Brett and Havilah Burton have been called "coffee missionaries," and it's easy to see why. The two embarked on a six-month pilgrimage through the mountains and farmlands of Guatemala on a 150 CC Yumbo, apprenticing at a coffee shop there before returning to Birmingham with dreams to bring their passion for coffee to the Magic City.
The result is Primavera Coffee Roasters in Cahaba Heights, behind Miss Myra's barbecue, run with the help of Holly Rodricks. When you walk in the door, if you're lucky they're roasting coffee beans in the gleaming black-and-chrome, gas-fired, 15-kilo roaster to your right, with jute sacks full of green coffee beans stacked nearby. Even when they're not roasting, however, the shop is heavenly with the earthy, spicy, fruity, toasty aromas of freshly roasted coffee.
The coffee menu is simple. You can get a cup of French press of any coffee they have in the store, which is a wonderful way to try before you buy. Their incredible La Marzocco espresso machine puts out the best we've ever had, rich and creamy, whether you opt for straight espresso, macchiato, an Americano, cappuccino, latte or mocha. Coffee drinks with milk arrive with a beautiful fern pattern on top. This is coffee as art, for the eyes, for the nose, for the palate.
A small selection of pastries under a glass dome adorns the counter, and they also offer tea and organic chcolate, but make no mistake – Primavera is about coffee. No frou-frou drinks here; no flavored coffees, no frappucinos. If you're looking for sweet syrupy concoctions that bear little resemblance to coffee, head elsewhere.
Primavera sells single-source coffees, so you can fully appreciate the unique qualities of these regional coffees, sometimes from a single plantation. Primavera offers organic, fair trade and shade grown coffees, and their decaf is a chemical-free water process. Descriptions posted with the coffees for sale use words such as smoky, floral, citrus, vanilla tones, velvety finish, hint of dark chocolate, earthy, smooth, delicate, hints of caramel, orange highlights, etc. When I tried one from Ethiopia that Havilah said was full of blueberries, I really could detect a berry tone. Evan had a decaf macchiato that had a rich, toasty caramel flavor. Decaf! (If you've never had a macchiato, it's espresso "marked" with steamed milk – sort of between an espresso and a cappuccino.) The bold coffees are bold without being bitter or burnt-tasting.
Brett, Havilah and Holly are always happy to help you choose a coffee to suit your tastes. If you have time, talk to Brett or Havilah about coffee. Their passion for and knowledge of the topic is as much of a treat as the product they sell. We look forward to attending one of their Saturday "cuppings," where a coffee tasting is elevated to the level of a wine tasting. In fact, Havilah would like to see a local restaurant offer a coffee menu much like they do wine menus, pointing out the qualities of each coffee that make it a perfect match for various desserts.
The Primavera web site (which is informative and entertaining and nearly as worthy of a visit as the coffee shop itself) says it well: "At Primavera, our goal is to purchase, roast, and deliver the finest coffee available. Along the way, we hope to help each of our customers see a clearer picture of the world of working hands from ground to grind. Our coffee will awaken your senses. Our mission is to awaken your sensibilities."