We sat down to talk with father and son duo Bob and Jeff Werby to glean fascinating insights on all things coffee. Along with Lisa DeNoia, they are the brains and brawn behind the innovative Virginia Beach coffee shop: Fathom Coffee.
Their tried-and-true roasting techniques, military backgrounds, never-ending research, and scientific approach make Fathom Coffee what it is today.
Learn interesting facts you never knew about coffee in general. And hear the story of how “the best coffee you can’t buy” – shared initially with friends and family at an “underground” coffee bar – bloomed into a shop that now sells the best coffee in Virginia Beach.
It may be the best coffee in the state of Virginia, possibly the United States, maybe even the world. We’ll let you decide.
On Deck (Table of Contents)
- What is Fathom Coffee?
- How and why did Fathom Coffee originate?
- Why is your coffee the best in Virginia Beach?
- What sets Fathom Coffee apart from other local coffee shops?
- What types of drinks do you offer?
- Where do you offer shipping?
- How to Get the Best Coffee in Virginia Beach
What is Fathom Coffee?
[Jeff] Fathom Coffee is a small batch nano roaster of the finest coffees available. We’re proudly veteran-owned and have been perfecting our roasting techniques since 2015. Our focus is simple: make the best cup of coffee possible
How and why did Fathom Coffee originate?
[Jeff] My dad and I were both in the Navy and drank an inordinate amount of coffee. I was probably drinking six or seven cups of bad coffee a day. Through lots of blind taste testing, we realized we couldn’t find anything we really liked, so we set out to discover what makes a good cup of coffee.
On the Hunt for a Good Cup of Joe
I took a trip to Seattle and found a lot of good coffee while I was there – the kind you can drink without cream and sugar. That was my introduction to third wave coffee.
My dad, who’s always looking for new hobbies, went on either eBay or Amazon, bought some green beans, and began experimenting. Starting with a cast-iron skillet and a wooden spoon and then moving to a small Quest M3 roaster that looked like a miniature version of something from a James Bond movie, we’d try roasting and sampling what we roasted. It got to the point where whatever my dad was roasting, I couldn’t really drink anything else.
The Best Coffee You Can’t Buy
Lisa and I, who were working together at the time, set up a sort of secret “underground” coffee shop inside my office and invited friends, coworkers, and anyone else interested in joining us for a fresh cup of coffee.
Everybody kept coming and saying, “This is the best coffee I’ve ever had. Can I buy some?” For about two years, our answer was repeatedly, “No.” Then at some point, my dad said, “If you guys can figure out how to sell it, I’ll roast it.”
My dad ended up modifying our little roaster. We’re both engineers, and I’d say my dad is probably one of the best mechanical engineers I’ve ever met. He made it so the roaster could do 500 grams (instead of 125) – so basically a full pound of coffee in one batch – and we could start selling. We quickly outstripped the capacity of that roaster, so we bought a bigger one and then a bigger one.
Setting Up Shop
At this point, we still didn’t have a shop. We had a coworking space where we’d serve coffee for free. People would come to the door and ask, “Is this Fathom Coffee, the coffee shop?” We’d say, “It’s not a coffee shop. But you can come in and have a free cup of coffee.” We earned our first Yelp review that way: a one-star review saying we weren’t a coffee shop.
Finally, a small space across the street came available that we began leasing in September 2019. We bought our fourth roaster – a killer machine made by Coffee Tech – and started using it in our new shop. Now we roast out of that shop and from our production facility.
Why is your coffee the best in Virginia Beach?
1. Pure, Natural Flavor
[Bob] Many third-wave roasters out there roast their beans lighter than was typical years ago. That way, the beans retain the flavors of their origin. Our Ethiopian tastes different from a Colombian, which tastes different from a Brazilian. That’s our goal. To make sure that you can taste the origin.
2. We Keep It Fresh
[Bob] What makes us unique is that we package our coffee in vacuum-sealed Mason jars. Not just that, but after we roast our coffee and initially let it out of the machine, it starts to off-gas carbon dioxide (part of the process). If you vacuum seal it fairly quickly, the glass jar becomes empty of oxygen.
When the beans continue to off-gas and the jar fills with carbon dioxide, the beans stay fresh. As long as the lid stays on, your beans will be as fresh the day you take them out as the day we put them in.
This isn’t just subjective. Scientifically, you can tell when you take coffee and grind it. Put it in a pour-over device, like a Chemex, and pour hot water over it. If it blooms and foams, it’s fresh. Stale coffee doesn’t do that. Our coffee blooms and bubbles for years.
3. Variety of Origins
[Jeff] Another big differentiator for us is that we have a huge number of origins. We like to say that we have all the coffees from “A” to “Z.”
So on and so forth.
We even have people come into the shop and ask for specific origins. We have a lot of Navy guys here. One came in and said, “Somebody told me you guys have a Yemeni coffee. I just got back from Yemen, and someone there told me that.”
There’s something for everybody, everything from Indian to Indonesian,Kenyan… I think we have 21 different coffees that are “on tap” – on the bar ready for brewing. I don’t think there’s anywhere else you can do that in Virginia Beach or even Virginia. I can’t tell you another coffee shop anywhere with that many different types of coffee.
4. Small Batch
[Jeff] We’re able to sell such a variety because we roast such small batches. We can do one run of two kilos and have that coffee roasted and ready to go. Other shops might roast 150 pounds of Colombia in one day and then not roast again for another week. They’re not going to have 21 different 150-pound batches of inventory just sitting there.
[Bob] If we ever ruin a batch of coffee, we throw it away. And while that’s not something we like to do, two kilograms will not kill us. Can you imagine roasting 150 pounds of coffee and having a bad batch? Do you know what you do with that batch? You sell it. And we’ve all drunk the coffee that didn’t get thrown away.
What sets Fathom Coffee apart from other local coffee shops?
Our Premium Beans
[Bob] We only buy beans that score at least 80 (for excellent or outstanding) on the rating scale set by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. You can ruin good beans. But there’s nothing you can do to roast bad beans and turn them into good coffee.
We intensively sort our beans after they come out of the roaster. If we ever get bad beans, we never buy from the distributor again. From my roaster perspective, good beans are uniform in size and density and were picked around the same time. You can tell when you have good beans because they roast beautifully, and they’re all the same color.
We sell our beans in transparent glass jars, so you know what you’re getting when you buy. We want our beans to look good, not just taste good. We’ve taken time to hone in on vendors we can count on consistently – the ones who always provide top-notch beans. Those are the guys we keep going back to.
Our Focus on Sustainability
[Jeff] We try to eliminate waste as much as possible and reuse as much as we can. We use HexcelPack wrap, analogous to bubble wrap but made from recycled paper. We also ship our coffee in Mason jars, which you can reuse when you’re finished. You can use it for overnight oats or as a sourdough starter. If you’re local to Virginia Beach, you can bring it back, and we’ll give you a dollar. We’ll take the labels off, sanitize them, and reuse them.
As much as possible, we’re trying to get rid of anything that isn’t recoverable. We use compostable cups and lids. We also encourage people to bring their own Yeti or whatever, and we’ll give them a discount. To avoid producing combustibles, we use an electric roaster instead of gas.
We’re also part of 1% for the Planet – a nonprofit that prioritizes people and the planet over profit – and go out and physically help with cleanup around local waterways. One day, we picked up 2,000 pounds of garbage, including five suitcases and seven electric scooters.
What types of drinks do you offer?
[Jeff] We have hot and cold drinks. Besides pour-overs, we have nitro cold brew on tap and then every kind of espresso-based drink – so lattes, cappuccinos, cortados, macchiatos, you name it. We do matcha, chai, chai lattes, dirty chai lattes, dirty matcha lattes, etc.
Coffee Your Way
If you’re a purist, we’ll give you top-quality coffee and you can drink it straight. If you want 16 pumps of sugar-free vanilla, that’s fine, too. Our whole thing is that you need to enjoy your coffee the way you like it. What you choose to like on your coffee journey might not be what I choose. I’ll even go as far as to say that if somebody wants to come in and buy the coffee and dump it on their head, that’s fine. Just wait until it cools down a little bit first.
We have every kind of milk: oat milk, soy milk, coconut, almond, 2%, whole, whatever you want. And we don’t charge extra for it. We’re super flexible. Whatever you want, we’ll make it for you. Our most popular drinks are either the nitro cold brew or some type of latte – probably caramel or vanilla.
Our “Kenopian” Signature Blend
[Bob] We also have a drink called Kenopian, a 50-50 blend of Kenya and Ethiopia coffees – our two highest altitude beans. They’re terrific. By mixing these two top-notch beans, you get a naturally sweet drink. It has both the florals and the fruit flavors all in one coffee.
Where do you offer shipping?
[Jeff] We ship everywhere except for the U.S. Department of Commerce embargoed countries (Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria). We also send a lot of orders to FPO (Fleet Post Office), APO (Army Post Office), and DPO (Diplomatic Post Office) customers.
How to Get the Best Coffee in Virginia Beach
Thanks for hearing the story of how Fathom Coffee got started and our love for good coffee. We’d love to see you in person if you’re in the Virginia Beach area! You can visit our coffee shop at 1682 Baltic Ave. in the ViBe District at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. We’re open daily from 7 AM to 3 PM. We can’t wait to make your perfect drink!
On our website, you can also order all our top-notch coffee beans vacuum-sealed in mason jars for freshness – along with some other really great stuff.