For Jonathan Bonchak, it was time to make the coffee.
Stepping out of his office last week at the Durham headquarters of Counter Culture Coffee, he was in the zone in the company’s airy training room. Soon he would demonstrate his exacting pour-over technique for judges at the 2014 Big Eastern Brewer’s Cup champion.
“I tagged this coffee awhile ago,” he says, methodically pouring dark, glistening beans from Ethiopia’s Indido Cooperative into a massive Malkönig burr grinder, the same machine that would be used during competition. As the beans were reduced to flakes that resembled coarse seat salt, the room filled with an enticing aroma. “I had a lot of options,” he adds, leaning in for a lung-filling sniff, “but I feel sure this is the one.”
While considerable bragging rights come with victory, Bonchak knows it’s the bean that wins this level of competition. He won the Southeastern title last year and came in second place at the U.S. championship.
Although had yet to perfect the patter meant to inform and engage a panel of judges, Bonchak eloquently detailed the process he hoped would yield a winning cup. With few exceptions, it’s the same the method he deploys when making coffee in the downtown Raleigh home he shares with his wife, Jenny Bonchak, of Slingshot Coffee.
The first step is selecting a flavorful whole bean at a shop with enough coffee sales to ensure freshness. While burr grinders are more expensive than “whirly” blade spice grinders, Bonchak believes the investment is worth it to avoid pulverizing good beans into worthless dust. Even so, he shakes his ground beans in a fine mesh sieve, dumping a few dollars’ worth of seemingly good coffee into the sink.
“Keep in mind, this is for competition,” he says, inspecting the aromatic remains. “I would never advocate doing this at home.”
Bonchak recommends an inexpensive ceramic drip cone over any coffeemaker. Choose one with a single hole to create a slow, controlled drip through a dampened paper filter. (A paper filter is essential, he says, even for home coffeemakers with mesh filters, to remove acidic oils and silt.)
Bonchak sets a heatproof glass carafe under the drip cone and atop an electronic scale, which he uses to measure precisely 25 grams of ground beans. After setting a stopwatch app on his phone, he swirls about 50 grams of 200-degree water over the grounds, which allows them to bloom. Cracking the newly formed crust, he then pours on the rest of the water. After three minutes, he removes the drip cone.
The resulting coffee has a dark hue that shimmers as he swirls it in the glass, which both aerates and cools the liquid. The goal is to serve the cup’s calmed contents at about 120 degrees, the ideal setting to maximize its delicate body.
“It will keep changing as it cools,” he says, recommending sips at intervals to gauge the coffee’s increasingly floral aspect and subtle notes of citrus and chocolate. Even this avowed milk and sugar user had to admit it was exceptional as is.
“I always learn at least as much as I try to teach,” says Bonchak, luxuriating in a sip of his promising brew. “If the end result is a great cup of coffee, I’m happy.”