3 (plus a bonus) Questions with Park Brannen, Northeast Regional Barista Champion and wholesale support rep with Counter Culture’s NYC crew.
Last Friday I attended the 10am public cupping at Counter Culture’s new training lab space at 376 Broome St. Instead of a traditional cupping, they offered the 10 or so attendees a comparative espresso tasting, serving Ecuadorian “El Gabilan” and Costa Rican “Linda Vista.” Park Brannen was pulling the shots, and after he’d diligently cleaned his station I had a chance to ask him a few questions.
I did a lot of standard question-asking in order to compile the interviews that appear in “When Coffee Speaks,” but one of the fun parts of being a self-knighted coffee journalist is getting to ask people questions they’ve never been asked before.
I started by asking Park a question inspired by that fun approval matrix (that I often don’t agree with) in New York Magazine.
RN: What is the highest brow and lowest brow coffee that you’ve ever had—whether you made it yourself or someone made it for you?
PB: I would say the highest brow coffee I’ve tasted was at an event that we had here at the [Counter Culture New York] training center. It was for a function called the “Variety Show,” and it featured a lot of coffees from the variety garden of Moises and Marisabel Caballero, from Finca El Puente in Honduras.
We got to taste really amazing, unique varieties like Mokka, some of the small Gesha stuff they do. These are two to three tree lot coffees, and I think that was one of the more “inaccessible” things I’ve ever tasted.
For lowbrow coffee, every time I go back to Georgia where I grew up I drink Waffle House coffee with my parents, and I feel like that’s—I like to think of “brows” in terms of accessibility, and I feel like that’s one of the things that when people walk in the door they can say, “Oh this is definitely coffee.” [Chuckles] That’s Waffle House, which I definitely still love.
RN: As a now professional—champion—barista, what would you say to someone who’s a, say, Waffle House coffee drinker; what would your one line pitch be to convert them to an espresso, latte, single origin drinker?
PB: It’s funny, because I never think of myself in a way where I’m actively trying to get more people to drink my coffee—the kind of coffee that I enjoy, rather. This is a very tough question! I guess I would come at it, if I had to, from the angle of, “Look, you’re open to trying nice foods on occasion, you could be open to trying a nice coffee on occasion.”
That’s how I got into it. That one time I tried it and was like—“it’s way cheaper to drink nice coffee all the time than it is to eat nice food. So I’m definitely going to drink nice coffee.” Especially when you start thinking about alcohol, liquor, wine, and [the price of] all that.
So, yeah, “if you can try nice food once in a while, why not try nice coffee?”
RN: If you could teleport to any coffee origin tomorrow, where would it be? If you could just aparate and be there?
JB: Ethiopia, easily. I feel like every coffee nerd’s gonna say that. It’s an easy answer for me to say, but I’d be hard pressed to decide between Ethiopia and Burundi, because I have a very strong affinity for a specific coffee in Burundi and I really want to shake hands with the people that grew it. Ethiopia, by far, is the place I would want to go before all others.
RN: It is coffee Mecca. So those were the three official questions, but then of course I have to ask about the coffee ink [point to tattoo on his left bicep of a coffee branch, with leaves and cherries, and steaming cup, among other ink]. Is that modeled after a specific tree somewhere, or…?
JB: There’s a story behind that. I was like six months into taking coffee pretty seriously. It was like a classic, “I’m going to get a tattoo because I’m young and not thinking it through.” Kind of at the last minute I got the guy who did the tattoo to model the actual coffee after hemlock, so it’s actually poison. Which is kind of the joke, because people will be like, “oh, man, you’ve got a coffee tattoo, you must be serious,” and I say, “well, it’s actually not even coffee.”
Oh well. At least that arm—poison ink or not—makes some tasty cortados.
Park will make an appearance at the US Barista Championship April 24th in Seattle, at the big kahuna of coffee industry events, the annual SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) Expo. I’ll see if I can fend off the other coffee journalists to ask him just one more question, “How does it feel to win?!” #repnyc #gopark