Q: I thought about getting a home roaster, but what kind of pollutants does it create?
A: Nothing quite like fresh-roasted coffee - unless you live next door to a massive roastery. That aroma wafting through your window is far from the best part of waking up.
Cooking anything at a high temperature tends to release some level of noxious emissions. So you can imagine what happens when you take green coffee beans and broil them at up to 540C (1004°F) on an industrial scale.
Gas-fired drum roasters or hot-air roasters pump out gobs of carbon dioxide and particulate-matter-laced smoke as well as smoggy volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Now, to minimize the whole pissing-off-the-neighbours thing, industrial roasters have been told to get large after-burners that essentially incinerate all that smoky air coming off the roasters.
But all that does is burn off the odour while doubling or even tripling the amount of energy needed to roast the damn beans.
Luckily, someone invented a new kind of roaster that recirculates air, emitting less CO2 and using less energy than any other mass roasters on the market, and there's no need for an after-burner. Now, where oh where can you find yourself a bag of these consciously roasted beans here in Canada?
Sense Appeal coffee, one of the few Canadian players using this SmartRoast technology, has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 59 per cent!
It's also certified organic and fair trade (you can score their beans at Big Carrot, Fresh & Wild, Pusateri's and more; senseappeal.ca).
Other companies just buy offsets to make up for all the pollution they create, like Vermont's Green Mountain Coffee, which cut its energy use by 15 per cent in 2006 but was still pumping out nearly 15,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year, factoring in its entire corporate footprint.
So it's now buying 15,000 tons of wind energy offsets from the most trusted carbon offsetter south of the border, Native Energy.
What about home roasters, you ask? Well, it's harder to gauge, since no one's really measuring or regulating their emissions. I do know that the environmentalists behind Green Beanery got in trouble with chemically sensitive neighbours a few years ago for their macro-roasting operation in the Annex - but that was before they moved into their new retail location and built a special roasting room with two levels of smoke filtration.
At least home roasters like those sold by the Beanery and Merchants of Green Coffee use much lower temps than industrial models (anywhere from 300° to 450°F). Gentlest of all, though, would be oven-roasting it in a pan at 400°F. Who needs to buy a fancy roaster?
Q: Our office is looking at changing our K-Cup coffee system. What can we substitute that is less wasteful, fair trade, organic and still doesn't make our co-workers freak out that we're taking away their "fancy" coffee?
A: Office coffee is often the object of bitter resentment. It never made sense to me why management wouldn't invest in a better brew when bad coffee only pushes employees into having a second cup elsewhere.
The flip side of that scenario, however, are those bosses trying to compete with the café up the street by buying elaborate coffee machines that do everything under the sun.
And let me tell you, it ain't often done with an eye to the planet.
Take K-Cups for instance. For those not in the know, K-Cup is basically an individually packaged coffee system where plastic/foil containers come with a built-in coffee filter and ground coffee beans inside. Pop it into a Keurig-brand brewer and the machine punctures the lid, forces hot water through and fills your mug with your own personalized coffee, tea or hot cocoa of choice.
The only way you could get any more wasteful is if you dropped the packaging on the street and yelled "Eat that, world" when you were done.
Keurig tries to convince you its system is more efficient since you don't waste water brewing a whole cup or washing a big pot at the end of the day, but that's just poppycock. Sure, you could fill the contraption with K-Cup packaged Newman's Own or Green Mountain Coffee's organic fair trade blend, but you're just pouring yourself a cuppa cop-out, kid.
So what are your options? Well, Van Houtte just came out with something called the Latte Lounge, which is available for leasing. It brews 60 different beverages from freshly ground beans, and the only packaging is the bag that comes with your 2 pounds of coffee. Amazing, actually, if only it let you use the company's organic, fair trade beans! Reps say that's in the works.
If you really want to get classy and still want to knock down the waste, get a basic hit-the-button espresso machine suitable for your office volume. You can use your own locally roasted fair trade organic beans to make Americanos, espressos, cappuccinos and lattes (made with your own store-bought organic milk instead of individual creamers, of course.)
GTA-based Schaerer makes some machines for offices that can handle about 50 coffees a day, starting from $3,400. If your bosses are worried about cost, I'll bet them 20 bucks that you'll see a massive drop in Starbucks runs and a perky boost in productivity.
Budget crunched? Get yourself an old-fashioned drip coffee maker that brews organic blends. Sense Appeal (see first question) can help you get your drip together. Even mainstream coffee service providers like Imperial Coffee and Van Houtte carry fair trade and/or organic caffeine.
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