Sit for a moment and calculate – how much do you spend every month on coffee? $50? $100? $300? I know I’m not the only one getting tired of the references to tough economic times, but coffee is where many of us will draw the line at cutting back, even when times are bad. But instead of giving up coffee, how about rethinking how you buy the stuff? That cup or two a day habit from the local chain can end up costing $20 to $30 a week, and that’s if you stick to a plain cup of Joe. Since cooking at home is cool again, why not consider dusting off that coffee maker and brewing up a pot each morning?
Of course, grocery store coffee can be kind of yucky and preroasted beans are expensive (averaging $12 to $20 a pound). There’s also the question of freshness. Coffee purists insist that coffee must be consumed within five days after roasting, three hours of grinding, and fifteen minutes of brewing. When you also consider that much of the world’s coffee still comes from plantations where pesticide use is the norm and farmers don’t make a living wage, sourcing out organic fair trade products is also important.
The next logical step then, if you love coffee and care about how it is grown, and want to save cash – is to roast it yourself.
Okay, yes, to do it properly, you need to make the investment of a roaster. Coffee can be roasted in the oven or even in a popcorn popper, but a roaster is the best way to go, as it gives you more control over the final product. While there are a variety of sizes and styles of roasters on the market, the standard for home use is the Fresh Roast counter top roaster. These can be had at various price points in local stores but are available for around $100 online.
Once you’re set up with a roaster and a grinder, it’s time to get some green beans. Here’s more info on what’s available:
Birds and Beans
2413 Lakeshore Boulevard West
This neighbourhood coffee shop buys all its coffee certified organic, shade-grown and fairly-traded. Where possible, they also try to source beans that are bird-friendly. The selection changes regularly, and I’ve found some truly unique coffees here that I haven’t seen elsewhere, such as beans from Timor. Green beans here are a flat $8.50 per pound, $9.50 per pound for decaf.
The Green Beanery
565 Bloor Street West
416-964-9223, ext. 253
This is the most easily accessible of Toronto’s green coffee purveyors, conveniently located at the corner of Bloor West and Bathurst. In addition to a large selection of green beans, they also sell roasters, grinders, pots and accessories, and there’s an in-store cafe as well. Green beans range in price from as low as $6.15 for conventionally grown beans to just under $10 per pound for fair trade and/or organic beans. Decaf beans are slightly more – up to $15 per pound, but they also offer most beans in half-pound bags. They appear to have the biggest selection of varieties (note – coffee varieties are seasonal so some places may not carry all varieties at all times), with 4 different kinds of Ethiopian beans in stock at the time of writing.
Merchants of Green Coffee
2 Matilda Street
Merchants is the granddaddy of green coffee retailers in Toronto, having been established since 1994. They pretty much paved the way for home roasters, and it is through their hard work that the trend in home roasting has become as popular as it is. For anyone getting started with home roasting for the first time, Merchants offers a great deal that includes the Fresh Roast Plus 8 Roaster and a year’s supply of green beans; for $372.55 you get 30 pounds of green beans (normally $315) and the roaster at about 50% of their regular retail price. After that, customers can remain in the home roasting membership at $315/year (or whenever you use up your 30 pound allotment) or buy beans individually. Members get a lifetime discount on beans, saving about 25% off the retail price ($9 per pound versus $12) and further discounts are offered if you buy in bulk.
All of the above retailers offer online ordering and delivery, so not being able to get to the store shouldn’t keep customers from getting their daily dose of caffeine.
One final spot to find green beans – the one I call my “desperate times call for desperate measures” fallback – the Hasty Market at King and Dufferin sells a variety of Ethiopian foodstuffs including spices, injera and green coffee beans. They are however, simply labelled “Ethiopian” with no regional variety indicated, and it’s probably safe to assume they’re not organic or fair trade. It’s where I end up when I’ve forgotten to restock from one of the places above, but it’s still a more palatable option (both literally and figuratively) than buying a cup of muck from a local chain.