This summer our exclusive coffee roaster at The Vintage Bazaar is Bowtruss. This roasting facility slash coffee shop will be opening its doors in Lakeview later this June, so you can get a preview of the goods before their launch at the Bazaar on June 10 at the Aragon. We took a visit to their facilities last week to get a taste and to talk coffee and business with the shop’s “director of coffee advancement,” Todd Burbo.
What does your job title mean, exactly?
Director of Coffee Advancement is a wonderful title that I completely made up. I wanted something sort of vague, as I’m handling a lot of duties that don’t fit into a conventional title. Equipment selection, cafe layout, green coffee evaluations & purchasing, public education & wholesale relationships, etc. At the end of the day, I’m charged with creating a culture of perpetual improvement in our coffee lineup and service standards; to elevate people’s perception of the coffee industry.
Tell us a little bit about the history of Bowtruss. How did the idea come about?
Well, our CEO Phil Tadros has opened a number of independent cafes in Chicago, and has always wanted to take the plunge and roast his own product. When Seth Kravitz, founder of technori.com, approached him about starting a café, the two of them quickly decided to escalate things and commit to roasting and wholesale distribution. Because of his background with indie cafes, Phil is all about enabling these small businesses to succeed. I sometimes have to force him to include a profit in our pricing structures; he just wants to give everyone what they need. So, in the end, that’s what Bowtruss exists to do.
When will you be opening your doors?
June 24th, or we’re complete failures. Hopefully you won’t be calling me for a follow up to this quote on June 25th.
Tell us a little bit about the coffee roasting process. What would we be surprised to know?
Oh, the surprises begin well before the roasting process. Most people are surprised to learn that coffee beans aren’t beans at all, but rather the seeds of a cherry. When it comes to roasting them, people tend to be surprised at what a scientific process it is. We chart each roast minute-by-minute to plot a curve based on time and temperature. By speeding up or slowing down the temperature curve, we can highlight or suppress different aspects of the coffee’s flavor profile.
Where are you getting your coffee beans? We hear you have plans to set up direct relationships with the farmers growing the coffee — is that true? How does that whole process work?
We (and most of the industry) are still finding ways to streamline the process. Our initial Direct Trade relationship, with a farm called Pinares de Santiago in El Salvador, came about when our CEO randomly met a member of the family that owns the farm. This Fall, we will be attending an event in New York which aims to put Nicaraguan farmers and their crop samples in a room with buyers. We’ll taste, talk, and hopefully strike a deal. Like many aspects of the coffee industry, the concept of Direct Trade is still young enough that people are always finding new ways of achieving it.
What kinds of beans will you be offering at the Bazaar?
Our offerings will be seasonal, so expect change throughout the year. We’ll be starting with a nice fruity Ethiopia Sidamo, then progressing to fresh Central American crops that are arriving on American shores now.