Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Low-waste coffee in Cape Town

When I was unable to find coffee in Cape Town where I could supply my own bag, Eug said he'd like to start roasting his own coffee, and perhaps we could get green beans without the plastic bag.

Coffee is by no means a low-waste food item. It's shipped from the corners of earth, often via another corner, to get to Cape Town. But there are things we can do to make it better and put some care into understanding what coffee is, what makes it good, and how to use less waste to get our moment of coffee awesomeness.

I happened upon Global coffee and I really enjoyed figuring out with Charles which coffee to buy. We bought 10kg, which was their minimum order at the time, in one large bag that had been used and can be reused. The company does seek out Fair Trade production, but they don't have the Fair Trade label... yet. I was really impressed at Charles' level of knowledge and he and his team's openness to sharing more about roasting coffee despite our being total newbies. We bought Columbian and the coffee is consistently better than anything we could get at even the best coffee shop.

Here's how we've settled on roasting, in excruciating detail:
The green beans start out in a large dog food bowl.

Eug uses a second-hand heat gun, which is basically a very hot hairdryer, to roast the beans.

They roast evenly and  the chaff floats off as the beans cook. There's a lot of control using this method of roasting.

The final product: a really even roast.
If you're here in Cape Town, we're selling the coffee locally. We won't take on many customers because this is not a money-making venture; what we'd like to do is share the process and supply friends, friends of friends, and family with freshly roasted beans in your own container, where we all have a pretty good sense of where the coffee came from, how it ended up in Cape Town, and into your mug.

With this level of knowledge, perhaps we can influence our tiny bit of the local economy, and even get to know a coffee farmer- his/her needs, how s/he creates an coffee farm, and how we can help that farmer be a better steward. As a commodity that can't be grown in our back yard, we depend on farmers around the world for our coffee: if we're pressuring them to give us coffee at low prices, they are pressured to eek extra coffee out of their land, which is not good for the soil, for their environment, or for their families. 


Susannah Fisher said...

Jo, I have recently received a present of some unroasted Ethiopian beans, but how to do it without one of your high tech devices? does a good old oven work? Hope you're well!

Concrete Gardener said...

Provided your smoke alarm is not too sensitive, you can actually just put it dry into a small frying pan and move it quickly with a metal wisk or fork- the key is constant movement and a pretty small batch to get an even roast. It will smoke a lot, and you'll want to blow off the husks as they start to come off. Then you'll start to hear the beans cracking and you'll know they're close to done- it is just up to you how dark you like them!

But yes, no tech necessary. We just got into it so we got the dog food bowl from my mom and the heat gun. =)