Coffee should be more than a morning routine or just a mode of transportation for caffeine.
For Darron Burke, owner of Don Pablo Coffee, coffee is an intimate love affair — in more ways than one. Burke grew to love good coffee after falling in love with his wife, Eliana, and visiting her family in Colombia.
“About 32 years ago, I moved down from Massachusetts to Miami and I met my wife, who is a Colombian, and fell in love with her very quickly. The sweetest woman I ever met in my life. I wanted to meet her family, so she took me to Colombia,” Burke says.
“Back then, my family — and most people I would say — were drinking some of the big supermarket coffee brands and putting a lot of cream and sugar in it just to make it palatable. It sort of served as a caffeine delivery device. But when I was in Colombia, I had a cup of coffee and I was just completely blown away.”
The first part that blew him away was how rich and flavorful the coffee was, compared to what he had known. He found out that there are two coffee beans, Arabica and Robusta, and almost all the coffee mass produced in the United States were Robusta, which is lower quality, more acidic and more bitter. According to Burke, the Arabica species has a deeper and richer flavor with a smooth finish and lower acidity.
He says his wife’s family thought he was a little crazy for his reaction, as many people there grow their own coffee in their backyard. That was the second part that blew him away, the methodology, intricacies and culture of the coffee community in Colombia.
“It wasn’t long before I was on a coffee farm and learning about coffee. I had never seen a coffee plant before, and that was very interesting to me,” Burke says. “Also, the people are super nice. Her family and everybody I met was really great to me. There were lush green mountains, and I just fell in love with Latin culture, Colombia and Latin America.”
But young love was not enough. Burke knew he wanted to bring Colombian coffee to the states, but, as he says, he was young, didn’t have any education and didn’t have any money. He held on to the idea, though, and after getting two graduate degrees and traveling to different countries in Latin America to research the coffee industry, he and his wife bought their first coffee roaster in 2004.
With connections to farmers in Colombia and Honduras as well as Burke’s in-depth knowledge about the coffee plant and coffee roasting, Don Pablo Coffee was started. It was dedicated to producing quality coffee from sourcing top-quality specialty coffee beans and refining the roasting process. Burke says he knew people would be as blown away as he was when tasting quality coffee, but initially it was hard to get people to taste it.
“I thought that we could roast some great coffee and sell it at a competitive price and be instantly successful, but four companies control 95% of the global at-home coffee industry and they make it very difficult for competitors, especially smaller ones,” he says. “But the coffee we were producing was so good, it finally got the attention of some big retailers and big warehouse clubs, and we’ve been growing it ever since.”
Burke says his company is laser focused on quality, and it takes the extra time and money not to cut corners that other large-scale coffee companies do. A big part of that is its roasting process, where Don Pablo Coffee has proved that slow and steady wins the race. Don Pablo’s master roaster is a third-generation coffee farmer from Colombia and uses traditional Latin American methods as well as a computer profiling software to ensure every batch is roasted the right way.
Instead of roasting thousands of pounds at once, Burke has invested in several smaller machines to do multiple small batches and better preserve the flavor. Then, instead of a rapid heating and cooling process, the beans are roasted in a longer cycle and then left to air dry. Burke admits this is very time consuming and inefficient, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make to ensure quality and consistency.
Don Pablo Coffee now has customers worldwide with over a dozen specialty coffees, including organic, decaf, espresso and low-acid blends. Burke says Amazon has become their biggest customer, and they also have partnerships with Costco and Sam’s Club. But, as with most things, the fresher the coffee is, the better it is, which is why Don Pablo roasts to order. When buying from big-name coffee companies, Burke says it is not uncommon for the coffee to be several months old by the time it makes it into a cup. For Don Pablo, however, if purchased through another party, Burke says the company will be sent a PO, will roast the order in-house and then ship the coffee directly to the customer.
Burke says that his travel and close relationships with farmers have allowed him to source the top 2% of the world’s coffee beans. In fact, Burke has much more than a buyer-seller relationship with the farmers. Don Pablo Coffee has a sharing certified program that rewards farmers a portion of the coffee profits if they reach certain benchmarks in labor and sustainability. More than that, he says the best coffee comes from sustainable practices. Sticking with traditional Latin American methods, they use organic fertilizers, cut weeds back by hand with a machete and, if necessary, recycle 2-liter bottles to use as bug traps instead of using chemicals.
Burke is the owner and founder of Don Pablo Coffee, and the company is actually named after him — in a way. He says when he first visited Colombia with his wife, he didn’t speak Spanish and her family didn’t speak English. Her grandmother had a hard time pronouncing Burke’s name, and he was given the nickname “Pablo” after they tried to use tongue twisters to learn the language.
“I was teaching them tongue twisters in English and they were teaching me tongue twisters in Spanish, and one was about this guy named Pablo,” Burke says. “I tried to do it and I messed it up so bad. They laughed so hard at me. Then a few hours went by and they looked at me and laughed again, and then the next day, too. So, it was really sticking for some reason. So, the grandma started calling me Pablo.”
Burke is featured on every bag of Don Pablo Coffee, holding a mug, wearing his staple cowboy hat and giving a big smile. Don Pablo Coffee can be found on the company’s website and at Costco, Sam’s Club, amazon.com and walmart.com. It also has hot cocoa and coffee spice grinders. If shopping for holiday gifts, there is free shipping on orders over $50 and 20% off the build-your-own gift box that comes with three different coffees.
Companies these days seem to love to boast that they have something for everyone, and while it’s true that anyone can enjoy a cup of Don Pablo coffee, it is engineered for the coffee connoisseur—those who drink their coffee black and savor each sip. Don Pablo invites customers to experience coffee like never before and fall in love all over again.