The Kid of Kaldi’s
In this blog series, we offer you a glimpse of our team members behind the scenes, and the many unique viewpoints and experiences they bring to our company, our coffee, and the Kaldi’s family.
Our head roaster, Bud, has been with Kaldi’s since 2006. His career not only traveled through most jobs in the company, but also the rise of cafe culture in America, advances in coffee science, barista techniques, coffee technology, and the demystification of all aspects of the coffee industry as the internet created unprecedented access to coffee knowledge and research.
If you’ve been reading along with our People of Kaldi’s blogs, you’ll remember our roaster Estevao was able to research and learn about coffee before entering the coffee industry. Bud, for years known as “the kid of Kaldi’s,” looks back at his journey from the early days of third-wave coffee, when educational resources were scarce and results were often improvised, to his current position as head roaster in a transformed industry.
We hope you enjoy this interview with a person that has seen — and done — so much for Kaldi's Coffee.
Bud and his wife, Alex
Tell us about your early days at Kaldi’s.
I was hired at 19, while studying theater at Meramec. I’d been a regular at the Kirkwood cafe, needed a job with flexibility, and Kaldi’s was expanding — Chesterfield had just opened. I started out in the kitchen, making crepes for hours a day, occasionally stepping out front to ring customers out.
I made a lot of mistakes on the register in those early days, and our coffee training program was in its infancy. I was afraid of the espresso machine, I didn’t really understand how it worked. I just knew there was a lot of heat and pressure and I needed to be careful.
How did you become a barista?
In my first year, Josh and Tricia (editor's note: owners of Kaldi's Coffee) were traveling to Kansas City to observe a barista competition for the first time. They took me along, and I was in awe. I’d never traveled for work, and it was early days for the United States Barista Competition. A few competitors had begun to develop advanced signature drinks, but there were also a lot of competitors still making very simple beverages. Everyone was kind of figuring it out as it went along, which was the perfect environment for me.
Bud through the years
When we got back to St. Louis, I really got serious about learning how to steam milk and dial in espresso. I’d spend hours practicing on the bar and talking to baristas with more experience. By today’s standards, our techniques and technology were primitive.
I remember when espresso grinders were all manual and we’d fill the chamber every morning with grounds so we were ready to open. Coffee doses were eyeballed. When you said “bar scale,” you didn’t mean a digital scale for measuring your dose or shot weight, you meant a bathroom scale on the counter that you’d use to measure the force of your tamp. We were all figuring out what worked and evolving together.
Learning to dial in was a lot of work. We were still using Cafe Kaldi as our espresso, and as a blend of light and dark roasts reproducing consistent shots was almost impossible. You just never knew what mix of beans would wind up in your portafilter. In 2008, Kaldi’s developed Espresso 700 and new parameters for pulling consistent shots. Suddenly the bar wasn’t shrouded in the same amount of mystery it had been for new team members.
It’s funny, looking back, we had t-shirts printed with those parameters to celebrate the progression. Today, they’d be instantly out of date, as we update parameters constantly and send out weekly updates to our lead baristas.
What’s life like as a roaster?
It’s an interesting life. Most people I talk to don’t usually understand what it means to be a roaster. I often have to explain to people that coffee doesn’t come to the roaster looking the same way it does when they purchase it off the shelf.
I spend a lot of time discussing the roasting process with people and once they’ve come to terms with coffee being seasonal and that all coffees are different, I explain to them how and why we source the way we do. It’s always interesting to see what people latch onto when it comes to the aspects of my career. Mostly, my occasional trips to origin are really intriguing to people.
All in all, roasting has allowed me to lead an extraordinary life that few people would even consider. I get to drink some of the best coffees in the world all the time and I get to develop amazing relationships with exceptional chefs, brew masters, and a myriad of experts across many fields.
Any favorite memories of the cafe?
It’s not so much a specific moment but a period of time at the Crescent cafe, when I worked with a crew of passionate coffee people. We were arguably some of the best at what we were doing at that time and we were pushing the envelope of what great quality coffee could be. I loved it.
We had a lot of fun experimenting with how to pull espresso, developing signature beverages, developing how we launch cold brew at a time when most people were just pouring hot coffee over ice. Most of our techniques have since been drastically improved, but it was certainly cutting edge at the time.
I believe almost every one of us has gone on to make real careers in coffee, as managers, roasters or owners of their own coffee companies. It was an incredibly passionate and creative time in my coffee career; it was lightning in a bottle.
What hobbies are you pursuing right now?
Those who have met me know I love to learn new skills so it’s ever-changing, but currently when I’m not baking or helping my wife with gardening, I’ve been really enjoying making stained glass.
When I was growing up we had a family friend who did stained glass pieces and we had them all over my house. During the pandemic I decided that I was going to teach myself how to do this thing that I’d always wanted to do. As it turned out, my wife really enjoys it also and she is far more creative than myself. It became the first hobby that we’ve been able to do together.
In the summer, when the garden demands more of our time, we post a little less, but we have a dedicated instagram account to our stained glass projects. Check us out @alexandbud_glass
Editor's Note: Bud has also done several recipes and how to's for Kaldi's over the years (and made several pies for the Roastery team!):
Check out Bud's Bourbon Pie Crust Recipe:
Check Out Bud's video, How To Cup Coffee at Home
Any advice to someone who is starting a career in coffee?
Always be open to learning a new aspect of the business, and don’t forget that collaborating is one of the best ways to learn. This won’t always tie into your preconceived notions of a path in coffee. When I started as a roaster, I tried to gobble as much information as I could, to hoard knowledge, in an effort to make myself indispensable. It was almost like a defense mechanism, and very different from the collaborative learning and innovation of my cafe days. I didn’t truly start growing until I dropped that gatekeeping mentality.
Successful businesses have a well-rounded team, and I really felt settled in my coffee career when I began to share that knowledge, to train others, to open up and let information flow out and in, across all aspects of being a roaster.
Cultivating a career in coffee will require you to have an understanding of areas of running a business that aren’t always coffee-centric. Having an understanding of bag design will lead to more productive production lines. Learning how to ship products around the country will help you learn how to meet scheduling deadlines in production.
Everything builds off of something else and the most successful people I know in this business wear a lot of hats and have an underlying passion for learning new things. These are the people who move businesses forward and the ones that can turn any job into a career.
Bud Q & A
Favorite drink? I’ve been drinking a lot of “Gold Rushes” or at least my take on a gold rush. It is 1 part bourbon, 1 part honey simple syrup, and 1 part lemon juice but I've been using whatever citrus and berry combo that I have in my possession at the moment.
This was probably meant to be about coffee though so maybe I should say what I like to order at a cafe. I like to order a Sidecar. A Sidecar is a double shot of espresso split, where half goes in an espresso cup and half is used to make a small cappuccino. I’ve found this is a great way to try the coffee and see how it pairs with milk without ordering too many drinks and not getting overly caffeinated.
Favorite Origin? My favorite will always be whatever crop is at its freshest, but I’m currently very excited about Peru. I’ve not had the opportunity to go to Peru to buy coffee yet, but the quality on the cupping table has been consistently improving from harvest to harvest.
Favorite current coffee? The Brazil Serra do Cabral. I just finished two dial-in production roasts and I can’t wait to serve this coffee again in our cafes.
Favorite place to vacation? Never the same place twice. My wife and I enjoy exploring new places and experiencing local life wherever we go.
Best tasting note you’ve ever had in coffee? My favorite flavor call has to be bergamot. It's almost like fruity pebbles and floral notes in one. When it is present in a coffee it is usually accompanied by some other really amazing flavor calls too.
Favorite Season? Autumn. Everything great in my life has happened in the fall.
Favorite Food: Rice
Most important skill to have in the coffee industry? Problem solving and a good palate.
Washed or Natural? A well executed honey process.
Hobby you want to pursue? Welding/ working metal into more of my other hobbies.
Dream Job? I always wanted to be a mad scientist or a Ghostbuster. That just leaves Ghostbuster!