Montreal coffee business is steeped in hard work


Olympian turned entrepreneur Craig Buntin, 31, is offering a new way for Canadian caffeine junkies to get their fi Teabean White Coffee.

"It doesn't taste like coffee, it's somewhat nutty and quite sweet," said Buntin, who retired from pairs figure skating in 2010 after a long career that included three Canadian championships and an 11th-place finish with his partner, Valérie Marcoux, at the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy.

He discovered that baking instead of roasting coffee beans, which are naturally green, turned them white instead of dark brown. The beans don't caramelize, have a different taste, and are less acidic, but contain the same amount of caffeine as coffee, Buntin explained.

"It's coffee for people who need the caffeine but don't like the taste of coffee," said Buntin, who founded his Montreal-based company, Teabean White Coffee, to give his product a platform.

He first got the idea of making a white coffee while training for the Olympics in the United States.

"I was at a drive-thru coffee stand," said Buntin, a native of Kelowna, B.C., who moved to Montreal when he was 18.

"And I tried a coffee made with lightly roasted beans and was really interested."

As his skating career began winding down due to age and injury, he began experimenting in his kitchen with lighter roasted beans, and eventually took it a step further using a dry heat at a low temperature to bake them.

The end result was a new take on an old favourite: a latte made with white coffee beans.

With the help of a southern Quebec coffee-roasting company, he mass-produced the beans, refined his recipe, and even created a new white coffee and tea infusion that's steeped using a tea bag, and easier to make at home.

"At first we were strictly selling the lattes, but I wanted a product that was easier to sell online," he said.

"You don't need an espresso maker, or the milk, or syrup, or all that other stuff, just the tea bag."

He distributed his product to different cafés around Montreal and began trying out some different names.

"At one café, I called it white coffee, another one I called it white espresso, another one I called it Teabean," said Buntin.

"Just to see which one was getting the more positive response."

Eventually, he settled on Teabean and began developing the brand.

"My company became my main focus," Buntin said. "I was financing it on my own."

Wanting to learn more about the business world and expand his company, Buntin applied to McGill's master of business administration program with only a high school education.

"I found out that some master's programs make exceptions if you have business experience or exceptional circumstances," Buntin said.

His experiences as an athlete and entrepreneur paid off as he became the first applicant without an undergraduate degree to be accepted into the program.

"It was an incredible surprise, and it's opened a lot of doors," he said.

Last year, during an annual MBA business plan competition, Buntin's Teabean placed third, giving his company a big boost.

"There were over 10 judges made up of entrepreneurs, people who run businesses," Buntin said. "For them to validate the concept was extremely rewarding."

Read full article: The Gazette, February 6, 2012