A Close U.S. Brewers Cup Finish: Get to Know Jonathan Bonchak

There was some Counter Culture electricity in the air when ”during the awards ceremony for the U.S. Brewers Cup ”it was down to Jonathan Bonchak and Erin McCarthy, both of whom work for the company. Jonathan came into the U.S. Brewers Cup competition as the Southeast Regional Brewers Cup Champ, and he sailed through the preliminary round and onto the finals, along with his friend and co-worker, Erin McCarthy, who would go on to win top honors. (To read a profile about Erin and his recipe for winning, as well as his prep as he gets ready for the World Brewers Cup in Melbourne next month, go HERE.)

Counter Culture Coffee's Brew Crew Dudes: Jonathan Bonchak and Erin McCarthy, second and first place winners at the U.S. Brewers Cup.
Counter Culture Coffee’s Brew Crew Dudes: Jonathan Bonchak and Erin McCarthy, second and first place winners at the U.S. Brewers Cup. Photo by Christy Bough

Watching these two guys up on stage after they’d heard they were first and second was a magic moment ”they couldn’t have been happier for each other. So we decided to post profiles of both of them here on Pasteboard so that on the off chance you’re not already a big fan of theirs, you can be now.

Today, we learn more about the awesomeness that is Jonathan Bonchak…

Meet Jonathan! Photo by Christy Bough
Meet Jonathan! Photo by Christy Bough

Sarah: Hey Jonathan! Congratulations! Can you tell us all about the coffee you used to kick so much ass in the U.S. Brewers Cup in Boston?
Jonathan:  The  coffee comes from a small town called Haru situated west of Yirgacheffe in  SW  Ethiopia  (click  here for map link).  The coffee farmer cooperative there is also named after the town, and so we call this coffee “Haru.” The Haru coop is relatively small, consisting of about 1,100 members and the coffee is grown between 1,800 – 2,100 meters. Three main Ethiopian heirloom varieties are grown at a majority of the plots there in Haru, and that fact combined with their meticulous processing give Haru the “identity” and unique flavor profile I described in my presentation. I used the  “Grade 1” lot to win SERBC Brewers Cup, and for USBC, I used that same lot preparation but from a recent January 2013 Harvest. The Grade 1 lot is picked at the peak of the harvest, has  better selected cherry, and is prepared to a higher level before being exported. For this, we paid a 15% premium over the premiums we already pay for the rest of the coffee. This is a washed coffee that employs a secondary underwater soak and is dried on raised beds for up to 14 days. This is all probably more info than you hoped for but in the slight chance that you’d actually like more, please check out my blog post about Haru found here.

Sarah: You were the Southeast Regional Brewers Cup Champ ”what was challenging about the competition? How were the preliminary rounds?
Jonathan:  The amount of talent, obviously, was the most challenging. These competitions are great because they not only push baristas and coffee-people forward but constant fine-tuning and attention to detail at the competitive level just gets stronger every year. There wasn’t one person involved that didn’t understand and know coffee, and of all the coffees I tasted from the great folks I met backstage, there wasn’t one that wasn’t truly great. I think judging these things must be very hard, to say the least.
Bow tie wonderfulness. Photo by Christy Bough
Bow tie wonderfulness. Photo by Christy Bough
Sarah: If you’re a regional champ in the USBC, you get a by into the semifinal round. But since there is no semifinal round (at least, not at this point), even regional Brewers Cup champs have to start in the preliminary round. How was that?
Jonathan:  Preliminaries were both fun and stressful. I like the fact that at (the national competition), compulsory service and open service scores are combined for an overall score. I’m hoping that that model is considered for regionals to give folks more of a fair shot and that chance to at least present the amazing coffee and presentation they brought with them and worked so hard to put together.
       The compulsory round coffee was better quality than I had experienced previously which was also challenging. I brewed that coffee multiple times and different ways and there were two that I had a hard time deciding between. Ultimately I decided to use the same brew method for the compulsory service that I used for my open service. Sieve / updose / pourover, etc.
Sarah: Finally, Jonathan, would you share with us your recipe for the U.S. Brewers Cup?
Jonathan:  My approach to this coffee was simply to highlight and amplify all of the very unique, clean, and delicious flavors and aromas that Haru has to offer. To do this, it was important for me to let go of some fundamentals and trust my palate. Once I got to a place that I thought was coffee was tasting better than ever before, I dug in and locked in on the specific parameters and how to  achieve  that brew repeatedly. I used the following gear:
 –  850m Endecott test sieve  to remove fines from coffee ground at 19 on a Mahlkonig Guatemala grinder (very coarse grind)
–  Bonmac / Counter Culture Coffee “classic”  1-hole pourover dripper
 – Bonmac Oxygen bleached  #2 style paper filters
 – Bonvita electric kettle with flow restrictor
When I began working with sieves, I found that, for this coffee, I could achieve what I wanted to by removing the fines from a more coarsely ground coffee. Since I was left with a substantially coarser grind than I would normally have for the Bonmac cone, I needed to promote the extraction as much as I could. So I updosed the coffee to a 1:12 ratio (typical starting point is usually 1:16.) For competition, I used 25g of coffee to 300g of water. Since the coffee was so coarse, I needed to slow brewing down the brew and to do this I used a flow restrictor, provided by BonaVita, in my kettle. This meant I could pour more  aggressively  but also maintain a tight, thin stream. In conjunction with that I decided to use the 1-hole drip Bonmac drip cone to retain more water in the brew bed to increase contact time and to further promote extraction. I poured 60g of water for a 50 second bloom and ended with a total brew time of 2:45. This method, for this coffee, amplified all the things I love about Haru that give that coffee it’s identity:  the extremely clean tea-like body, delicate and complex floral aromatics, and juicy stone-fruit and citrus that leave your mouth watering for more!
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Jonathan! You totally rocked in Boston, if you didn’t already know.
About Sarah 934 Articles
Sarah Allen (she/her) is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.