Back in December I was asked to try a brand of Coffee from Aspire Coffeeworks. After doing a little bit of research, my answer was a firm yes. Aspire is an innovative human service,Not For Profit, here in the Midwest. They serve over 900 participants with different disabilities including, Downs Syndrome, Autism and Cerebral Palsy. Aspire has many programs but one is called Aspire Careers where adults in Aspire’s Programs can explore career paths. Aspire Coffeeworks is a social enterprise between Aspire and Metropolis Coffee that was founded in 2009. Here, participants with disabilities work side by side with Metropolis Coffee Employees to produce Aspire Coffee. 100% of the proceeds from Aspire’s blends go back to the program to help more adults and children with disabilities.
As soon as I tried the coffee I was sold. The coffee was amazing and I loved the cause. I immediately reached out and asked how I could get involved with Aspire and their great programs. Aspire has many ways to volunteer and they suggested a great way to start would be to volunteer for a day at Metropolis Coffee Roastery and help the Aspire Coffeeworks team, weigh and package their coffees to sell. When I agreed, I had no idea what I was in store for. It turned out to be a fun and educational experience and I am going to share with you what I learned!
When I told people that I was volunteering at Metropolis, the first thing everyone commented on was how good it was probably going to smell. I thought the same. When I arrived I was surprised that there was a strong scent, but NOT of coffee. The entire roastery smelled strongly of fruit. Mostly like cherries, but a little like blueberries. It turns out that coffee grows inside a fruit that takes on different flavors and smells of what is growing around it. Hence the strong smell of fruit at Metropolis. They taught us that the bean is extracted from the fruit using one of three different methods.
The Washing Method
The fruit is washed over and over again with clean water until the bean is extracted. This leaves very little of the fruit from the bean.
The Dry Method
The fruit is left to dry in the sun until the outer layer dries and falls off and this leaves some of the fruit on the actual coffee bean.
The Combo Method
The fruit is washed until most of the outer layer is removed and then the beans are left to dry leaving some of the fruit intact.
The yellow and blue bins pictured above are filled with different varietals of raw beans, hence the strong fruity smell in the roastery. Here’s what the beans look like raw.
Roasting The Beans
The beans are roasted in these giant roasters. Here is where I experienced the traditional coffee smells. I learned a few interesting things about this process.
- The coffee roasting process is not dissimilar to a wine maker using their five senses.
- The roaster determines when the different varieties of beans are done by, taste, smell, sight, touch and hearing when the first bean in the batch “pops” like popcorn.
The other interesting thing is there are these machines on the roasters called the “de-stoners”. They look like this:
These machines remove anything from the beans that are not supposed to be there. Now this was the most shocking thing of all. Take a look at some of the things they have found in the beans.
Rocks, Pebbles, Metal, even Ethiopian coins. Then they showed us the worst thing they ever found in the beans.
This giant horned beetle. Don’t worry he was perfectly roasted!
The next step in the process is checking the color of the beans to determine what roast the beans are. They put the coffee into this machine that looks like an old microwave from the 1980’s. The machine gives a number and that is how they determine what roast the bean is. Very cool!
The whole process of roasting the beans was so fascinating. It is such a unique skill set, I could have watched the Roaster all day! It also was interesting to see all the coffees from all around the world. Fun Fact, the countries that are located all around the equator are called the ‘Coffee belt”.
The other interesting thing about Metropolis Coffee is that the ONLY machines are the roasters and this little machine that puts some air into the bags for packaging reasons. Everything else is done by hand by people. The also keep no inventory. If you order coffee, it is roasted and packaged the next day and shipped either that day or the day after. So you know what you are getting is fresh and roasted to order.
After my tour of the roasting process it was time to get down to work with Aspire! For the rest of the day I helped the team from Aspire, weigh, bag, seal and pack up their coffee for shipping. The great news is, their orders are increasing every week.
If you would like to order this coffee you can buy it here. They also sell biodegradeable K-cups in addition to whole beans and ground coffee.
Aspire is a great organization and I look forward to working more with this great organization.
For a fun recipe using Aspire’s coffee, Click here!