Shift Drink Pop-Up Events by Counter Culture Unite Community for a Cause

Shift Drink sticker, Jesse Gordon and Jonathan Parker from the Durham support team in the background.

In the pandemic’s wake, Counter Culture repurposes training centers to serve community through monthly Shift Drink events.


Photos courtesy of Counter Culture Coffee

Through the misery and loneliness of the global pandemic, some really great things emerged from that time—gatherings or products or meals that brought people together in unexpected ways—and many of them are staying on for good. Counter Culture Coffee’s (CCC) monthly pop-up event, Shift Drink, was one of them.

As a wholesale-only coffee company—that is, one without retail cafés—CCC has distinguished itself by creating training centers around the United States to give its customers and staff spaces to gather and learn, workshop, play with new equipment, train for competition, and just spend time hanging out. There are 12 CCC Training Labs throughout the U.S.: in Los AngelesSeattleChicagoBostonWashington D.C.Durham, N.C.MiamiNew YorkDallasCharleston, S.C.Asheville, N.C., and Emeryville, Calif.

But suddenly in 2020, the training centers were sitting dark and empty as the country and the world shut down. Trevor Clark of the Asheville, N.C., training center, however, was determined to find a way to see people again—and, more importantly, serve coffee to them.

Shift Drink Begins

“Trevor came up with Shift Drink in Asheville back in 2020 as a way to reactivate the training center space after the pandemic hit,” says Counter Culture’s national wholesale education manager, Jenna Gotthelf, who is based in New York. “The Asheville Training Center is in the Center for Craft co-working space—the building has a roll-up garage door. Trevor had the brilliant idea to open up that garage door and serve coffee to the Asheville community in and around the training center. His idea stemmed from making quality-driven coffee experiences radically accessible with a PWYW (pay what you want) donation structure where all proceeds went to (Asheville nonprofit dedicated to racial healing and cultural organizing) BeLoved.”

Customers waiting for Shift Drink coffees at a Counter Culture training center.
For decades, Counter Culture Coffee would hold “Tasting at Ten“ events, which were explorations of different coffees, brew methods, ideas, and stories for staff and the public on Friday mornings. The pandemic changed all of that. But out of the memory—and the times—Shift Drink was born.

Shift Drink started as a simple pop-up, with a minimal coffee menu and featured signature drinks, Jenna continues, and the model worked so well in bringing community together that, “Trevor graciously trusted us to develop his Shift Drink idea and bring it to the national stage, expanding our reach while still staying true to the intention of the event: Great coffee is for everyone.”

Jenna explains the vibe of Shift Drink events as being “like a coffee shop. Folks are welcome to come through for a coffee to hang out. There is always an opportunity for educational deep dives and conversations in our training centers. While we are all serving the same drinks across the country, each region is unique, so it might feel a little bit different at a Shift Drink in NYC or Dallas or Miami or L.A.“ 

This is the Boston Cream, the signature drink created by Joe Capatosto for June’s Haley House fundraising Shift Drink event.

Shift Drink Expands Nationwide

Under Jenna’s supervision, Shift Drink continues in that same grassroots and altruistic vein of keeping things simple and raising awareness—and hopefully cash—for local nonprofits in CCC’s regional communities. “Each month regional teams select a nonprofit in their community to highlight during Shift Drink,” Jenna explains. ”This creates the opportunity for us to use our national platform to fundraise locally and gives regional teams a chance to connect with neighbors and causes they believe in.”

The events take place on the last Friday of each month. 

signage at a Shift Drink event by Counter Culture
Counter Culture’s Shift Drink events are open to anyone and are free. Each event showcases a different original signature beverage created by one of CCC’s staff, and each is a fundraiser for a nonprofit in one of CCC’s local communities.

Shift Drink Event in Emeryville, Calif., July 29

The July Shift Drink events at CCC’s Training Centers will be on Friday, July 29; these will be extra special, as they will mark the first time that CCC’s Bay Area Training Center—located in Emeryville, Calif.—will participate. The events take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at each training center.

July’s Shift Drink events will be fundraisers for Planting Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering people impacted by mass incarceration and other social inequities with the skills and resources to cultivate food sovereignty, economic justice, and community healing, says Jenna. (If you are unable to attend one of the Shift Drink events, you can make a donation here.)

If you can’t make it to one of the July Shift Drink events, you can still donate to Planting Justice via this QR code.

Further, each Shift Drink event showcases an original drink recipe created by one of CCC’s staff. Friday’s event will serve up The Good View, created by CCC’s Western Coffee Manager Katie Carguilo and Western Roasting Manager Corey Reilly.

“Our inspiration for this drink is the Irish Coffee from The Buena Vista, the bar which is legend to have served the first Irish Coffee outside of Ireland,” says Katie. “The bar sits in an iconic San Francisco setting (cable cars! Ghirardelli Square! Piers!) and still carries a reputation for serving one of the best versions of the classic coffee cocktail. The basic ingredients of The Buena Vista’s Irish Coffee are sugar, coffee, whiskey, and a luxuriously whipped-but-drinkable cream.”

The twist, Katie explains, is that the drink uses coffee chaff as an ingredient. “To create a non-alcoholic substitute for the whiskey, we thought to use chaff as the base flavor. Chaff is the husk of the coffee bean which comes off during roasting. It’s light but staticky so it’s messy to deal with, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful: Chaff makes an excellent addition to compost. It’s collected in a separate barrel that the roasters empty several times per day, bagging it up in GrainPro bags for local gardeners to pick it up and reuse,” Katie explains. “When steeped into a ‘beverage,’ chaff has a grainy, almost buttery flavor. To complete our ‘whiskey’ and bump up the complexity, we added a really good cocoa powder and vanilla extract.”

Sponsor Oatly donates $500 and as much product as needed to each event. “Drinks are PWYW. We encourage folks to donate through QR codes that link to different Give Lively fundraisers we set up each month,” Jenna says. “No one will be turned away for not donating.”

Due to a scheduling conflict, the training center in Boston will not be participating in July’s Shift Drink event, but the other centers will be. 

Shift Drink is open to anyone and is free, but it’s encouraged that you RSVP via the EventBrite invitations for each training center, which can all be accessed in the collection here.

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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.