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We've Seen the Future...It's Organic!
With all the talk of coffee being less than good for you, die-hard java junkies need something to cheer about, and the answer may be organic coffee. Not just some far-fetched hippie idea, organic farming, be it for coffee, herbs, fruits or vegetables, is catching on as a sound practice for food growers at the dawn of the 21st century.
Why organic coffee? For starters, organically-grown coffee beans are healthier for you, since no chemicals or artificial treatments are used in any step of the growing and harvesting process. Additionally, organic coffee tends to taste fresher and better than its chemically-treated counterpart. Organic farming as a whole is friendlier to the environment, in that the absence of chemicals tends to enhance the soil's productivity and regenerative properties. Many organic farms are small and tend to be located in rural communities, where they are run by people who understand the importance of existing in harmony with nature.
Taylor Maid Farms
At Taylor Maid Farms in Occidental (Sonoma County, California), coffee roasting is only part of the activity on this working organic farm. No artificial flavors or processes are used in roasting the beans which Taylor Maid purchases from small organic growers around the world. The farmers they purchase from are all certified by the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), a certification process which, according to roastmaster Mark Inman, "results in a lot of red tape but provides more assurances of quality to the consumer."
Inman believes it makes sense to work with organic farmers in this day and age. "Clean water and clean food is what consumers will want over the next twenty years," he notes, a result of wariness over repeated food scares from salmonella to e. coli. Although it's what the consumer may want, they're not always willing to pay for it. "You have to be more creative in marketing organics to the consumer," Inman continues. "We should be asking $25 a pound for our coffee since it takes more time and labor to grow organically, but people won't pay that. They will pay $25 for a cigar, though. Go figure!"
Taylor Maid is one of only four certified organic roasters in the country, and every possible resource is recaptured for further use. The heat from the farm's roasters is used for drying its own organic teas, while every part of this active farm (they grow medicinal and culinary herbs, teas, wild berries and field greens, hops and wine grapes) is organic, down to the worm composting and paint on the floors.
Roastmaster Inman initially fancied himself a winemaker, but got into coffee "because I was fascinated by how complex it was." In the hands of this passionate man, it's also tasty and good for you.
Puroast Coffee, located in the small town of Woodland north of Sacramento, believes that process is key to a good cup of coffee. This mostly-organic roaster uses a patented roasting process in which beans are slow-roasted at low temperatures for up to four hours, or ten times longer than the usual roast. Founder Kerry Sachs is convinced that this is the key to a less bitter brew. "With a slow-roasting process, moisture is driven off the beans at a much slower rate," according to Sachs, resulting in less acidity in the bean. This process also ensures that more healthy compounds are preserved in the end roast. "Chlorogenic and phenolic compounds, which are present in green coffee beans, tend to be destroyed in fast-roasting," says Sachs, and it is these very compounds which act as healthful anti-oxidants in the body.
Sachs approaches coffee roasting from the perspective of an engineer first. His studies at UC Davis helped him design the Puroast process, which has its origins among roasters in the Andes. (Going back ever further, a process of slowly roasting beans over an open fire was used by early coffee drinkers in Arabia.) The company roasts its beans in sealed drums which are fueled by sawdust pellets, a renewable biomass fuel. Using this method, beans are shielded from burner gases which could deposit combustion residues on the beans. Further, biomass fuels are part of the carbon cycle, clean fuels which do not contribute to global warming.
The best news about the Puroast process? There is no loss of caffeine with this slow-roasting process, which means that this cup of coffee is a gift to both you and the planet.
A Taste Test
It may have something to do with the wine country location, because the coffees from Taylor Maid Farms have an unmistakeable, yet delightful, wine-infused flavor. The aroma of these coffees, particularly the Sonoma Roast, is woodsy, yet the brews proceed to have a spicy flavor with a full-bodied, wine-like, finish. Think of the pleasures of a nice Cabernet and you get the idea. Taylor Maid's Happy Holiday Blend, a seasonal treat which should be offered year-round, has a fruity aroma to start and continues with some nice spice notes, but has a much smoother finish than the roaster's other coffees.
The folks at Puroast coffee have got smoky down pat. Have a sip of the roaster's Dark French Roast and you'll get a mouthful of deep smoky flavor, quite a contrast to the coffee's wine-like aroma. Try Puroast's decaf Dark French Roast if you'd prefer a smoother brew without the caffeine kick.