Organic and fairly traded, shade grown and locally sourced— the list of factors to consider as we peruse the coffee aisle at the grocery store can be lengthy. But how many of us have thought about the pollution and energy consumption contributed once those exotic beans have left their home country and reached the roaster?
“The dirty secret of the coffee roasting business is that coffee roasting is a dirty business,” says Duncan Elcombe, Sales Director for Loring Smart Roaster, a company pioneering super-efficient coffee roasting. “When coffee beans are roasted they go through a series of endothermic (absorbing heat) and exothermic (emitting heat) stages. Eventually they start to emit large amounts of smoke and volatile compounds. In some parts of the country this smoke can just be pumped into the atmosphere.”
This is not to mention the enormous energy consumption conventional coffee roasters use — more than one million Btu per hour during roasting. To prevent toxic smoke from entering the atmosphere, responsible roasting companies send smoke through a series of afterburners, using even more energy. Roasting technology like this has not changed for over 100 years, making it, according to Elcombe, “one of the last Dickensian, industrial revolution technologies still in widespread use."
Andrew Oakes, owner of Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC, adopted the new technology early on and explains his reason: “Conventional roasters use afterburners to eliminate the smoke produced during roasting. Afterburners can consume up to 400 percent more fuel than the roaster itself.”
So, as the sun pops up each morning, what is the eco-conscious coffee drinker to do?
The answer may be to seek out coffee roasting companies utilizing super-efficient technology. Loring Smart Roaster is the first of its kind, able to “reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent, making them the most ecologically friendly roasters on the planet,” Oakes says.
For now, finding an energy-efficient roaster may be difficult since not many machines are in operation in the United States. Look through the Smart Roaster Testimonials to find more roasters who are taking steps to lower the carbon footprint of their beans. You may be able to push your morning brew one step closer to being not only the best, but the greenest part of waking up.
Kale Roberts is an assistant editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS. His interests include renewable energy, real food and sustainable rural development. You can find him on Google+.
Photos by Andrew Oakes