Profile: Fire Roasted Coffee Company

in Buying Coffee

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!

The owner
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.


Former customer, current roaster Patrick Dunham overseeing 30 coffees imported from around the world.

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 doing some heavy thinking about what coffee I should take home.  In the end, their Ethiopian Harrar and Papua New Guinea, both Fair Trade coffees.

David doing some heavy thinking about what coffee I should take home. In the end, their Ethiopian Harrar and Papua New Guinea, both 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.


  1. Im liking the New Guinea….
    Nice article Mark

    Comment by Alex Gasson — March 12, 2010 @ 12:41 am

  2. Working thru some Starbucks House Blend before I get to the New Guinea. I like it all!!

    Comment by Marc — March 12, 2010 @ 2:17 am

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