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The Fire Roasted Coffee Company
London, Ontario, Canada
Fire Roasted Coffee website
I recently visited this roastery and came out about twice as coffee-smart. For even the casual coffee drinker, there was some great insight that I want to share. Check it out!
David Cook started out as a merchandiser for a major grocery retailer. His background, right up until an executive position with the retailer, is culinary and the man loves coffee. He experimented with roasting his own coffee beans at home using simple household means, eventually graduating up to a three-pound roaster.
David started roasting for the neighborhood at garage sales and eventually bagged some small local accounts. The people loved the coffee and the attention to detail from somebody with a culinary background. Eventually, the home roasting “business” was rivaling his 9-5 job in pay. David took the plunge and quit his job to grow the Fire Roasted Coffee Company.
Focus on roasting
David brought some interesting things to my attention. I don’t buy coffee in a grocery store but I do buy it from big-scale roasters. A big retailer like Starbucks knows coffee well and has a nice operation for its mass. But there’s a premium to coffee that comes with more careful roasting.
A big-scale operation will automate because it means less human attention and of course, that saves money. But if you put an actual roaster on it, that person can roast to perfection with an appreciation for changes in consistency both in climate and the bean itself from one batch to another. There’s a science to roasting and it’s inconsistent enough from day to day and bean to bean, that hand-roasted attention comes through in the cup. You lose this consistency when you profile a region’s bean but then automate its roasting instead of paying close attention to it. The most meticulous home coffee roasters never leave their machine while the coffee is roasting.
You’d assume that means a premium built into the price too. Wrong. A pound of coffee at FRCC costs a few dollars less than buying at Starbucks.
Care for customer education
As soon as you walk in, there’s a heavy focus on “coffee education”. The people who roast coffee for FRCC are also the same people interacting with customers and working in this very transparent environment. To answer customers’ questions, why not have the very people that roasted the customer’s coffee.
It couldn’t be more transparent, it’s wide open. FRCC pulls the curtain back so you can see everything from the 30 burlap sacks of green, unroasted coffee from most every growing region in the world, the big Diedrich roasting machine that roasts 20 pounds of coffee at a time, and the weighing and packaging station.
From the packaging table, it gets put on the shelf and you buy it in plain view of the whole operation. From burlap sack to retail pack, the whole place is wide open. What else is there to see other than the coffee farm itself?
Coffee is sold and imported raw. It begins to expire once it’s roasted so it’s important to have the roasting operation close. FRCC lets you see everything you may have taken for granted in just how important good roasting is to the coffee in your cup.
Care for coffee
Talking to David, I got the sense more than once that it isn’t about making money, it’s about love of coffee. If there was anything I got the feeling bothered David about even being a coffee merchant, it’s for the very poor conditions of coffee growers. In the coffee supply chain, they have it worse than anybody. FRCC boasts the largest local selection of Fair Trade coffees. Click here to read my previous post on Fair Trade coffees.
David ran me through photos of a recent tour through El Salvador and Guatemala to visit some of their farms. Their coffee is amazing but the living conditions of locals is just not good. You’ll hear me say “life’s too short for bad coffee”, and assume at least the coffee is good in these growing regions. But David reminds me that in these countries, the absolute worst of the worst coffee cultivated is sold to the locals. They drink the worst of their own coffee. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s very much beside the point, conditions are terrible all around, full families in small dwellings with limited amenities.
FRCC’s Fair Trade coffee ensures a set price for the coffee farmer, fair wages for their workers, and development projects for the growing area. I would appeal to coffee drinkers to pay a few dollars more a pound just to make sure that aid gets to the people who toil to get that coffee in our cups. But as I mentioned, there’s no price premium. Again, a pound of coffee from FRCC is a few dollars less than other local sources. Imagine that…giving to an important charity that produces something you love by paying less for that thing.
Check out the Fire Roasted Coffee website. You can order coffee right from their site, and I encourage anybody in southwestern Ontario to check out the roasting operation for themselves.
This past Friday, I visited one of two local roasters I know, the Fire Roasted Coffee Company in London Ontario, Canada. FRCC is a family-run roaster, selling roasted and unroasted coffee from the second floor of London’s Western Fair Farmers Market.
I was at a local grocery store when I noticed the one-pound bags of specialty coffee bearing a roaster’s name I didn’t recognize. The roaster information near the display gave their address and invited the public to come visit them. As I whittle down my pound of Arabian Mocha from Peets Coffee, I knew I’d need more coffee soon. It was time to visit this local roaster.
What I found was a fairly large cafe and roasting operation all on one site. The Farmers Market is only open once a week, but FRCC is open everyday but Sunday. There were six brewed coffees to choose from, plenty of coffee facts and information, and an area to sit down. Two customers were coming down the stairs as I was heading up, and they appeared to be carrying a couple pounds of coffee each.
The first thing I like was the very open layout between retail cafe and behind-the-scenes roasting operation. It reminded me of micro-brewery pubs where you sit and enjoy the local beer while watching the brewmaster at work among giant vats of it. Here too, you could see the roasting operation and supply of imported unroasted beans from around the world.
I counted 30 burlap sacks of different coffees from all of the world’s coffee growing hotspots. I received great customer service, and got fixed up with two pounds of 100% Kona Hawaii coffee and two pounds of a Guatemalan blend. I bought my beans unroasted so I could roast them myself at home. The gentleman serving me knew his home roasting and we had a good talk about the equipment I was using and where I was buying what are usually elusive green unroasted beans.
I paid $5/lb for the Guatemalan, compared to prices slightly higher from other places and before shipping and import fees are paid. I paid $22/lb of the Hawaiian, compared to about $16 from other places before fees. So, it wasn’t a steal, especially since I had to drive there, but I do like the luxuy of a local source. Somebody local means I can get updates and questions answered a lot easier, so if I’m happy with the coffee after I roast and brew it, I’ve found a new source.
Want to learn more about roasting your own coffee at home? It is as fresh as coffee can be prepared at home. Leave a comment or e-mail me with any questions you have on home roasting or what information you’d like to see here in the future.
And learn more about the Fire Roasted Coffee Company in London Ontario, Canada.
I used to say I was a fan of dark roast coffee, but I’m not sure why. It might have to do with some of the myths around dark-roasted coffee that I’ll cover below. The first person I met who had a hard opinion different than mine was Patrick Dunham, general manager of Fire Roasted Coffee in London, Canada. In no uncertain terms, he made it clear to me that he did not like dark-roasted coffee. I once saw him take a sip of a dark-roasted coffee, and then dump the rest of what was in the cup.
In a nutshell, your roaster buys raw green coffee through an importer, and roasts it to taste. Every origin of coffee has its own unique flavor profile, which is what gives coffee its many dimensions of taste. Every origin also has a specific level of roast that your roaster believes brings out the most of what makes it unique. Here are some myths about dark-roasted coffee:
Myth #1: Dark coffee is “bolder”
Starbucks invented the use of “bold” to describe dark-roasted coffee. In fact, bold doesn’t really mean anything except that Starbucks thinks a dark-roasted coffee will stand out in memory over a lighter-roasted coffee. For that reason, they roasted all of their coffee very dark for many years. Only recently did they respond to criticism and introduce “blond roasted” coffee.
Myth #2: Dark coffee highlights its origin
The opposite is true. When it comes to roasting, there are two dimensions to coffee: the uniqueness of its origin, and flavor that comes from the roasting process itself. In other words, the more you roast, the more that different coffees will taste the same stemming from the roasting process. The less you roast, the more of the origin’s uniqueness that you capture. For that reason, many afficianados would argue with Myth #1 and say a dark-roasted coffee is less unique and therefore, less “bold”.
Myth #3: Dark coffee has more caffeine
Again, the opposite is true. I used to believe this, and believed that espresso was the strongest in caffeine of all coffee. Maybe I thought that because of how “bold” an espresso is! The fact is that the roasting process roasts a little of the caffeine from the coffee. The more you roast, the more caffeine is removed from the coffee. So, a medium-roasted coffee has more caffeine that espresso. Believe it!
Patrick was the first person to make me consider medium-roasted coffees, and after experimenting with many that he suggested, I’ve since become partial to those over dark-roasted coffee. However, some people love espresso, and favor dark-roasted coffee. Try both. Your local roaster has chosen a certain roast profile for each origin of coffee to bring out the best in it. They will help you experiment with different roast levels as you decide which origins and roast levels you prefer. The very broad spectrum of flavor is just one thing that makes coffee great!
When you buy coffee, whether already ground or whole-bean, whether from the grocery store, Dunkin Donuts, or your local roaster, somebody roasted it for you. It might be a macro-roaster, a big retail player like Nescafe, or it could be a micro-roaster that roasts small fresh batches one at a time right in your very city.
The big retail roasters have it down to a science, which is why their coffee is so generic and often flat…in some cases, instant. Those that put more care into their product (where you should be buying your coffee) actually go to the trouble of profiling the bean itself for the ideal level of roast that brings out the best and most flavor in that bean. David Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Co. explained this to me the first time I visited them.
One of the interesting things about how coffee is roasted before it ends up in your kitchen or the cup-holder of your car is that the coffee has its own natural flavor BUT ALSO the roast itself can add a flavor to the coffee. So that a dark roasted coffee has a characteristic of the roasting itself. Think about how a Cajun chef cooks blackened chicken…the chicken has its own flavor but is then intentionally “burnt” to give it a different flavor altogether, one that relates to how it was cooked as much as the chicken itself.
Starbucks has shifted our taste for coffee towards very dark-roasted levels. I’m as guilty as anybody else and have been saying for years that I prefer a dark-roasted coffee, that it has a louder, stronger, bolder taste to it.
The first time I was “forced” to drink a medium-roasted coffee was a Hawaiian Kona where I was told its flavor characteristics better suit a medium roast. More recently on a regular stop at Fire Roasted, roaster supreme Patrick Dunham had me try a medium-roasted Balinese coffee.
When I brewed a pot of the Balinese the next morning, I realized something. For all of my talk about the wide world of different coffee flavors, I’ve been completely ignoring the medium roasts. Not only is it good coffee, but it’s as much a part of the full flavor spectrum as everything else I was trying at the darker roast levels.
Yesterday I was in an airport with Caribou Coffee as my best option for a good coffee. They had two coffees on the menu, listed specifically as “Darker Roasted” and “Lighter Roasted”. I went with the latter and enjoyed something different. I suggest you do the same when you get the chance.
Learn more about Roast Style and Flavor.
A lot of my coffee education took place at the Fire Roasted Coffee Company in London, Canada. I’ll never forget walking up to their “wall” of coffees from around the world, and being overwhelmed by the selection. I didn’t know at the time that the world of coffee was so vast. I was fortunate that a well-educated employee approached me with questions that helped him decide which coffees to recommend.
A few months later, my brother asked me if any kind of tool existed online that helped connect the coffee lover with the right coffee for them. It reminded me of my own experience at Fire Roasted.
The Coffee Quiz was born!
With a little input from the coffee drinker, I felt that intelligent suggestions could be made to help guide that person to coffees they should try based on their preferences.
Think about the coffees you’ve really enjoyed. Did they have the smoky flavor of a dark roast? Or the brightness and variety of a lighter roast? If you’re not sure, start in the middle. You can always take the Coffee Quiz over again.
Acidity is tricky and misunderstood. Don’t think of acid as in pH content of coffee, or acid reflux (heartburn). Think of it this way…a banana and a raspberry both have unique flavors, but which one has more “pop”? If you answered raspberry, it’s the same concept behind acidity. How much “pop” would you like in your coffee? A lot can be too much, but not enough can be boring.
Go for it! Try the Coffee Quiz and find the coffee match that’s right for you.
In 2013, I was very fortunate to get published in Roast Magazine. David Cook, owner of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, and I traveled to Hawaii and saw firsthand just how much the borer beetle was devastating and impacting coffee growing on Hawaii’s Big Island.
When we returned home, Roast Magazine agreed to let us tell the story of what we saw, and how it could affect the coffee world.
I was recently approached by Terri Moats of the University of Hawaii Kauai Agricultural Research Center. Terri had read my article in Roast Magazine, and asked me to keep up awareness of the problem. Terri reiterated that Coffee Berry Borer (CBB) is a serious threat to Hawaii’s coffee farms. The University of Hawaii CTAHR (College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources) have a project to educate visitors and local residents about the importance of “clean visits” when touring Big Island and Oahu coffee farms.
Terri asked me to publish the following letter by CTAHR entomologist, Dr. Russell Messing, which was recently printed in West Hawaii Today newspaper.
Help protect Hawaii coffee
Kona coffee is world-renowned. Local farmers have rightfully earned an outstanding reputation for producing a top quality product. This helps attract thousands of tourists annually; farm tours (in addition to wholesale and retail coffee sales) all contribute substantially to west Hawaii’s economy.
It is less well known that more than half the coffee acreage in the state is grown on other islands (Kauai, Maui, Molokai and Oahu). Big Island growers work hard to manage the damaging invasive beetle called the coffee berry borer (CBB). So far Kauai, Maui and Molokai remain free from this pest, while CBB was recently found on a single farm on Oahu.
Visiting tourists are naturally curious to see how coffee is grown, and often stop to take photos and touch, smell, and sometimes pick coffee berries from the tree. A casually picked coffee berry may harbor (unseen) tiny beetles inside its seeds – if the berry or even a single seed is deliberately or inadvertently carried away, the CBB infestation can spread. A short plane ride could place these pests in close proximity to CBB-free coffee farms (beetles can live happily inside seeds for months at a time). Most entomologists agree that this is the manner by which CBB will eventually reach the other islands.
We all want visitors to enjoy their farm tours, and to appreciate the fine coffee that is grown in the Islands. But, please, try to dissuade visitors from touching, handling or picking coffee berries in the field. Help protect coffee farms on the other islands from this damaging invasive species.
“You can derive great enjoyment simply by drinking a good cup of coffee, but your pleasure will be heightened if you can distinguish your impressions, appreciate and gauge the richness and complexity of the coffee.”
A few years ago, David Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company introduced me to a kit of 36 coffee aromas known as Le Nez du Cafe (literally translated from French, “the nose of coffee”).
Its inventor Jean Lenoir had created a similar kit for wines, and followed it up years later with the coffee kit, “a collection of the most typical aromas found in the world’s top coffees”.
I finally decided to invest in this kit. I’m happy to say I’ve started my journey into better understanding coffee flavor. One of the keys of Le Nez du Cafe is that it not only isolates specific aromas of coffee, but it names them so that you can better remember the aroma, connect it with familiar aromas, and use common language when discussing it with others.
Take Vial #1: Earth. This is a vial carrying literally the distinct aroma of earth (dirt, mud). It is a very distinct aroma found in many coffees. On one hand, it is attributed to poor handling in the case of cheap robustas, or a coveted (and very intentional) flavor found in fine Ethiopian coffees. Combined with other information (and aromas), you could use this to determine a great deal about the coffee. And be able to identify it and discuss it with others.
My palette is admittedly weak. I know what I like and don’t like in a coffee, but have always lacked in being able to put words to it. Also, there are aromas to coffee that I just don’t know, or don’t know well. For instance, it is simpler for me to identify Vial #26: Dark Chocolate, because I eat a lot of dark chocolate and know the aroma well. By contrast, Vial #3: Garden Peas will take practice to identify, because I don’t eat them and don’t know the aroma as well.
Here is my training plan: I pulled vials #1-3 only, and smelled them over and over until I could put them in the correct order every time. Then, as you can see in the picture above, I added vials #4-6, and smelled them over and over until I could correctly identify all six of them blind. I plan to keep adding three vials at a time, until I can put them in the correct order without fail. I expect with each new addition of vials, it will take me longer to correctly identify them all, and that’s the point! Eventually, I’ll have all 36 in the mix, and I’ll know I’m a coffee tasting master when I can randomize and correctly identify them all. In fact, the highest certification of coffee taster in the world incorporates Le Nez du Cafe in its testing.
In addition, I’ll be looking for these aromas in the coffee I drink, now that I am able to identify them.
Ahead of this trip, I contacted David Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company in London, Canada. David had made an origin trip to Guatemala before, and I wanted to know who he thought I should see while there. One of his first recommendations was a roaster named Fernando in Antigua. As an unexpected surprise, my father and I happened to be in Antigua at the same time as a different friend named David, and his wife. They have friends who live near Antigua, and when they heard what my father and I were up to, they also recommended that we visit the roaster named Fernando in Antigua.
Two separate recommendations to meet the same coffee man. That’s all we needed to hear. We set up a time to meet Fernando himself to find out more. As I did some research ahead of meeting Fernando, I quickly checked his TripAdvisor rating – 170 reviews with an average 4.5 stars! Very intrigued. My father and I arrived shortly after it opened and had breakfast. When we were done, Fernando took a break from making chocolate to join us.
Fernando opened up shop originally in Guatemala City almost 15 years ago. He started as a coffee roaster, and eventually became interested in making chocolate as well. He could see that tourists to Guatemala had high hopes for coffee before they arrived, and were often disappointed by what they were served. He would do what he could to change this perception, particularly after relocating to the more touristy Antigua. He has the ability to work directly with coffee farmers for quality assurance, but there’s much more to this business than simply being in the right place.
I told Fernando how we found him, and brought up his TripAdvisor rating. I asked him quite simply why he was so well-known for what he did. The answer…”I don’t know why.”
I wouldn’t let him off with such a modest answer, so he considered a little deeper and brought up a few things that he feels has contributed to the success of his business among both locals and tourists to Antigua.
The Whole Experience
First of all, he offers much more of an experience than simply roasted coffee. He offers chocolate, a full menu for any meal of the day, a very comforting ambiance. It is spacious, so it never feels noisy or crowded.
Fernando: “People come here for all that. It’s the kind of cafe where you can come and meet people from all over the world. You can disagree with everything everyone is saying, and still agree that you’re having a nice time.”
He takes pride in what he does well, but also takes accountability for what he knows he could do better. Fernando makes amazing dark chocolate, and yet still admits how far he still has to go in order to learn more and continue improving. There is a modesty that drives the constant improvement of his product. Fernando’s commitment to quality even extends to your kitchen – he will not sell you ground coffee. Why? Because it will go stale faster, so that by the time you make it at home, it will not taste as good as what you had in his cafe. If you want to buy his coffee, you’ll need to buy a grinder. It’s his small part of ensuring where his name appears, good coffee is being made.
And finally, Fernando himself is very accessible. He told us, “I live here. I just happen to sleep at home.”
Over the years, I’ve met many roasters in the United States and Canada. This was the first time that I met a roaster outside of North America. It’s amazing that rather than be struck by the differences, I was struck by the similarities. Like any successful North American roaster that I’ve met, Fernando’s same accessibility to his customers, passion for improvement, and quality standard has been the key to his success in Guatemala.
Coffee lovers, join me as I walk through the cobblestone streets of the coffee capital of Central America, if not the world (sorry, Portland Oregon).
My father and I just returned from a trip through Central America, in part to visit coffee roasters and farmers in Guatemala. After spending a couple days on Guatemala’s breathtaking Lake Atitlan, we proceeded by bus to Antigua. My father has made this trip before. It would be my first trip to Guatemala, and to the amazing city of Antigua.
Antigua is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, well-known for the ruins of colonial churches that remain standing throughout the city today. Around and between these ruins, a city and popular tourist destination has grown, including restaurants, cafes, shopping, and a central park square. There are less than 40,000 people that live in Antigua, down from its peak when it was once the country’s capital – Antigua Guatemala translates to “Ancient Guatemala”. Earthquakes destroyed much of the town in the 18th century.
My father and I arrived in this vibrant city of bilingual shop owners and employees, local shoppers, and tourists. I was struck by the number of independent cafes on every block. I think there may be more cafes per capita in this city than in any other, and great news, not a Starbucks in sight to diminish the experience! Not so great news, they allowed a few American fast food places in that are limited in how big or colorful their sign is allowed to be – smaller in size and less flashier than local shop owners. That includes a Burger King and McDonalds with its McCafe sign.
Antigua is also well-known for its chocolate makers and while there, my father and I toured Choco Museo, both a chocolate shop as well as a museum teaching the history of chocolate and how its made, with emphasis on its Mayan roots.
Among the many cafes that we visited was Fernando’s Kaffee, that I will write about separately. Fernando was recommended to me by two people, my friend and roaster extraordinaire Dave Cook of the Fire Roasted Coffee Company, and a friend’s cousin who lives in Antigua. Fernando was gracious enough to give us some time for an interview, and it was a pleasure to meet an Antigua coffee man in person.
Due to its popularity among tourists, Antigua is usually accessible from any cruise that stops in Guatemala from both the Atlantic and Pacific.
If you love coffee and ever get the opportunity, make a point of visiting Antigua, Guatemala. Naturally, a country’s tourism department can only promote themselves in so many places, and Guatemala has not focused on the North American tourism industry. Don’t let that deter you. Tourists abound in Guatemala, and it is a truly beautiful country and people. If you’re a coffee lover, you need to see Antigua for yourself. I’m also told that Easter is an especially impressive celebration, where local parishes organize processions through the streets.
2013 was a big year at MakeGoodCoffee.com. Let’s take a look at what went down.
- Published in Roast Magazine
In 2012, I traveled to Hawaii’s Big Island with Dave Cook, friend and owner of Fire Roasted Coffee in London, Ontario, Canada. While there, we saw first-hand the damage being done by the borer beetle (‘la broca’ in Spanish) on coffee farms. La broca is a common pest hurting coffee crops around the world and was positively identified in Hawaii’s Kona region in 2012. This has been hurting supply of Hawaiian Kona coffee, and Dave was even turned away at farms when trying to buy from them. Roast Magazine picked up our story and we were published in this year’s May/June issue. Click here to check out the article in Roast Magazine.
- Official Media Blogger at CoffeeCON
This year, I was invited to be an official media blogger at CoffeeCON in Chicago. To my knowledge, it’s the only coffee show for the coffee lover rather than the coffee professional. It’s OUR coffee show, featuring workshops on coffee tasting, coffee making, and coffee roasting. It was a well attended and informative event. At the show, I had the pleasure of meeting coffee giant George Howell, one of the founders of the international Cup of Excellence coffee competition, and founder of Terroir Coffee. Terroir was eventually sold to Starbucks as their way of expanding into the Boston market. My interview with George lead to literally months of content here on the site. Check out the Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013, or click here for all of the articles that came of my talk with George Howell.
- Central American Coffee Origin Trip
I’ve recently returned from an amazing adventure with my father, visiting coffee farms and roasters in Guatemala. We traveled Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize together by foot and chicken bus to learn more about the origins of coffee and chocolate. Along the way, we enjoyed the freshest of each, and a great bonding experience. I came back from that trip just a couple weeks before holiday travel started, so stay tuned for much more on this trip. For now, check out my abbreviated summary of the trip, Our Trek Through Central American Coffee Country.
This year, it was with mixed emotions that I moved from Portland, Oregon, the coffee capital of North America as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure which city has more roasters per capita between Seattle and Portland, but Portland is a little warmer and it rains a little less, so I vote for Portland. My home in Portland alone was a stone’s throw from three excellent roasters. I can’t complain about my new home in San Diego, California. Having said that, it’s never easy to move a little further from new friends and great roasters.
It pains me even to bring this up, but while my father and I were in Flores, Guatemala (see Central American Origin Trip above), we needed a coffee in a bad way and couldn’t find a cafe on the island. We crossed the causeway to a Burger King that we could see from the island and we -gulp- had the coffees that you see pictured here. Guatemala is one of the world’s producers of excellent coffee, and while there, we had coffee at Burger King. It’s sad but true.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to coffee lovers everywhere! I’m looking forward to new adventures in 2014, and sharing many, many cups of good coffee with you. Make good coffee!