Zack Burnett isn't a fan of cream and sugar, but he'll talk all day about Colombian beans, homebrews and coffee destinations


Folio Weekly: How long have you been in the coffee business?

Zack Burnett: Since 2007. So, seven years.

Do you remember your first cup of coffee?

I didn't start drinking coffee until college, and it was always to stay up all night and cram for tests. I remember my very first cup of really good coffee was in Portland, Oregon, and that really opened my eyes up to what coffee can be. It was a revelation. From there it's really fused a passion.

When did you decide to work in coffee?

After I graduated college. My dad started this coffee company and he needed some help. I didn't have anything lined up after college so I just started helping him out, sweeping floors, bagging coffee, etc.

Your dad is a coffee guy and you didn't have your first cup until college?

Yeah. [Laughs.] But he didn't become a coffee guy until 2005, really. He's always appreciated really good food and beer and wine and all that, but he didn't really have an awakening to good coffee until about the same time I did.

What's the difference between a pour-over and a typical homebrew?

I think nuance is the biggest thing. With a pour-over, the barista can control the extraction of the coffee grounds and treat each bean differently, [which] bring out a lot more nuanced coffee flavors than auto-drips that brew all the coffees the same.

So auto-drop coffee is not as good?

Auto-drip machines obviously don't give you as much nuance, but if you're a cream-and-sugar person, auto-drip is perfect.

What's your attitude toward cream and sugar?

I don't like it personally, but I want the people who come to my shop to be happy, and if that makes them happy, then go for it. I don't like it because I want to be able to pick out certain flavors in a coffee and cream-and-sugar overruns them.

How much coffee do you have in a day?

A lot. Especially since we opened up the second shop [in Jax Beach; the first is in Riverside], I'm kinda bouncing around drinking espresso here and there, keeping quality control. Plus at our roasters we're cupping coffee every day, which means we systematically taste coffee every day for different reasons so we can dial in our roast and see if we want to buy certain beans. We probably cup 30 coffees a week, but on any given day, I'd say five or six espressos a day plus two or three coffees.

Wow! Any trouble sleeping at night?

Kinda got used to it. [Laughs.] No trouble falling asleep. Staying asleep is troublematic.

Can you tell the difference between a Colombian bean and an Arabica bean?

Oh yeah, you can for sure. When you're talking about really good coffee, every origin has specific characteristics that you're going 
to find. Colombian is going to taste vastly different from an Indonesian or Ethiopian coffee, but you can even break it down to different regions in Colombia or even different farms in that same region.

Is your palate really that defined?

Yesterday we cupped 14 different samples of Colombian coffees and each one tasted different. Similar characteristics, but they each had a different thing that stood out.

What characteristics separate a Colombian bean from an Indonesian bean?

Indonesians are known for being really earthy and kind of herbal, and that comes from the way they process the bean, the way they remove a green coffee bean from a coffee cherry, and how they dry those beans. The Colombians are chocolaty and full-bodied with a nice acidity. A lot of Columbians have citrus or stone fruit notes in there.

Other than daily tasting, what kind of quality control do you have?

Every day we pull our espresso differently depending on the weather outside. Humidity and the age of the bean play a lot into it. Beans lose gasses every day as they age, and they react differently to the process, and if a storm were to roll in on a sunny day, our barista would have more trouble getting that pull dialed in to where we can get optimal flavor. Any good coffee person needs to know how to taste what they're making and know how to make changes to make it better to stay consistent.

What is the one thing homebrew coffee drinkers can do to immediately improve their brew?

Use good water. That's usually where people screw up, they use tap water. If you don't like to drink the water on its own, you're not going to like the coffee that you make with it, either.

Where are the best coffee destinations?

I think San Francisco's probably my favorite city in the country for that. They've got some really good roasters. And Portland is really good. They've got places like [Bold Bean] and people who've been doing it a lot longer than us, who really know their craft, and they're in every neighborhood.

Are you conceding West Coast coffee is better?

[Laughs.] There are more instances of excellence.

Do you feel threatened by Starbucks?

No. A lot of people think that independent coffee shops probably hate Starbucks, and maybe they do, but for us, Starbucks made it possible for us to do this, so they lay the groundwork, and then we expanded upon what they're doing, delving more into the craft of making coffee and making it available to the general public.

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