Interview: coffee pro Katie Carguilo (Counter Culture)

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Barista New York City

Katie Carguilo teaches people about coffee for a living, which helps her in barista competitions. [George Baier IV]

Durham-based Counter Culture Coffee has gained a foothold in the increasingly competitive New York City wholesale coffee market, and they’ve done it with people like Katie Carguilo. She’s currently on the New York customer support team, teaching classes about coffee and coffee preparation and assisting accounts in the region. She’s also an accomplished barista. In February, at the North East Regional Barista Competition, she outperformed top coffee talent from Ohio, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Maryland. Carguilo recently shared more caffeinated insights, which hint at why she’s been successful.

Josh Lurie: Was it a given that you’d work with coffee for a living, or did you consider other careers?

KC: I studied Anthropology in college and thought I might someday end up being a teacher because I like people and learning. But coffee was something that I fell in love with and got good at, and I’m all about doing things you love and can do well.

JL: Do you have a first coffee memory, good or bad?

KC: I had my first cup of coffee when I was 9 years old at a diner with my older sister in Leominster, MA. I remember I ordered it because she did, and I put about 8 packets of sugar in because she did. I didn’t drink coffee again until college, and then I never looked back.

JL: What was your very first day like working behind a coffee bar, and where was it?

KC: My first day working a “coffee bar” (quotations intentional) was at a Barnes & Noble cafe, and I remember being frustrated because they literally gave me no training and I didn’t like not knowing what to do. I lasted there a summer.

JL: How did the opportunity come about with Counter Culture Coffee?

KC: After leaving B&N I worked at a great coffee shop in DC called murky. I was there for about 5 years, but then I had an itch to get out of DC. Counter Culture (the roaster who supplied murky at the time) had a job opening in NY and working for them felt like working for family. It’s been exciting to work for the past 5 years in the NY coffee scene.

JL: Would you consider anybody a coffee mentor? If so, what did they teach you that was so valuable?

KC: I’d say that Nick Cho taught me what’s important about coffee and Peter Giuliano has taught me more about coffee’s history and botany than anyone else. My coworkers Tommy Gallagher and Meister are also inspirations: they push me to be a better team player, a better teacher and coffee person each day.

JL: Walk me through a typical coffee consumption day for you. What would that be like, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed?

KC: I usually don’t drink any coffee until I get to work (at our training center in Chelsea or a cafe, so don’t step on my foot on the subway, I will cut you). I usually drink two filter coffees and one espresso a day, but I taste a bunch of stuff that I’ll spit out. The whole business is over with by about 5; I have other beverages in the evening.

JL: What’s your preferred brewing method at home, and how come?

KC: The Kalita Wave because it’s so easy and delicious and the filters are cute.

JL: If you could travel to any city in the world right now, primarily to drink coffee, what would it be and why?

KC: Tokyo. I’ll take a dirty at Bear Pond, please, then let’s go to the izakayas.

JL: If you could only have one more shot of espresso, and you couldn’t pull the shot, who would pull it for you?

KC: This is an insane hypothetical situation aimed at getting me to tell you who my favorite barista is. So I’m going to say Morrissey (the singer, not the barista, obviously) because I would love to meet him and also I want to see him in an apron. Morrissey doing manual labor? Ridiculous.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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