Fathom Coffee Roasters is a Nano Roaster of premium coffee beans located in the vibrant city of Virginia Beach. Nestled within the ViBe District, with its expansive beachfront, myriad hotels, and a plethora of restaurants, they have found the perfect location for their premium, distinct coffees. After hearing about their recent battery powered production facility upgrade, we reached out to learn more about their current roasting situation. Fathom Coffee Roasters was kind enough to provide a little back-story, as well as bring us up to speed with their current integrated technologies.
Fathom Coffee Roasters journey began unexpectedly during founder Bob Werby’s time in the US Navy. A crewmate commented on the amount of sugar Bob was putting in his coffee, and this led to a search for coffee that tasted so good that sweetener would not be necessary. Bob soon discovered that such coffee existed and it was produced by what is known as third wave coffee roasters. Not long after, Bob bought an electric, 120-gram roaster to roast coffee for him and his family. While roasting micro batches in a co-working space, people started asking to buy his coffee. As demand grew and requests became more abundant, Bob’s son Jeff and business partner Lisa became more involved in Bob’s new fascination. Soon after, Fathom Coffee was born.
Demand led Fathom to upgrade to a one-kilo electric roaster, and soon after to the 2.4 kilogram capacity FZ94 Pro-Lab Roaster from Coffee-Tech Engineering. Around this time, Fathom also decided to maintain a two-kilo or less batch capacity to emphasize the quality of each roast. As word spread, more and more people began dropping by Jeff and Lisa’s co-working space asking to buy Fathom coffee. When a shop space became available across the street from the co-working facility, Fathom seized the opportunity to move in and start a full service coffee shop. Remaining consistent with their two kilo or less per batch concept, they added a Coffee-Tech Engineering Solar Shop Roaster to their repertoire.
After Fathom Coffee progressed their roasting methodology to a noticeable level and had attracted the attention and support of local coffee enthusiasts, they wanted to put more focus on their energy usage and minimizing their environmental impact of coffee roasting. Bob and Jeff converted their electric roasting operation into a renewable energy model utilizing 10 solar panels and a Bluetti Solar Power Generator System. This system includes a Solar Converter, Pure Sine Power Inverter, Battery Management System with an Information display, and 4 3072 watt energy storage batteries. In total, Fathoms electrical capabilities add to over 12,000 watts of stored energy, more than enough to power Fathoms electric roasters and infrastructure needs. Paired with an Avirnaki Smoke Elimination System, Fathom has created a quality based micro roastery that produces zero emissions, running on 100% renewable energy.
Following Fathom Coffee Roasters work and technology progression has not been a difficult task, as they are active with social media (Facebook, Instagram) and are easy to speak with. We were fortunate enough to communicate with Bob and Jeff recently, and had the opportunity to ask them some questions about their experience getting to where they are now.
What is the most useful tip for success based on your experience?
“While the wealth of information available to beginner roasters provides a solid foundation for entering the business, it’s crucial to combine that knowledge with your own instincts and experience to forge a unique path. Additionally, having a strong technology background can be a significant advantage. In our case, having two engineers involved in the business has proven to be beneficial.”
What is the latest thing you have discovered or your latest obsession in the coffee world (roasting method/coffee variety/preparation method/etc..)?
“We’re currently exploring two paths to further elevate our coffee experience. Firstly, we believe that an exceptional grind is second only to an outstanding roast in creating the ultimate cup of coffee. We recently acquired one of the latest grinders gaining attention worldwide and have begun conducting extensive grinding studies with it. Secondly, we purchased a unique coffee brewing system from Ground Control that doesn’t rely on gravity to move water through the coffee grounds. Instead, it uses vacuum power via a vacuum pump system. This innovative method enables us to produce filter coffee on demand and craft our own cold brew using any of our 30 coffee varieties.”
When learning about coffee, what resources do you use? Experimental? Published? Are you active at trade shows?
“We certainly utilized information available on the internet, as well as written books. A special thanks goes to our friend Therese Bronstadt from Denmark, who produces the podcast “Coffee Navigated by Taste.” Therese has interviewed some of the top European roasters who rely on temperature, time, sight, sound, and more. Her question, “How Does It Taste in the Cup?” is quite powerful. Customer feedback and input from other coffee drinkers are invaluable assets for us. Moreover, we’ve learned a great deal through experimentation, sometimes challenging conventional wisdom and forging our own path.
When it comes to a coffee business specifically, what advice would you give to a startup?
“Begin with top-notch roasting, brewing, and espresso-making equipment, as well as high-quality water filtration systems. Understand your target market and aim to provide what your customers want. Ensure you have adequate capital, as the initial setup can be expensive. Hire the best employees you can find; they should not only have a passion for coffee but also enjoy meeting new people.”
What are the next steps or goals for Fathom Coffee Roasters?
“The next steps for Fathom Coffee Roasters include continuing to focus on perfecting roasting techniques and providing exceptional coffee experiences for customers. Explore new grinding and brewing technologies, like the recent investment in a cutting-edge grinder and the Ground Control brewing equipment, to further elevate the quality of Fathom’s coffee. Additionally, maintain commitment to sustainability, such as the solar-powered production facility, and potentially expand other environmentally friendly initiatives. Ultimately, to keep growing the business while staying true to core values and providing exceptional coffee experiences to customers.”
Do you believe there are any upcoming challenges that will burden the coffee industry? What are they?
“Periodically, we witness disruptions in global markets and supply chains. However, there is also a growing trend towards higher quality beans due to the long-term efforts of countries and NGOs to improve quality and, in turn, provide better income for the farmers who grow the beans.”
What is one mistake that you made, and would have changed if you had the chance to start over again?
“We would have acquired a Coffee Tech Pro-Lab roaster even sooner. Its simplicity, durability, and energy efficiency make it an ideal match for our needs. The roaster allows us to focus on perfecting the roasting profiles for various origin coffee beans, rather than spending considerable time on roaster maintenance. It consistently performs well every time.”
Roasting in small batches and meticulously hand sorting the roasted beans, Fathom Coffee Roasters ensure only the best beans make it into their packaging. With standards that are more stringent than general industry guidelines, and never compromising on them, if a batch does not meet their criteria for a true medium roast, it is discarded without hesitation. To display their dedication to quality, Fathom sells their roasted beans in vacuum-sealed, clear glass jars, allowing customers to fully appreciate the exceptional beans they are purchasing. With Fathom Coffee Roasters high standards as well as practiced and proven methodology of putting quality over quantity, they now operate two distinct locations. One dedicated to roasting and packaging, and the other serving as a cozy, inviting coffee shop.
Fathom takes great pride in their eco-conscious operations. Their entire production facility, including their FZ94 Pro-Lab, has successfully transitioned to roasting 100% with solar energy, highlighting their dedication to sustainability and minimizing environmental impact of coffee roasting. Not only has Fathom built a reputation for great coffee, they are an outstanding example of “green roasting” as well.
Thank you Bob and Jeff Werby for your time and assistance with this article
Chris Nance / Moshav Mazliach / June 27, 2023