Enjoying Coffee as a Locavore


Slow Food Meets Coffee… Locally

Story and photo by Matt Kelly

I love coffee. And I say this as someone committed to keeping my food as local as possible. Of course, this seems like a bit of a contradiction: Coffee isn’t really a local food here in the Finger Lakes. But the locavore ethos is about way more than simply buying food produced within a specific geographic radius. It’s about the quality of food, how it’s grown and how it’s prepared. It’s about the people involved and supporting community. It’s about transparency and really knowing your food. Most importantly, it’s all about taste and nourishment.

Raspberry. Cherry. Toasted Butter. Maple. This is what coffee can taste like all on its own. Black, with no need for syrups, cream or sugar. These are the flavors of the bean itself.

But to get great, wholesome coffee like this requires the same thoughtful consideration you give to the rest of your food.

Picking the Right Beans

It all starts with selecting the right beans. Varietal types, local growing conditions, farming techniques, and how well beans are treated during processing and transportation all affect flavor. Coffee can be produced on an industrial scale, like a commodity, with primary focus on quantity and the bottom line. Or coffee can be produced on a more sustainable scale, like real food, with emphasis on the quality of taste, maintaining the earth and ensuring the well being of the workers involved.

Roasting With Care

Then there’s the roasting: the manipulation of temperature and time to turn the beans from green into familiar brown. The care and skill that’s given to roasting can produce results that are as different as a grass-fed cut of meat is from a mass-produced hot dog. The roaster is responsible for identifying and pulling out the inherent flavors in each variety of bean. It can be done thoughtfully with high-quality beans from a single origin. Or it can be done industrially with a mixture of low-quality beans.

Pouring One Cup at a Time

I used to believe the grande vente latte mocha chocolatto was a giant step forward from the days of canned coffee brewed with a generic drip machine. Then I met the Chemex, the Beehouse, the Clever, the Hario, and the Kalita Wave. These devices are used to prepare fresh coffee by pouring water over the beans by hand. Beans are ground right when the coffee is made, often as a single cup. It hasn’t been brewed en masse and left sitting in a pump dispenser all day, which changes the chemical composition and the very nature of the beverage. By giving careful attention to the grind, temperature, and time, each of these pour-over techniques can highlight the different tastes of a bean.

Drinking Great Coffee

What we’re talking about here is slow food mentality meeting caffeine delivery mechanism. Coffee being treated as nourishment, not as an afterthought. It’s entirely doable. And easy. I promise.

Keep your eyes open for future posts coming straight from the bar at an outstanding little shop in Rochester: Joe Bean Coffee Roasters.

You think you’re hooked on coffee now? Just wait.

A longer version of this post originally ran as “How a Locavore Drinks Coffee” in the New York Organic News from the Northeast Organic Farmers Association of New York.

Matt Kelly is a writer living in the Finger Lakes, slowly turning his home into a self-sufficient, food-independent, backwoods place of his own. He currently works with Fruition Seeds in Naples and Small World Food in Rochester. Which is why he drinks so much coffee. He writes regularly at BoonieAdjacent.com.

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