The brick-and-mortar store at 2140 W. Greenview Drive #2 in Middleton contains roasting supplies as well as coffee samples.
As wine lovers are eventually drawn to the vineyard and beer enthusiasts sooner or later take to their kitchens, coffee enthusiasts with a bit of a geek streak are prime candidates to develop a passion for home roasting. Gary Burman, founder of Burman Coffee Traders in Middleton, understands that, and he's been providing home roasting supplies and high-end green coffee beans from around the world since 2002.
Roasting allows coffee drinkers to control the flavors in their coffees to a surprising extent. "With light roast, medium roast, or dark roast, you could have three entirely different coffees," Burman explains. "But you're also playing around with the conciseness of the roast; a short roast versus a real long roast, even to the same roast point, will taste like two different coffees. When you're roasting your own you get to create your own roasting curves. You can tailor it to what you're looking for."
Burman seeks out high-end, often single-origin coffees, grown by farmers who use sustainable growing methods and provide good conditions for their workers. "The coffees we're going after are much more expensive than fair trade. I wish we could pay fair trade prices!" he jokes. "We've been around long enough now that people in the industry check our coffee list. If we bring in a new coffee from a smaller estate, that's going to bring up some notoriety for them. We're very careful. We haven't carried a Yemen coffee in a long time because we can't track back where that money goes. We're careful to make sure no one's exploited. We don't want any part of that."
The estates Burman does support often have fascinating stories, including a Mexican coffee he sells from an area originally owned by coffee-brewing Germans, then reclaimed by locals after the Mexican revolution. "The coffees we buy year in and year out are way cool projects," he says. He and his team travel around the world to visit these growers and estates for themselves. "They're excited that now they're commanding a product that draws twice the price of fair trade, three times fair trade," he says.
Burman, a long-time coffee aficionado, says he became a "coffee head" when Victor Allen started bringing specialty coffee shops to Madison; the first one was near Burman's home. "I became friends with the Victor, and started buying beans and getting to know the way he thought about coffee," he recalls. "I bought a roaster online from a home roasting site to learn about coffee and started playing with it, and realized, this is kind of fun."
In visiting roasting equipment sites, Burman, who has a background in online sales, began to develop the plans for his own. "It's such a small niche that the only way you can do it is the internet," he says.
He has tripled his company's size in the last five years. He buys direct from some countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, and Jamaica, and sources others through importers and brokers, with whom he's developed a relationship over the last decade.
"We're roasting the best coffees we can find -- and we're pretty connected," he says. "We're getting top grade from estates from 28 to 30 coffee countries and we're able to sell these between four and six bucks a pound. It's a great value and you can't coffees like this unless you get them from someone like us."
As for his favorite, Burman admits to a bit of (certainly not caffeine-induced) ADD. "I used to say Kenyans were my favorite coffees -- they're kind of the king of African coffees, and Africans are my favorite," he says, "but I kind of get bored, so whatever our latest, greatest coffee is? That's my favorite."
The brick-and-mortar store at 2140 W. Greenview Drive #2 in Middleton contains roasting supplies as well as coffee samples, and the online store provides shipping throughout the U.S. Just this year, Burman added tea to his business, tapping a new market in addition to the relatively niche subculture of home roasters.
Most of Burman's business is online, but visiting the store -- it's open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. -- offers a chance to try samples and get professional opinions from him and his staff. The aroma of roasting coffee alone is worth the trip.