10 Minutes With Jason Burton

1 by Marty Roe

Jason Burton
LAB tech
The LAB
Kansas City, Missouri & Portland, Oregon

What other coffee jobs have you had?

Made the fashion and music graphic design career jump from NYC to The Roasterie in Kansas City. That was late 2004. I had a 3+ year stint there as the Marketing Director where I wasn’t just creating imagery and promotions with airplanes, but working with baristas on menus and competitions. I went to Houlihan’s Restaurant Group in 2008 and was the Brand Manager for their specialty restaurant concept. I was also on their 8-person beverage team where I was able to work with Alterra and Intelligentsia on the coffee program in our restaurants in Chicago and Milwaukee. The LAB was launched in the fall of 2009, and the Caffeine Crawl concept kicked off exactly two years later.

Jason making a V60 ] at About The Coffee in Kansas City. Kent Baker, from the LAB team, in the background. Photo by Marty Roe.

Jason making a V60 ] at About The Coffee in Kansas City. Kent Baker, from the LAB team, in the background. Photo by Marty Roe.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

That’s easy. Watching companies become successful doing it their way because we all know *good* coffee isn’t easy. And tied for my favorite thing is seeing consumers that aren’t in the industry get excited and support their favorite shops, roasters, and baristas.

It was Jason's son, Cooper's, idea to stage this  picture for Instagram in the Burton house, which is also Jason's home office. Jason was getting ready to drink a Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA. Cooper is 7 and has grown up around beverage culture. Many of the local baristas and bartenders know him. Photo by Cooper Burton.

It was Jason’s son, Cooper’s, idea to stage this picture for Instagram in the Burton house, which is also Jason’s home office. Jason was getting ready to drink a Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA. Cooper is 7 and has grown up around beverage culture. Many of the local baristas and bartenders know him. Photo by Cooper Burton.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

Oh, that’s deep. Well, ideally as a fan and not being so involved in the day-to-day. Ultimately, I’d like to build this company and put my time into creating a solution for school systems in inner cities and poor rural communities throughout the country. The idea is that there will be a lot of overlap with my food and beverage background, but as a kid from a single-parent home and going to a city school, this is dear to my heart.

Jason thanking the crowd and going over the raffle details at Cafe Evoke in Edmond, Oklahoma, the host of the Caffeine Crawl OKC After Party. Coffee lovers from four different states make up the crowd.

Jason thanking the crowd and going over the raffle details at Cafe Evoke in Edmond, Oklahoma, the host of the Caffeine Crawl OKC After Party. Coffee lovers from four different states make up the crowd.

We are building an amazing team with Kent, Emily, and Michael, and Sadie in the works. We have a long way to go, so it will be a while. I’m a HUGE advocate of having good, nice, hard-working people around you, and that’s how The LAB is being built. We’re a family! We don’t do drama. If I had to predict 10 years from now I’ll either be: 1) Serving espresso to zombies only. 2) Consulting and speaking on industry and consumer issues as The LAB runs itself. 3) Sitting behind a mobile device sipping a brew from a VERY specialty roaster that’s a bit unknown, and working on our team’s current project. Similar to my lifestyle right now.

Jason stuffing event packets with his friend and colleague, Kate Blackman of Parisi Coffee and SCAA judge. This picture was taken at Kaldi's Coffee in St. Louis for Caffeine Crawl St. Louis.

Jason stuffing event packets with his friend and colleague, Kate Blackman of Parisi Coffee and SCAA judge. This picture was taken at Kaldi’s Coffee in St. Louis for Caffeine Crawl St. Louis.

Who and what inspires you?

People that break through walls. People that set lofty goals and fight hard to reach them. I’m fueled by people that can balance an intense work schedule/ethic and downtime. My wife, son, and friends are my downtime. I work my ass off for them and The LAB team. Music pumps me up and a lot of soul, funky hip hop, female vocalists will take me from tired and out of ideas to full-blown unstoppable. Beverage-wise, a cup of coffee (always brewed via a pourover method), or beer I haven’t tried before that surprises me because how awesome it tastes. I like positive surprises in this industry. Also, I get really inspired when I travel solo.

Jason and the KC Kaldi's Coffee crew along with Marcus Boni. They're teasing Marcus about his cover and centerfold in the August+September 2012 issue of Barista Magazine.

Jason and the KC Kaldi’s Coffee crew along with Marcus Boni. They’re teasing Marcus about his cover and centerfold in the October + November 2012 issue of Barista Magazine.

What are you drinking right now? 

Coffee-wise we drink sooo many different coffees. Just spent the weekend in San Diego taking in their impressive, underdog coffee scene. Just this week it has been PT’s, Oddly Correct, Kaldi’s, and Benetti’s locally, and Bee Coffee (Indy), Carrboro (North Carolina), and Bird Rock (San Diego) from what we have at my office space. My go-to is brewing via a Chemex and I hardly ever drink the same coffee twice in a row.

Jason and his wife and son love going to baseball games. Photo by Shannon Burton.

Jason and his wife and son love going to baseball games. Photo by Shannon Burton.

Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?

Oh, the stories I could share. All of us in the industry could laugh at this question, right? I’m sure I’ll think of a better one later, but going to Costa Rica and visiting farms with a James Beard chef, Michael Smith, on The Roasterie’s dime was pretty surreal. That was 2006, I believe. Lately, watching Kansas City’s coffee scene come together, get noticed, and take steps to be a key part of the local community and identity. And watching people on our team, like what Emily did in San Diego for the Caffeine Crawl. That girl crushed it! It was her and not me, and people need to realize we have a badass team.

Jason with "Stubie" of EF Hobbs Coffee kicking off a day of the Caffeine Crawl in KC. This was fall of 2012. Stubie did his demo on home roasting and had 2 different single-origin Kyoto brews for the crowd.

Jason with “Stubie” of EF Hobbs Coffee kicking off a day of the Caffeine Crawl in KC. This was fall of 2012. Stubie did his demo on home roasting and had 2 different single-origin Kyoto brews for the crowd.

What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?

I’m always surrounded by beverage reading, studying, talking to consumers, and so on. If not coffee, it’s beer, cocktails, and wine in that order. I have never required much sleep (5-7 a night, if that) and I hate being lazy, so if I’m not working/drinking, I’m hanging with my wife and son, or doing chores around the house. I’m active in my son’s school, and have some good non-industry friends I kick it with.

Jason and Cooper coming back from a early spring walk. Often there's an artisan soda (Dry, Virgil's or Izze) in tow for him and a cup of coffee for Jason. Jason says he tries to bring Cooper back a sports hat or shirt from his Caffeine Crawl trips; Cooper's sporting his favorite hoodie here.

Jason and Cooper coming back from a early spring walk. Often there’s an artisan soda (Dry, Virgil’s or Izze) in tow for him and a cup of coffee for Jason. Jason says he tries to bring Cooper back a sports hat or shirt from his Caffeine Crawl trips; Cooper’s sporting his favorite hoodie here.

What do you think hurts the industry? (Jason added this one)

Egos and people not working together. I want to see the coffee industry work together like the beer and wine worlds. I was recently at Stone Brewing Co. in San Diego, and the fact that 60%+ of the beer they serve isn’t brewed by them is brilliant. I want to see coffee come together more!

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.