Sustainable Coffee: Roastery 7
In our fifth on-location interview, we met with Alan Krohnke, co-owner and co-founder of Roastery 7, a sustainable coffee roaster and wholesaler located in Brooklyn Center, MN. Roastery 7 is a business with an ecological mission: make a big environmental impact with a tiny carbon footprint. In the cozy office of Roastery 7, it's easy to forget you are in an industrial park, as you get lost in the stories of small farms in global communities and the rich, colorful world of coffee.
Alan is passionate about all aspects of coffee - from how it is grown to how it is roasted. In the two hours we spent at Roastery 7, he generously shared his time and knowledge. With energetic proficiency, Alan bustled about greeting employees and making a fresh batch of brewed coffee, as he discussed the history of Roastery 7. Alan and his partners established the business in 2005. "I started as an IT guy for another roasting company and got the coffee bug - got the coffee in my veins - and I couldn't get out of it," he joked.
As he poured freshly brewed coffee in our cups, Alan explained the coffee we were drinking was special, even for the specialty coffee industry. "These are coffee beans from Jorge Perez within the Adiesto Cooperative from Guatemala," Alan stated. "Usually at a fair trade cooperative, they'll blend the different farmers' coffees together to make the lot. But they kept his beans separate because of the outstanding quality." As Alan spoke, it became clear that he cares deeply about the lives of those who produce coffee around the globe, and he kindly shared their stories as he described the complicated coffee process.
Growing coffee is a huge investment, and organizations that support fair trade are essential for small coffee farmers in developing countries. Illustrating that point, Alan stated that coffee trees take 3 to 5 years to produce an exportable amount of coffee. Once the trees produce fruit, the seeds (or beans, as we know them) need to come out, which requires a lengthy drying process. In addition, much of the work is done by hand. "It's incredibly labor intensive," Alan expressed. "It takes a lot of time, capital, skill and knowledge to do all of this."
Standing next to the mountain of jute-bagged beans from all over the world, I was struck by the magnitude of this endeavor. "The coffee from Central America arriving right now (in June), were probably picked in March or April," Alan described. "Through all of the processing and transport time, it's just arriving now." More than three months later, the beans are finally ready for the roasting process at Roastery 7.
The large-scale roasting process is fascinating. Alan explained the beans that come in are naturally green in color; they turn brown through the roasting process. In a giant roaster, averaging temperatures of about 475 degrees, the beans are roasted for 13 to 15 minutes, depending on the type of roast. Light roasts spend less time roasting, while dark roasts spend more time roasting.
"Similarly to other fruits, like apples, the flavor tones are inherent in the fruit - in the coffee beans," Alan said. "But, a lot of the flavor comes from the processing of it - the roasting really expresses it. The darker the roast, the more you taste the flavors of the roast, the chocolatey and caramel flavors. The lighter the roast, the more you taste the fruity, citrusy flavor of the bean."
As we spent time learning about the roasting process, Alan discussed his many environmental initiatives. Roastery 7's partnerships with fair trade cooperatives supports small coffee farmers and their efforts to restore rain forests. The company also teamed up with Mindo Cloudforest Foundation - a non-profit organization in Ecuador working toward habitat conservation and reforestation. Through its organic, fair trade brand Tiny Footprint Coffee, Roastery 7 reduces its environmental impact and supports conservation efforts in the rain forests by planting trees through the foundation.
"Reforesting more than off-sets our carbon footprint," said Alan. "It takes about 8lbs of coffee sold to have one tree planted with the program. The starter trees are planted in a reforestation area to help forests regenerate. It's managed and monitored over 25 years. Over time, a whole forest will grow, and biodiversity - ferns, plants, insects, birds, animals - will thrive."
In December 2016, Tiny Footprint Coffee reported the company donated more than $100,000 in its funding toward the reforestation in Ecuador. That funding resulted in more than 74,000 planted trees in the Cloudforest since 2010, when Tiny Footprint Coffee was established.
While Roastery 7 makes global efforts to restore rain forests and preserve native habitats, the company also focuses on local sustainability. With energy-efficient lighting, natural heating and cooling methods, composting, recycling, partnering with Excel Energy's Windsource, and by retro-fitting the roaster to make it fuel-efficient, Roastery 7 greatly reduces its carbon footprint.
"Working with co-ops that support fair trade, small farm operations and ethical growers, we are working to make change," Alan expressed. "That's the best thing about specialty coffee. It's about treating people fairly, ethically, and supporting real people and real families. There are places in the world where coffee has really made a difference."
The Watershed Cafe is a proud partner of Roastery 7. As Alan stated, "We work with people with a shared mission and a shared vision." The Watershed Cafe's coffee and espresso beverages are made with love and care with beans from Roastery 7 and organic milk from local Crystal Ball Farms. We work hard to be a restaurant that builds a healthy, sustainable earth. We work with sustainable partners, so you can feel good about our good food!
For more information about Roastery 7, click here.
For more information about Roastery 7’s Tiny Footprint Coffee, click here.
For more information about Adiesto Cooperative, click here.
For more information about Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, click here.