BRADENTON — Starting a coffee roasting business is an ambitious undertaking, to say the least. Getting market share in a business dominated by gargantuan conglomerates that operate at a scale unthinkable to independent outfits is next to impossible. For the few who manage to find a niche, there's only one real way to crash the party: extreme quality. Local coffee lovers can celebrate the fact that Bradenton's Banyan Coffee Co. has done just that.
Ten years ago, the idea of a local brewery in Bradenton may have seemed far-fetched. Today, craft beer connoisseurs engage in heated debates over which one of the many slings the best suds. Most of the origin stories are similar. A hobbyist demonstrates a unique talent, people in their circle rave over their creations, the garage operation grows, and, before long, there's a bonafide business in place.
Coffee roasters often follow the same path. When Josh Schmitt and his wife, Abbey, started roasting their own coffee beans in their garage using a popcorn maker back in 2013, friends and family couldn't get enough. It grew and grew until what had become a multi-popcorn machine operation eventually led to an investment in a commercial roaster. Today, Banyan Cofee Co. is delivering world-class beans to the doorsteps of discerning coffee drinkers far and wide.
Their company is the latest small-batch, premium roaster to make a splash on the gulf coast, and coffee aficionados are consistently clamoring for some java from the funky little coffee truck that sets up shop every Saturday at the Bradenton Farmers' Market on Old Main Street.
The Schmitts say they were frustrated with the same coffee chains offering the same products while cutting corners in terms of quality. Their approach to coffee is simple. The couple uses "ethically sourced specialty coffee" and delivers their high-grade, hand-selected whole beans while they're still fresh.
The result is a local (coffee) brew that Bradenton residents can be proud of. Last week, I sampled two of Banyan's coffees, their Guatemala roast and their Bourbon Barrell Aged coffee. The Guatemala roast, a slightly acidic blend with notes of chocolate and caramel, drinks well black but is particularly good for those who like just a touch of cream and/or sugar in their cup of joe.
The Bourbon Barrel Aged coffee is described by Banyan as follows:
This coffee is not infused with bourbon but rather a game of patience. Bourbon is stored in the char oak barrel for a duration and then dried out. Our green coffee is stored in a char oak barrel for several weeks. The bourbon whiskey and char oak barrel gives a unique flavor. The flavors are then extracted from the barrel and into the green bean. We then roast the bourbon barrel-aged coffee!
The result is a medium roast with low acidity and plenty of body. Sweet notes of vanilla, caramel, and chocolate are punctuated by a smokey, bourbon-ish aftertaste. One sip and I was immediately set to wondering how this particular blend might work as the base of an Irish coffee. I gave it a try, and all I can say is, WOW! (see video below).
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Understand this, Banyan Coffee Co. makes serious coffee for serious coffee drinkers. It costs a little bit more to buy because it costs a lot more to make coffee of this quality by avoiding the corner-cutting of the industrial scale operators that dominate the business.
Bad bean selection and roasting techniques that fatten the bottom line at the expense of coffee quality is exactly what led to a dismal American coffee culture that saw gobs of cream, sugar, and other flavorings dominate the taste of popular coffee brands, all for the sake of masking the shortcomings of the coffee itself—not unlike American beer culture prior to the craft beer revival.
Coffee roasters like Banyan are doing their part to show American consumers how good coffee really can be when price and profit aren't driving the bus—or, in their case, the cute little mini-truck. If you're the kind of coffee lover that would gladly suffer a thunderous caffeine headache before you swilled down some Folgers or hit a Dunkin' drive-thru, you know what I'm talking about. With Banyan Coffee Co., java snobs now have the ability to buy local and get it fresh. Check out their menu of coffees
on their website