We’re super excited for this one.
A veteran of Colonna & Small’s in Bath, and himself an accomplished Cup Tasters Championship competitor, Jason Gonzalez has a unique coffee pedigree. His new cafe, Onyx Tonics of Burlington, Vermont, is designed to feel more like a tasting room than a classic coffee shop. The focus here is on brewing, interacting with the baristas, and building a community hub for great coffee in downtown Burlington. The space opened earlier this summer, after a lightning-quick build-out of just two weeks—a Build-Outs of Summer record.
As told to Sprudge by Jason Gonzalez, Co-Owner of Onyx Tonics.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
Onyx Tonics is a new specialty coffee shop in downtown Burlington, Vermont, owned and operated by myself and my wife. We will focus on single-origin espressos and filter coffees from great roasters around the US and Canada, as well as local roasters. I previously worked at Colonna & Small’s in Bath, UK, and trained under Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, three-time World Finalist Barista. I was also the UK Cup Tasters Champion in both 2013 and 2014, coming 8th in the world in 2013.
Burlington is a small city by most standards and is nestled between the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain. Food and drink-wise, Burlington, and Vermont in general, punches well above its weight with many of the world’s best breweries just a short drive away. Specialty coffee, on the other hand, has only semi-recently had an established presence in Burlington, and we hope to become a new hub for specialty coffee in the area.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
The new space is located on one of the main streets that lead down to Burlington’s waterfront and is a stone’s throw from City Hall Park and Church Street (Burlington’s main shopping district).
The shop itself is around 1,000 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling windows at the front, and a large curved bar. Having a bar where customers could come and sit, chat with the baristas, and watch the brewing process was incredibly important to us. We wanted to create the feel of a tasting room, rather than a classic coffee shop, and the bar area is really the focal point of the space and the first thing a customer sees when coming into the shop.
We decided early on that we really wanted to keep the space feeling open and bright, pairing light wood tones with a refreshing mint-green and dark grey color palette.
What’s your approach to coffee?
Borrowing heavily from the Colonna & Small’s model, we focus on highlighting the flavor of single-origin coffees and the difference farm and region can bring to a cup, rather than specific drink types or brew methods.
We treat each coffee very differently, we dial in each and present information to the customer to make an informed decision. We’re very much treating the space as a tasting room as much as a coffee shop. The comparison to wine or beer is especially relevant in Burlington, Vermont, which has a strong food and drink scene for its size. It’s a lot of information, but the customers have taken to it very well. Burlington is well-suited to something unique and bespoke. We jump right in to explain the approach and generally people are excited.
At any one time we’ll feature three espressos and three filter coffees as well as our own cold brew. We’ll be rotating our coffees frequently and often, featuring both local and US-based roasters, and once we hit our stride, our entire menu will change weekly. Our opening lineup included two local roasters, Brio Coffeeworks and Vivid Coffee as well as offerings from Madcap Coffee Company and Heart Roasters. George Howell Coffee, Sightglass Coffee, and Four Barrel Coffee will be making appearances very soon.
Any machines, coffees, special equipment lined up?
We use the La Marzocco Linea Classic for our espresso drinks and have just the one EKK 43 grinder for both espresso and filter. We pre-weigh our doses and grind each to order. For our filter coffees we prefer full-immersion brew methods, primarily using the AeroPress, and occasionally the siphon filter or the Bonavita brewer. We also use a FETCO bulk brewer to offer one of our filter coffees swiftly.
For crockery, we use Acme Cup Company cups for the bulk of our drinks, as well as clear glass tea cups for our filters and mason jars for our cold brew.
What’s your hopeful target opening date/month?
We officially opened on June 20, after a speedy two-week buildout.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
My wife and co-owner is a graphic designer and she developed the overall brand and feel of the shop, from creating the logo and building the website to choosing the furniture and fixtures, and as the space was mostly move-in ready, we did a lot of the buildout ourselves including the painting, equipment installation, construction of furniture, and interior design.
As the shop has plenty of wall space, we saw it as a great opportunity to feature the work of local artists. Our first featured artist is our good friend Allyson Gutchell, from St. Albans, Vermont. Her pop-arty style is bold, bright, and colorful, which works perfectly with the shop.
Our local partners include:
- Sweet Rowen Farmstead for our milk. They’re based in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, and their milk is non-homogenized and gently pasteurized. Their cheese game is also strong, but we’re not serving it… yet.
- We’re featuring tea from a local importer, Hawkhurst Tea. I know the owner, Matthew Magnuson, through the local coffee scene and I know that we have a similar goal for taste and concept.
- And amazing donuts from Miss Weinerz, who uses sustainable, local ingredients in each of her seasonal donuts.
Photos courtesy of Onyx Tonics Co-Owner, Tiffany Farrant-Gonzalez.