Today started with a mission, as it does most days, of finding a new coffee place to discover in Virginia Beach. However, with a few unexpected twists, it became so much more than the search for a great cup of coffee.
What began as a quick journey to Fathom Coffee Roasters turned into something deeper. What looked like less like a café and more like a co-working space ended up being just that. A bright and colorful co-working space.
Disappointed to have not found what sounded like a high-quality, veteran-owned purveyor of single-origin small batch roasted coffee, I was about to leave when the delightfully knowledgeable ladies at the front desk started explaining that, while I couldn’t buy a cup of coffee, I was welcome to try one, as they offered unlimited coffee as part of their co-working space.
Then the owner came in. Mr. Jeff Werby, an enigmatic gentleman, passionate about coffee, but not pretentious in any way, provided not only some significant coffee education, but also the fascinating background behind Fathom Coffee.
A Navy veteran who himself drank lots of ‘bad coffee’ while on deployments, he set out to find coffee that actually tasted good to him. Something to be enjoyed straight, not with heaps of creamer and sugar to mask an otherwise burnt flavor. (Caveat, Jeff will never judge anyone for enjoying coffee the way they like to best. If that means whipped cream on a pour-over, so be it. The point is to enjoy.)
The secret as to why so much of generic and bulk coffee has a burnt and acrid taste? Jeff says the answer is consistency. When you’re roasting 1 pound of coffee beans, quality control is much simpler, and ensuring consistency in small batches is easier. When roasting 1000 pounds at a time? The only way to guarantee flavor consistent across the board is to, in essence, burn it/have a very dark roast. Unfortunately, this is how many were introduced to coffee, and either grew to enjoy it for its energy-giving properties, or never had it again (or had it, but with many added syrups or flavorings to make it even somewhat drinkable to their palate.)
His father, Bob, also a Navy veteran, began roasting coffee as a hobby, in small batches, starting the simplest way one can, in an iron skillet over a flame. Now, the beans are still roasted in extremely small batches; it’s a step up in focus from the micro level to the nano level, with every one pound batch carefully roasted for top quality.
The myth of “freshly roasted” was also expounded upon. The idea that freshly roasted is always better is, in fact, not always true. Kenyan coffee, based on its nature, needs 5-6 days to off gas before it’s even good to drink.
Direct trade over fair trade. For a while, fair-trade was an industry buzzword from chocolate to coffee and beyond. The idea was good enough – paying a ‘fair’ amount in exchange for goods.
However, as with many good intentions, fair-trade did not become as preferable to farmers, due to lack of consistent buyers. Being fairly compensated once a year, versus less fairly but more consistently and frequently was seen as preferable.
Enter the idea of direct trade, which is what Fathom Coffee works with. The Colombian
Gesha coffee and its DNA, tracing history through Ethiopia to Hacienda La Esmerelda in Panama where its award-winning quality has become famous throughout the world, and the price reflects the excellence. Fathom Coffee imports and roasts a delightful cup of Colombia La Bohemia Gesha Wet Process, with an incredibly distinct and floral flavor, with notes of pearl jasmine tea, tangerine, sugar cane, and orange pulp. A freshly brewed cup of Fathom’s Gesha coffee needs no added cream, sugar, or anything, except a mug.
Convinced that you must give Fathom Coffee a try but are not in the Virginia Beach area? They have a subscription service and online ordering where you can order a sampler box of their Colombian, Ethiopian, Tanzanian, and Kenyan coffees all perfectly roasted and vacuum sealed in lovely reusable glass jars. Interested in learning more and checking out the co-working space? Stop on by 1701 Baltic Ave. in Virginia Beach’s aptly named Creative District.