by Daniel E. Walsh Author of Our Sunday "History & Reflections" Series
Plus ca change plus c’est la meme chose. Raise your cup to the French: they have it right again, the more things change……. In pre-vacuum-sealed container times, Americans who enjoyed coffee had to carry and roast their own beans. In their unroasted green state, the coffee beans would last longer. The crack, crackle, and aroma of roasting coffee were in the air of pioneer and colonial homes. Now, the same sounds and smells are in the homes of some frugal hobbyists.
Home roasting your own coffee beans not only gets you a delicious cup of gourmet coffee that is unbelievably fresh and very inexpensive, but fewer trips to the store means home roasting also has a deleterious effect on your carbon imprint. Additionally, the rising demand for organically grown beans has had a dramatic world-wide impact on coffee plantation methods. Yet another bonus: coffee grounds are a great addition to your compost or garden.
Home roasting is an activity with its own lingo and rituals. Coffee snobbery can easily be attained for those so inclined. One can also simply be satisfied with a great cup of decent coffee. You can produce fresh roasted beans in your home using a variety of methods. With a minimal equipment purchase, you can roast in your oven. Some home roasters use an air popcorn popper and get great results. Sites such as U-Roast-Em.com, sweetmarias.com, and HomeRoast.com offer comprehensive directions and education for the beginner.
Local coffee shops such as Peets offer green beans that you can buy at a discount. The best deals, though, are online. Terry Wall is owner/operator of an online company, U-Roast-Em, in the small western Wisconsin city of Hayward. “I do this for fun at a small scale. I have met many wonderful folks while doing this,” Terry said in a recent phone conversation.
When asked how home roasting can impact a green lifestyle, Terry spoke of the growing process. “The natural by-product of harvesting of the cherry is returned to the earth as fertilizer; previously this had been discarded. The big farmers are moving away from the mass production methods that involved clearing the canopies and using pesticides extensively. Coffee grows naturally in larger tree shaded areas. Now the farmers are letting the canopy trees grow back and allowing the birds who live in them to do the insect control. Many of the coffee growing countries such as Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Mexico are in remote hard-to-get-to areas, so the costs of large scale sun farming is huge.”
Another shift has been to organically grown coffee. “Companies are going for that organic certificate so they can meet the market demand. Many of my customers will ask for a copy of the certificate for proof. The certification process is strict and organic standards must be used for three years prior to attaining the papers”
Terry also explained the term Fair Trade. “Fair Trade means the workers on the plantations are paid a wage consistent with the minimum wage here.
Folks have voted with their cups: back to the basics; the old ways prevail. On a cool spring weekend morning, one can relax with a steaming mug on a porch, balcony, or deck. In the air you can listen to the ancient warbling of spring birds under your canopy of shade. Know that in faraway places a similar primordial melody can be heard in trees above the cherries where the trek of the bean to your cup started. Now, sip a little of that fresh brewed Yirgacheffe you brought to a French roast and then blended 60 – 40 with a cinnamon roasted Colombian Peaberry and say bon matin to the world and its natural wonder.