Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Java junkie brews up rural bean biz

Petersfield craftsman sees strong parallel to wines

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PETERSFIELD -- Derryl Reid talks in rapid bursts, probably a symptom of the four cups of coffee he's already downed by 10 a.m.

"Coffee," the micro-roaster explains amid the chocolatey aroma of coffee beans being roasted by daughter, Alix, in the next room, "is very similar to wine. The flavour characteristics depend so very much on where the coffee is grown, how it's grown, the soil, the climate, the elevation."

Even something such as shade -- some specialty coffees are listed as "shade-grown" -- is a major influence. "Shade allows the bean to grow more slowly and that imparts more flavour into the bean."

The 47-year-old certainly picked the right business when he was going through a mid-life crisis six years ago and decided he could no longer work for someone else. He always had "a passion for coffee" and drinks more than he cares to say.

So Reid, originally from Nova Scotia, quit his job at the Manitoba Freshwater Fish Marketing Board in Riverton, and dove full time into starting a business as one of a handful of Manitoba micro-roasters.

Green Bean Coffee Importers, a direct-trade organic micro-roaster, is run from his home in a small, mostly cottage community along Netley Creek, north on Highway 9. You might spot Reid's little "Green Bean" Prius hybrid car making deliveries around Winnipeg.

Coffee is the world's second-most-traded commodity in dollars, after only oil. There are about 25 million coffee growers and workers in the industry in 50 countries. The largest producer and exporter is Brazil, followed by Colombia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Canada is the ninth-largest coffee consumer per capita.

Reid initially bought his beans through a supplier, a middleman between growers and the roasters. Then, in 2011, he travelled to Bolivia with two other Canadian roasters, courtesy of Crossroads International, which promotes equitable trade. Most of the 22,000 coffee farmers in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, live below the poverty line.

The delegation of roasters met a new farmer co-op of 180 farm families -- the co-op was formed to negotiate better prices -- and agreed to purchase a container (19,600 kilograms) of beans together. A year later, as Reid built up his customer base, he started buying containers on his own. "We like their coffee. It's a young co-op and we see its coffee-bean quality improving."

Coffee farming is very labour-intensive. In addition to hand-picking the coffee cherries, farm families must wash, pulp, ferment and dry the product. For organic coffee, producers are paid about a 20-cent premium for a market price of about $1.50 per pound. The fair-trade price a supplier pays adds a 50-cent premium -- hinged on consumers agreeing to pay a higher price so farmers are more fairly paid -- for a farm-gate price of almost $2 per pound.

Reid goes a step further. Direct trade means buying directly from the co-op and eliminating the supplier. So he pays the co-op an additional 20-cent premium, for a total of about $2.20 per pound. (The price of coffee is always changing, of course, as with any farm commodity.) Reid even posts his contract with the Bolivian co-op on his website, greenbeancoffeeimports.com, for customers to see. "I wanted a company that is more than just profit-driven," he said.

Alix, who met the co-op in Bolivia recently, is in charge of roasting. Roasting is a matter of "time, temperature and air. When you're roasting, you're in search of that sweet spot" that has the optimum taste, Reid said. "You're trying to pull out all the flavour in your coffee."

It takes weekly sampling of new bean shipments -- or existing ones because taste can change with aging. He will set up five bowls at a time, with different roasting times, or else different blends, and sip, and sip, and sip. The process is like wine-tasting where the taster takes in air while sipping to maximize taste. Then Reid spits it out because all that coffee would have him running around like Road Runner vs. Wile E. Coyote.

Green Bean supplies coffee for the student cafeterias Diversity Food Service at the University of Winnipeg, and the Degrees Restaurant at the University of Manitoba. Its beans or grind can be purchased at Foodfare, VitaHealth, Crampton's Market and Frig's Meats. He also sells for fundraisers and supplies some Winnipeg offices.

Some other local roasters include Wellington Fine Coffees, and smaller outfits like De Luca's Specialty Foods and Black Pearl Coffee.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 A8

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