Six years ago, Brett Barker, a skilled craft barista, took his years of experience in the coffee industry and opened Press Coffee Bar in Dayton’s hip Oregon District. When he opened, Press served Dogwood Coffee out of Minneapolis and a few other high-quality roasters. However, three years ago he started his own small-batch roastery, Wood Burl Coffee, exclusively using his beans for Press’ pour-overs, cold brew and cortados. (A “burl” is the knotty, gnarly growth on a tree.)
“I wanted to roast. That was the goal: to get to the point where I was roasting and able to build a small company that way,” Barker says. “But I had no experience besides home roasting. So I knew we had to get our coffee bar started and get people into what we were doing, like proper brewing and appreciation for coffee.”
Barker grew up in New Mexico but moved to Dayton as a teenager. He did a stint at Dayton roaster Boston Stoker and at a Gimme! Coffee in Ithaca, N.Y., where he managed the coffee shop.
“I think that was when I realized, all right, I can make coffee a career,” he says. “There’s more that I can do. I can make this a livelihood. That place inspired me.”
With the encouragement of his wife, Janelle, they moved back to Dayton and decided to open their own independent coffee shop. A self-taught roaster, Barker began frying coffee beans, Ethiopian style, at home on a skillet.
He then upgraded to an expensive new 12-kilo Probat roaster, which roasts up to 100 pounds of beans per hour. For a while he roasted out of his home garage, but when he moved into a different house, he decided to keep his old house and expand the roasting operation into the living room; he dubbed the roasting location The Chaff House (chaff is the paper-like hull that sheds from beans during roasting).
“It’s not the most professional, legit warehouse, but that’s not really my goal,” he says. “The coffee quality is my utmost responsibility in our business, and I can do that out of this little house. It’s even better now because we have a whole house to do it in.”
The operation has taken baby steps, and Wood Burl currently roasts 500 pounds of beans a week, creating about six different rotating roasts — from a Kenyan Kiamaina to a Guatemalan Finca La Bolsa.
Press’ on-tap cold brew is smooth, and the housemade chai tea is super spicy — one of the best I’ve ever had from a coffee shop. A lot of this has to do with Barker’s perfectionist philosophy.
“If our coffee isn’t the best that it can be, then I’m not roasting the best that I can and the customer won’t have the best experience that they can have,” he says. “If we’re not having fun, then it’s not going to be any good.”
Locally, Trailhead Coffee in Newport, Ky. and Cheapside Café downtown brew Wood Burl beans, but Barker is finicky about to whom he wholesales his roasts.
“I want to grow it with partners that we see eye-to-eye,” he says.
He mentions the great relationship he has with Trailhead’s manager Joe Humpert and Cheapside co-owner Rom Wells.
“They’ve become two of my best accounts as well as really great friends now,” he says. “They provide me with feedback that I trust. And that’s huge to me. We’re in it for the long run, so I don’t want to work with just everyone and anyone.”
To prove his point, Barker says he has declined selling to interested parties. “I don’t mean to be an elitist snob about it, but my brand and the longevity of our business is so important to me that I’d rather just say, ‘No, I’m sorry, we’re not on the same page right now. Maybe there’s another roaster you would work with better than us,’ ” he says.
Trailhead’s Humpert sees that dedi-cation as a boon for the quality of his coffee. “Brett’s humility and integrity are evident in everything from his relationships with importers to his meticulous roast profiling,” Humpert says. “He places quality, consistency and service above growth and simple bottom-line thinking. His coffees are the best in Ohio and stand up to Chicago’s best for regional supremacy.”
Outside the Tristate, Wood Burl can be found in Ithaca, N.Y. and at Roaring Pines coffee bar in Richmond, Va. As for the Dayton coffee scene, Barker says he is the only roaster doing it inside the city limits, which is something he is proud of.
“I love Dayton,” he says. “We don’t have the culture that a lot of bigger cities do, but we can create culture here.”
Barker has set high standards for Wood Burl, and it’s evinced in the coffee.
“There’s so much preference in coffee and I don’t consider us the best,” he says. “I don’t think there is a best in this business, and that’s why I think I’ll never be disenchanted with it or over it.”
For more on WOOD BURL COFFEE or to order your own beans, visit woodburlcoffee.com.