea, but just like its inner coffee bean, the fruity flavors from the cherry perfectly compliment dark chocolate.

Coffee and chocolate might not be much of a surprise, but espresso and steak might be. Cafes aren’t displaying cuts of meat in their pastry cases, but that might not be such a bad idea as espresso rubs gain popularity. Whether in the fine dining realm or at a backyard barbecue, coffee and red meat make a good-looking couple. Like most dry rubs, the blend of herbs and spices infuse the meat, but with an espresso rub, the silky grounds caramelize and create a moisture-locking crust. Order a coffee stout and a slice of dark chocolate cheesecake to top it off, and you’ll be in a food coma before you pay the bill.

If you’re not ready for an espresso-crusted cut, stick with a simple classic. The Silent Night coffee stout is nothing fancy— just good coffee in good beer. The easy-going brew cultures of craft beer and coffee were bound to join hands, barista with brewer, for a favorite tap.

Kelsey Snell is graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill in two weeks with a journalism degree. She works at the Daily Grind Espresso Café in Chapel Hill and hopes to move north to D.C. or New York City after the holidays.  

Follow Kelsey on Twitter at @kelseysnell.

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One thought on “Caffeine Scene! A look into the coffee culture of the Triangle

  1. Although Americans aren’t the world’s biggest per-capita caffeine fiends, we’re not exactly teetotalers. Research by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) has led these groups to consider 300 milligrams (about two cups of coffee) the upper limit of a moderate daily dose. But roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of Americans consume more than 600 milligrams — considered a high dose of the drug — on a typical day . If you consume more than four cups of coffee a day, you’re probably among that number.`

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