When Fresh Moab Coffee roaster and owner Bob Owen visited world-renowned coffee growers at Hacienda San Pedro in Puerto Rico, he asked the fourth-generation owner and manager of the farm what his ideal workforce would be. He answered, “300 people, for five days.”
“Coffee is an extremely labor-intensive product,” Owen says.
He is roasting a fresh batch of green beans earmarked for Moonflower Community Cooperative as he relates his experiences working with growers and brokers. Three five-pound bags sit on the table, and he is eyeing the stock measuredly as he tells his story. He excuses himself – he needs to walk home and retrieve another five-pound bag of green beans to complete the order.
Any small-batch roaster or coffee shop barista can attest that their part in processing the product that is a fresh cup of coffee is not without physical requirements, but the labor Owens refers to isn’t his own.
Five or six years before a coffee bean hits his roaster, a cherry is planted somewhere near the equator, often on a family farm of five to seven acres. Six to nine months after the mature tree blossoms for the first time, the coffee begins to grow and ripen into a red cherry-like fruit. Depending on the age and size of the farm, one complete harvest can require six to seven cycles of picking, culling and cleaning.
Every six to eight weeks, Fresh Moab Coffee receives a delivery of a pallet with as much as 1200 pounds of coffee beans sourced from different regions and farms, fresh from the Royal Coffee warehouse in California. If that sounds like a lot of beans, imagine this: the shipping container each type of bean came from may have carried as many as 250, 150-pound bags - of just one type of bean, from one farm.
When Owens pours a bag of green coffee beans into the roaster, he says he is aware that each bean popping and cracking its way to perfect readiness came to him by way of human care and labor. It’s important to him to take care not to burn the beans, or over-produce and end up with more stock than people will be able to buy while it’s fresh.
His enjoyment of roasting comes from being part of a chain of service that ultimately ends in an extremely high-quality moment of pleasure created by the coffee ritual experienced at home or in the coffee shop, he says. “I honor the labor that went into getting the bean to me by taking care of it at this point in the process.”
When the final batch is roasted, he carefully portions the five-pound bags into one-pound bags labeled for retail sale and ready to walk over to Moonflower Community Cooperative, a well-stocked natural foods market where Fresh Moab Coffee is a best-seller.
He recently installed a new coffee machine in the cooperative’s deli. Alongside the state-of-the-art percolator is a grinder, and every cup comes from a freshly-ground batch of coffee roasted within a few days of serving to a happy customer.
“That’s what it’s really about, all of this,” he says, glancing at the roaster and around his shop. “It’s about you.”