10 Questions with Zack Burnett of Bold Bean Coffee Roasters
1. Tell us about Bold Bean Coffee Roasters.
Bold Bean was started by my father, Jay, in the late summer of 2007 as something to keep him entertained during retirement. He always had an interest in food and drink and artisanal products. He'd read a little about roasting coffee and thought it would be a good pursuit to keep him occupied after his career.
I came on board shortly after things started up. I had just graduated college in fine arts and wasn't really sure what I was going to do with myself. I came on and helped out with whatever needed to be done - bagging coffee, sweeping up, roasting a little bit. And then slowly I started roasting more and more to the point where I was basically doing all our roasting. At the time we were just selling coffee to restaurants, grocery stores and a few coffee shops around town.
We started thinking about opening a coffee shop about three years ago. We developed our business plan and our vision of what we wanted the shop to be. Then we looked at a lot of retail spaces.
2. Did you always have a vision of what you wanted it to be or did it change along the way?
We always had a vision of being a community center - some place where people from the neighborhood can come and have a good cup of coffee and get to know their neighbors a little better. There's not a lot of places where you can do that today. The city is so spread out and you're driving back and forth to work. People don't really have a third place any more - just work and home. We wanted to create that third place.
3. How did you pick your location?
We were looking all over downtown, Springfield, and Riverside. We considered a few places but things fell through and never really happened. One day we were driving down Stockton Street and saw a "For Lease" sign. We stopped in and saw that it had beautiful bones - an open ceiling, exposed brick walls, a nice industrial look, but with a warm feeling about the space at the same time. We thought it would be a good place to put a shop.
4. When you started roasting, was it always thought of as a pathway to a retail shop?
No. We started the roasting because my father and I have felt most comfortable when we're doing something with our hands. We just wanted to roast good coffee and supply coffee shops. Neither one of us wanted to get into the retail side of things.
Before we opened the shop we would sell at the Riverside Arts Market. When we brewed our coffee the way we knew it should be brewed people would drink the coffee and say "man I never knew coffee could be like this." The more we roasted the coffee and the more we got into coffee and caring about the quality of what we were doing we began to realize that no matter how hard we tried to roast the coffee and present it in the best possible way we can, as soon as it left our doors the quality was out of our hands. You can use the best coffee in the world but if you don't brew it right it's not going to taste right. Every step in coffee from the seed to the cup needs to be carefully executed or the quality in the cup is going to suffer. So we wanted an opportunity to be able to connect with the people who were drinking our coffee and to prepare it as well as we thought it could be prepared.
5. When did you open the shop?
Our first official day of business was December 1, 2011.
6. How did you and your dad learn about roasting?
We both just kind of learned things ourselves. It can be really frustrating. I would read as much as I could find online. There's really not many books written about roasting on a professional level. There are some books about home roasting - those books were helpful in telling me what was going on in the roaster - what the bean is really undergoing at different temperatures. That helps. Then it's just playing around with different aspects of the roast and bringing the beans to different temperatures at different times. Until a year ago it was very frustrating because I didn't have a mentor to teach me how to roast and it was a ton of guesswork. One day it just clicked and I started to draw conclusions from tasting my coffee and looking at the roast notes to understand why things tasted differently when it was roasted differently. It's always a process. In 50 years, if I'm still roasting coffee I'm still going to be trying to find different ways to bring out the best qualities in a certain bean.
7. What does it take to be a good roast master?
Attention to detail. You have to pay attention to all the subtle nuances in a cup of coffee and know how you arrived at those subtle nuances.
There's science behind it and there's art too. If you don't understand the science and the art you're really just turning beans brown. You're not bringing out the full potential for those beans. It's easy to throw beans in a roaster and turn them brown. But to bring out all the really good aspects of certain beans you have to know what you're doing. For each roast you do you can tweak different aspects at different stages in the roast. For example, you can tweak the intensity that you roast the coffee at. You can tweak it at different times to stretch out chemical reactions that happen at different temperatures and you can adjust air flow at different times in the roast to lengthen a phase in the roast or make a phase in the roast go by quicker. In these and many other ways you can pull out all kinds of subtle nuances in a coffee bean. I'll make subtle changes from batch to batch in the roasting profile and then a few days later I'll cup each of those different batches. By taking notes on how I roasted it and how that affects the flavors in the cup I can really dial in different roast profiles. Learning how to roast well is about learning how to take good notes and tasting coffee all the time. It's also about knowing what's happening in the roaster at all times.
8. Do you have a good palate or is that something you developed?
I've always been a fan of good food, wine and beer. I think a palate is something that you have to develop though. People have different palates - some people can just taste everything. But for the most part it's something that's learned. The more you pay attention to taste the more you can taste different things. Over time you learn how to build the vocabulary to explain to people how something tastes.
9. Do you have a problem with the amount of caffeine you drink?
I have to be careful. I drink brewed coffee out of a small espresso cup all day long. I try to keep it in moderation, otherwise I'll be bouncing off the walls. Caffeine doesn't wake me up too much but can make me jittery. A lot of people drink coffee for the caffeine but it's the least interesting aspect of coffee to me. For me, coffee is about the taste, and knowing why it tastes the way it does, and knowing how much work went into every single step of the process to get it to taste the way it does in the cup. I also appreciate that drinking a cup of coffee is a fleeting moment because you're never going to experience the same cup in the same way again.
10. Can you walk us through the process from the seed to the cup?
For our beans we work with a really good importer and they present us with hundreds of coffees from all over the world. We want every coffee we choose to be unique and have certain characteristics - a discernible terroir - like a wine, that imparts a distinctiveness from where it was grown. For example, we want our Indonesian coffees to have certain characteristics that are different from our African or our Central American coffees. When we begin we have ideals in mind of what, say, a perfect Indonesian coffee should taste like. Then we get samples of various Indonesian coffees from our importer that we roast in the shop. And then we cup each one, side by side with our current crop of Indonesian to see how they match up. If something is as good or better than what we currently have and it has some unique characteristics of the origin then we go ahead and bring that coffee in. We do the same thing for every single coffee we sell in the shop.
…what kind of characteristics do you look for?
When you're looking at the green coffee you want to make sure there's no defects. You don't want to see insect damage on the coffee, for example. You can smell all the different green coffees and they'll all have their own distinctly different smell from each other before they're even roasted. You don't want a green coffee that smells musty or looks moldy or has defects. Once you pass that visual inspection then it moves on to the roasting and into the cup. What we're looking for is a cup that is clean. We don't want a coffee that tastes acrid, bitter, funky or musty. We want a coffee that is clean and has nuances of different flavors within the coffee. If you drink store brand coffee it's going to taste like coffee. I think that produces a misconception about coffee that a lot of people have - that one cup of coffee tastes like any other. But if you drink a really good cup of Kenyan coffee next to a really good cup of Costa Rican coffee you're going to have vastly different experiences. Even someone who is new to coffee will be able to distinguish the taste differences between those two. If you drink store brand A next to store brand B they're probably going to taste quite similar, and probably not all that great. When we bring in coffees we're looking for layered flavor and really unique and pleasing characteristics at all levels.
…is there a seasonality in the beans?
There is, to an extent. Different beans become available and run out at different times of the year. The coffee harvest is based on the dry and wet seasons at the origin, which varies by country. We do one coffee from every major region: Central America, South America, Africa, and Indonesia and then we'll bring on real small quantities of the seasonal coffees to serve in the shop.
…do you do all the roasting?
…do you have set times that you do your roasting so that people can watch?
We have done classes in the past where we'll have people sign up and we'll bring them in and roast a batch of coffee. I'll discuss what's going on at different stages of the roasting process. Everyone can see the bean change in front of them from a green seed to a roasted coffee bean. It's something we want to expand on but we just have so much on our plate right now that we haven't been able to get to as much as we'd like.
…how often do you roast?
We roast every week, Monday through Thursday, and sometimes on Friday if we're running low.
11. Can you talk about your brewing process?
One thing we really like to highlight is our by-the-cup brewing.
…why do you use a by-the-cup method?
To brew the best cup of coffee you have to control every step of the process. That starts with grinding the beans fresh and then you need to have complete control over the variables that come next - how long the grounds are in the water, the temperature of the water, the resulting brew time and the brew volume. When you have control over all those aspects it results in a special, great tasting cup of coffee. It's what I do at home and I figure if I enjoy doing it at home, why not bring that to the shop and have other people enjoy coffee the way I enjoy it and the way I think it's best served?
…what's the difference between the Chemex and the single pour-over approach?
They're similar. The Chemex has a longer brew time which means the grounds are being extracted for a longer time. The Chemex tends to highlight the deeper flavors in a cup of coffee.
The single cup pour-over has a shorter brew time which emphasizes the high notes in coffee. Any time you extract coffee for a shorter amount of time you're going to draw out the high notes and the bright, fruity notes in the coffee. The longer you extract something, as in the Chemex, the more you're going to get the deeper, fuller notes. For our iced coffee it's a 15 hour brew process. That's why it results in a really rich, round cup of coffee.
…do the different approaches to brewing work best with certain types of beans?
They can. African or Ethiopian coffees have bright, winey, floral, citrusy notes. The single cup pour-over method does a really good job of highlighting all those flavors whereas the Chemex will produce a rounder coffee. It's a personal preference. Some people don't like that brightness in coffee and want something rounder. I think that makes things really interesting. You can come to the shop and get a different cup of coffee, even if it's the same base bean you're starting with.
…"high notes," "bright," "round cup of coffee" - what do you mean by these?
High notes in coffee refers to flavors that are clear, crisp, clean and snappy. These flavors are often reminiscent of citrus, berries, flowers or wine-like. These are all characteristics associated with a coffee's acidity. The word "acidity" can often have negative connotations with many consumers. Most roasters and connoisseurs praise a coffee with high-acidity but many consumers think a coffee with high acidity will be rough on the stomach. I always refer to a coffee with high acidity as being bright. Brightness sounds as pleasant as it tastes, while acidity sounds harsh. A coffee that is round refers to a cup that is well-balanced, full-bodied and usually sweet. These coffees will not have a distinct brightness, fruitiness or earthiness. All of the flavors will be in harmony and while the coffee can still have nuanced flavor notes one characteristic will not stand out greatly from the others.
12. What are the most popular approaches to brewing you see at the shop?
In the morning we do a ton of auto drip, because people are in a hurry and that suits their schedule. But we still do a good number of single cup pour-overs as well. I think it's really cool that people are willing to wait 4 minutes for their cup, and then sit and enjoy it before heading out to start their day.
In the afternoons we do more pour-overs than auto-drip. It's good to see people taking the time for something that's going to be really good.
…do you serve a lot of espresso based drinks?
We do more espresso based drinks than anything. We serve all of the traditional espresso drinks: latte, cappuccino, macchiato, and Americano. We have our Sweet Spot espresso blend every day and we also do a rotating single origin coffee that we brew as espresso. Right now we have a Bali coffee available as a single origin espresso. We also offer that same coffee as a single cup pour-over so you can drink them side by side to see how the different brewing methods can affect the same coffee.
13. Can you talk about your sauces and syrups?
We make them all in-house. We make our chocolate syrup using some really good chocolate we get from Blue Buddha. We have a vanilla syrup we make with a simple syrup and very high quality vanilla beans. We've got a ginger syrup that we just came up with one day - it's fresh grated ginger root, a little bit of cayenne pepper, and we simmer that in a simple syrup. We also make real caramel. It's not much fun to do - it's very labor intensive - but it results in something that is a lot better than squirting corn syrup flavored caramel into a cup. It makes a unique flavor.
The main reason we make the sauces in the shop to begin with is that we want the coffee to be the main star of the show. We craft the sauces so we can make their flavor profiles go well with our espresso. We encourage people to drink our coffee as black, or straight up as possible, but if you want a sauce with it then we want the sauce to complement the espresso instead of overpower it.
…is there a favorite?
Actually, people really like our honey. We use a local honey and it goes well with our lattes. People really like our ginger syrup as well. We also do a spicy chocolate sauce which is chocolate with cayenne peppers, cinnamon, orange peel, a little bit of vanilla and some salt. People like it a lot.
…do you sell your sauces separately to take home?
No, we don't have the capacity to produce enough to sell beyond what we use ourselves in the shop.
14. Can you talk about your food?
My brother, Adam, has recently started working with us. He went to culinary school with an emphasis on baking. He bakes fresh bread for sandwiches every morning. We typically offer about 4 different sandwiches daily. My brother also makes pastries such as a tomato pie, using an old family recipe. He makes some hand pies too, which are like empanadas, but they're baked and not fried. He comes up with really creative combinations like pear and ginger. When something is a stand-out winner we'll add it to the menu. In general our menu has an emphasis on local and Southern fare.
In addition to what is made in-house we also get our muffins, quick breads and some of our cookies from Bakery Moderne.
15. Can you tell us about your beers and wines?
For the beers we have six rotating taps. We concentrate on sourcing local and Florida beers such as Intuition, Pinglehead, Bold City, Engine 15, Swamp Head, and Cigar City. And when other really good craft beers are available we’ll bring them in from all over the country.
…how long do you keep a beer on rotation?
It all depends on how much people like a certain beer. We use smaller, 5 gallon kegs, so we can rotate them more often. The most popular beers will only last a few days but other beers can stay on tap for anywhere up to two weeks or so. Whenever we can we bring in one-off beers that may only be brewed one time or on a really limited release. These beers go really quickly, just because they’re not available from many places.
16. Can you tell us about your wine?
For our wine we offer house selections in red and white. My dad is our in-house wine connoisseur and he selects the wines. We usually keep our house wines a little longer, up to a few months, before we rotate them.
17. What made you decide to bring in beer and wine as part of a coffee shop?
I’ve always loved craft beer and a good glass of wine. Stopping off after work to have a beer or glass of wine with friends before heading home is a great way to enjoy a conversation while being part of building the local community, which has been our goal from the start.
18. Can you tell us about your teas?
When we were opening the coffee shop I was not a fan of tea but we knew we needed it. We didn't want tea just for the sake of it; we wanted great tea. Today we get our tea from Tao of Tea in Portland. They've turned me into a fan. They source their tea from all over the world and we get to choose what we want to bring in. All their teas are really high quality. Some mornings I'll now have a cup of tea instead of coffee, which says a lot about the quality of their tea.
19. How to you brew your tea?
It's all loose leaf and steeped in a carafe. Tea has really been growing in popularity since we opened. At nights, especially, we have a ton of tea drinkers who come into the shop.
We also make our own chai concentrate. We use a really high quality black tea that we steep with different spices, local honey and brown sugar. It's really good. People are very particular about their chai and they love what we're making in the shop.
…why is that?
It's the freshness and combination of the ingredients. Most places use a powdered chai base or a chai concentrate that's bottled. Bottled concentrate needs to be pasteurized and go through different methods to make it shelf stable. That can often produce negative effects on the flavor. So people appreciate when we use fresh spices to make a fresh cup of chai.
20. What are some of the biggest upcoming trends in the coffee world?
There are a few. There's a move to people brewing great coffee at home. Coffee shops are also starting to offer different by-the-cup brew methods. And probably the biggest trend is that people can expect to see a lot more emphasis on origins - where a coffee comes from. People are going to see coffee being thought of more like wine or craft beer. Today a lot of people think of coffee in terms of roast intensity - dark or light, for example. They don't think about the origin of the coffee. But that's changing.
21. How do people get educated about coffee? How do they learn the vocabulary of coffee?
That's one of our main goals - to educate people as much as possible. The more people are educated about coffee, the more excited they become about visiting us to try something new.
If someone is interested in coffee I really encourage them to come into the shop and talk to us about it. We have awesome employees who are really passionate about coffee and who love to talk about what we do. You just need to ask. We don't want to push things on people. But if you have an interest then we'd love to talk to you about what we're doing because I think that all of us have gotten excited about coffee and when people see our passion they get excited and it helps them to see how much there is to learn and how interesting coffee can be.
22. What have been some of the biggest surprises with Bold Bean?
My biggest surprise has been seeing how people have been drawn to a black cup of coffee. How many straight shots of espresso we sell every day. I'm really surprised that with the proliferation of coffee-as-dessert in so many places that people still appreciate a well crafted, good cup of just coffee. I'm happily surprised with that.
Some people like cream or sugar in their coffee and that's cool with us. But we do encourage people to try a sip of it black before putting in the cream because they're often surprised how good it tastes on its own. We have converted so many people to black coffee drinkers that it's amazing.
23. What's the most challenging part of your job?
I work long hours and that can be a challenge. It's a challenge to always be pushing yourself and striving to one-up yourself to find the best coffees possible. It's challenging trying to understand what's going on in every aspect of roasting and making a cup of coffee. Despite all that I love my job.
24. What's next for Bold Bean?
We're not sure exactly how we're going to do it but we just want to spread good coffee throughout Jacksonville. We'd like to work with coffee shops who share our passion.
On the sourcing side of things we're working to become more direct with the people who grow our coffees. Hopefully within the next few years we'll have direct trade programs in place with coffee producers.
…have you travelled to the source where coffee is grown?
No, not yet. I'm talking to farmers in Central America now and hopefully before too long we'll be able to start traveling to the source. I think it's really important for anybody working with any product in the food industry to see where it comes from. I can't wait to go down and see it from the source.
25. When you're not at work and you want a coffee, where do you go?
I don't mean this as any disrespect to anyone else, but even though I live 25 minutes from the shop, if I really want a coffee I'll drive to the shop or I'll make something at home. To make a great cup of coffee takes a real passion and commitment to your coffee and I don't think there's enough people with that focus just yet.
26. Anything else you'd like to add?
We have great employees at the shop. Everyone here loves coffee, loves the neighborhood and the people in it. We hope you'll come down to say hello, spend some time with your neighbors and enjoy a great cup of coffee (or tea!).