New owners take over Bud’s Beans

MIDDLEBURY — Leah Keller and Brian Carter are always on the lookout for a good cup of coffee.
They found one so good, they bought the company.
It’s called Bud’s Beans, established in 2000 by Middlebury’s William “Bud” Smith. Smith grew the tiny enterprise in his own home and successfully courted a group of local stores to carry and sell what are seven varieties of expertly roasted beans.
Smith decided to sell the business in 2017, and he found two very willing buyers.
Keller and Carter hail from the Sunapee region of New Hampshire. Leah worked in the New Hampshire Department of Health’s dairy inspection division, while Brian toiled as a carpenter. Keller said she and her husband grew weary of the Granite State’s political situation around seven years ago and began looking for a more progressive, pastoral environment in which to reside. That led them to Middlebury, where they did some house hunting, ultimately agreeing to buy a home offered up by the aforementioned Bud Smith.
It was a real estate transaction that blossomed into a friendship, and eventually, a business agreement.
“We were settling in and waiting to see what developed,” said Keller, who had accepted an early retirement offer from the Department of Health. “Bud was saying that he wanted to retire from the coffee business, and at that point, I’d been not working for long enough that I was ready to take on something new.”
It’s their first coffee-related venture. In fact, it was only a dozen years ago that Keller became a coffee enthusiast. Her passion for java further intensified seven years ago after having tried a cup made with Bud’s Beans.
“That was one of the first really good cups of coffee I’d ever had,” she recalled. “And that was a real eye-opener on how good coffee could be.”
They decided not to tinker with Smith’s formula for success. Smith has stayed on to show Keller and Carter the ropes, do occasional roasting, and make deliveries.
The new owners have added another Nicaraguan blend and a darker roast to the Columbian, Guatemalan, Ethopian, Bali and French Roast varieties that Smith developed during his 17 years helming the business. But unlike Smith, Keller and Carter decided to give Bud’s Beans its own address. They found what they believe is the perfect spot in the Marble Works shopping complex in Middlebury.
“Since it’s a very small business, we needed an affordable space,” Keller said. “At the time, there were a couple of affordable spaces in Middlebury, and this was the best option.”
It’s the perfect size for their 3-Kilogram Diedrich roaster, which can handle 5.75 pounds of beans at a time. Each batch dwindles to a little under five pounds at the end of the roasting process, according to Keller. The trusty Diedrich heats the beans to the target temperature.
Roasting coffee isn’t just a matter of pushing buttons and monitoring gauges; there’s an art to it. Roast the beans too long, and the coffee tastes flat. If you don’t roast it long enough, you don’t get the special flavor notes buried within the beans.
“The different coffees have different properties, in terms of how long it takes them to roast,” Keller noted. “Some are better on a shorter roast, some on a longer roast. A lot of it is being able to look at the color of the beans as they’re roasting, the sound of them, and then the flavor. It depends on the particular coffee and getting (the roasting) just right to bring out the best in the coffee.”
The couple sources its coffee beans through a few trusted brokers.
“As truly a micro roaster, we work closely with specialty green coffee brokers to buy small quantities of single-origin coffees from around the world,” reads an entry on the Bud’s Beans website. “We buy mostly organically grown coffee and, as much as possible, fair trade so that the farmers growing the green coffee are provided with a sustainable, living wage for their work.”
Keller and Carter have no plans, at this point, to make Bud’s Beans a booming business. They want to keep it a small, three-person operation supplying a combined total of roughly 150 pounds of coffee per week to just a handful of loyal outlets that include the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, the Middlebury Bagel & Deli, the Otter Creek Bakery, Shafer’s Market, The Daily Grind, Wood’s Market Garden in Brandon and Vermont Marketplace in Bristol.
“Ninety-eight percent of what we sell is probably within a 5-mile radius of where we’re roasting,” Keller said. “It’s a really comfortable size where it is now. As long as it pays the bills and is sustainable, we’re happy to keep it at this size.”
Roasting’s rewards go beyond dollars and cents, according to Keller. She said the favorite part of her job is “having people say, ‘I really like your coffee,’ It’s nice to know you’re doing something right, and that people appreciate what you’re doing.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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