A Bag of Magic Beans

merchantspeaceMerchants of Green Coffee
2 Matilda Street

Coffee. Where would we be without it? It wakes us up, keeps us going and fuels social gatherings. But how many people actually think about where their coffee comes from? Or how fresh it is?

For people who grew up on (and possibly still drink) supermarket coffee, there’s a distinct possibility that they’ve never had a truly fresh cup. That becomes less likely every time a new ethical, fair trade roaster opens up a café in a busy neighbourhood, but there’s still a definite difference in terms of freshness.

A truly fresh coffee is one roasted to perfection, then ground and brewed immediately. Of course, to facilitate this process, it helps to have a source of green coffee beans.

I discovered Merchants of Green Coffee in 2002 and have never looked back. Roasting my own beans has completely changed how I both drink and think about coffee.

merchantsovenCreated in 1994, Merchants of Green Coffee operates on the mandate of providing the freshest coffee possible. Derek Zavislake, co-CEO explains, “It didn’t take long to find out that the majority of coffee today is centrally roasted, and by nature coffee stales rather quickly. Very few people in the industry are willing to acknowledge this and with a great deal of blind energy the company was founded on the principle that the better taste would simply challenge the typical.”

Not content to just provide fresh coffee to their customers, MGC works to ensure their beans are fair-trade and organic as well. In 1999 they created the Sustainable Coffee Programme in Costa Rica, which works to ensure beans are grown in the most environmentally friendly way possible. The coffee is grown at a high elevation, under a shade canopy, with respect for both the land and people who work the farms. The programme includes farmers, coffee trade certifiers, governments, NGOs and industry.

merchantsbigbags“Morally it was easy,” Zavislake says of their decision to create the SCP. “The programme to this day is one of the best examples of sustainability. Physically, financial and emotionally is has been a long road. With the coffee market crashing (and the consumer knowing very little about it) the ability to invest in producing communities was reduced to near nothing. Many farmers in the regions were lucky to even sell their coffee at very low NY market prices. This programme has been slowed, however it is already in three other countries (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras) and will extend to other areas as well, as the coffees make their way to market.”

The coffee market crash was definitely one of the bumps along the way for MGC, along with the political issues in coffee-producing countries, the dot-com crash and the small number of fair trade and organic coffees available when they first started (there are now over 30).

The lack of availability of the home roasters was also a set-back. The machines didn’t exist when MGC first started, and were often out of stock once they did become available, once for a full six months.

meerchantsroastingAs a MGC customer, the roasting process is almost as much fun as enjoying the end results, and in terms of energy, is a better choice than traditional oven roasting, or buying beans pre-roasted. “Environmentally, we are and should be concerned about energy use,” says Zavislake. “The roaster is a 1500W appliance and is similar to your hairdryer or iron. Roasting with a regular oven requires more power and the best way to be efficient is to do your oven roasting after the oven has been used for other ‘baking’ needs.

“This being said,” he continues, “the long distance transportation of the roasted product is far more detrimental to both the product quality and energy use and emissions. This should lead conscious consumers to support only locally roasted coffee. Many local roasters are capable of supplying a better product. The problem is few demonstrate it. This is due to competitive pricing and the lack of good consumer information.” Zavislake explains that most local roasters can produce good coffee, but as it deteriorates over time, what the customer actually drinks is not the coffee at its best. The foil-lined bags many roasters use to ensure freshness are also an issue as they don’t break down in landfills.

For some potential customers, however, the home roaster is still an intimidating piece of equipment, and when at trade shows or events, MGC representatives try to stress the issue of freshness as a selling point. Zavislake compares fresh roasted coffee with freshly baked bread, and hopes that customers will plug in to the idea of exploration and discovery, trying new coffee varietals as they would wine.

merchantsbeanboxThe price also shouldn’t be an issue, as green beans run from $9 – $14 per pound for double-certified coffees. When compared with the price of $14 – $20 in the specialty market for those same beans pre-roasted, the value becomes apparent.

Not content to target only the home coffee drinker, MCG is now working in partnership with a number of local restaurants to provide them with green beans for their customers. Offering customized blends for places such as Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar and the York Club where the chefs roast beans several times a week, MGC is making inroads into the often incestuous system of coffee purchasing in which restaurants buy their coffee from the same company that provides their coffee-making equipment, virtually ensuring a low-quality product.

With beans available from every coffee-growing region in the world, MGC literally has something for everyone. They offer not only beans but roasters, grinders and brewers – everything for the perfect cup of coffee. Customers who are still unsure of the commitment required to have perfect coffee every day are welcome to stop by the Matilda Street shop where they can take part in a full roasting and brewing demo, and learn more about different coffee regions as well as how the beans are grown and dried.

As a dedicated MGC customer and home roaster, I can’t imagine what I’d do without my freshly roasted coffee every day. Store-bought stuff, regardless of the supposedly quality, is just no longer an option.