Courtesy of Brio Coffeeworks
Magdelena Van Dusen with green coffee bags
Several years before they left Washington, D.C., Magda and Nate Van Dusen decided to explore the possibility of coffee entrepreneurship. They were in the process of planning a move to Vermont — Nate grew up here, and the landscape reminds Magda of her native Poland — and they wanted to bring their skills working in international development to bear in a new business venture.
They settled on buying and roasting small batches of specialty coffee, which draws on both parties’ prior work experience. “The idea just percolated up,” says Magda. Followed by a facepalm and a groan at her pun.
The couple founded Brio Coffeeworks
in Burlington in 2014. The business is primarily a wholesale roastery, sourcing beans from small farms and selling mainly to cafés, restaurants, specialty markets and co-ops. At any given time, Brio has 10 to 20 varieties for sale.
Courtesy of Brio Coffeeworks
Tyler Van Liew and Magda Van Dusen with Sergio at La Minita Estate in Costa Rica
At Brio, says Magda, they are most focused on the origin of the coffee, and on determining the roast level that brings out each product’s best qualities. This can change over time, as weather conditions and other factors affect the beans. They are not enslaved to particular roasts.
The biz also encompasses a small catering operation, which allows Brio to offer brewed coffee and espresso drinks on the go, as well as serve nitro cold brew that they keep on tap. They also welcome customers to buy bags of beans and brewing equipment at the roastery on Pine Street.
Having a public face provides Nate, Magda and staffer Tyler Van Liew — an aficionado of coffee, biking and pie — an opportunity to share what they know and love about their beverage of choice.
In conjunction with this week's Seven Days
story, "Bean Here Now
," I asked Magda for some tips about being a better coffee consumer.
Coffee is seasonal
Although it might feel magical when you drink it, coffee is just like most plants. It has a lifecycle that includes flowering, fruiting and ripening. Around the world, spots have “different growing cycles and seasons,” Magda notes. Various methods of fermenting and drying beans take some time, too. Thus, coffee is a seasonal product. If your local roaster isn’t selling that Kenyan bean you like so much, that may be why.
Paying a bit more isn’t unreasonable
Consumers understand that top-shelf wine, beer, gin and whiskey is pricier than the well versions. Same here: “Coffee of the highest quality, a really wonderful cup, will cost more,” Magda says.
Don’t be a snob, but try new things
Courtesy of Brio
Mural at Brio and a cupping setup
“I think people should be enjoying coffee in whatever format makes them happy,” says Magda. “And, I would love for people to explore the different flavors in coffee, and be open to trying something new.”
When they do, she’s noticed, it’s not unusual for die-hard dark-roast fans to “find they [also] enjoy a lighter roast, or a floral note.” Once people discover the nuances that are possible in coffee, including natural sweetness, they’ll sometimes decide to forgo the cream and sugar. Be brave, people!
Want to learn more? Each Friday at noon, Brio invites the public in for a free cupping at the Pine Street roastery.
Correction, May 11, 2015: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Tyler Van Liew's last name.