The coffee with zero air miles

The plant growing in the corner of Roastworks Coffee Co began as a parchment-wrapped cherry. It was given to the Little family as a gift by an Ethiopian coffee agent and was planted out of curiosity. When they relocated their coffee roasting business from Finland to Devon in south-west England in the 1990s, they brought the sapling with them.

The 30-year-old plant sat idle for years, according to Will Little, who now runs the business his parents founded, joking that he is now a “second-generation coffee roaster.”

However, the coffee plant (coffea) finally flowered a few years ago, much to Little’s surprise. “The buds had a jasmine or orange blossom scent,” he recalls. Little wondered if it flowered as a result of the plant being relocated to a slightly warmer location in the office, or if it simply decided it was time.

Encouraged by the new blossoms, he began fertilising the plant, which was growing in “ordinary potting compost and a little sand,” with regular gardener’s fertiliser. His reward: a handful of cherries, possibly 50g, “which is a pittance in terms of beans,” he explains.

The plant produced a modest crop for the next few years, until 2020, when it produced a bumper crop of cherries weighing nearly 400g in total. Little now had a sufficient amount of material to work with. After removing the flesh from 400g of coffee cherries, approximately 50g of green beans are produced, which is just enough to roast.

Little’s tiniest coffee roaster was a sample roaster, which is typically used to roast 30-40g of beans in order for a coffee seller to quickly sample their product. He divided his beans into two batches of 25g each and roasted half of them.

When his team gathered to drink their office-grown coffee (a cup of coffee requires approximately 12g of beans, so their harvest didn’t go far), Little was surprised to discover that it tasted good. “It had a 99 percent chance of tasting like ****,” he says. “It could have tasted like cardboard, but it was more than drinkable; it tasted decent.” Little sent the remaining beans to a YouTuber who, like Little, was pleasantly surprised by the quality. He described the coffee as having a nutty, chocolatey aroma and flavour, though it lacked some of the citrous notes found in pure Ethiopian coffee.

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