The Perfect Brew: Locally Roasted, Fair Trade, Organic Coffee

by Eileen Weber

Maxwell House is good to the last drop. The best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup. Chock Full O’ Nuts is that heavenly coffee, better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.

That last line you can probably sing in your head. It’s what most American consumers think of when it comes to coffee. After all, America runs on Dunkin,’ right?

For coffee connoisseurs, however, having a cup of mass-manufactured coffee is akin to having a cup of rat poison—only the rat poison probably tastes better. Coffee lovers look for that deep, rich flavor that satisfies. Whether it’s after a deliciously prepared meal as a digestif or first thing in the morning to get the blood pumping, that cup of coffee has got to taste fresh.

The frenetic search for great coffee bordering on obsession is exactly what got Ed Freedman, owner of Shearwater Coffee Roasters, to start his own coffee roasting business. But he took it one step further. He didn’t want to roast just any beans—the kind with chips and blemishes that often come in bags littered with sticks and stones. No, these beans had to come from organic farms with Fair Trade practices. That’s how Shearwater became the first and, so far the only, USDA Certified Organic coffee roaster in Fairfield County.

“Organic is not a product line,” he said with a little smile, “it’s what you do.”

A portion of coffee sales supports the work of Michel Nischan's non-profit, Wholesome Wave.

That philosophy is why he keeps his facility exceptionally clean including using organic cleaning products. He reuses and repurposes his burlap coffee bags as table coverings when he sets up at the Fairfield Farmer’s Market in Greenfield Hill. (He will be at The Grange during the winter months, by the way.) And, sanitation is key. Beans are kept at least six inches off the ground on steel shelving units.

He gets his beans from Central and South America, Indonesia, and East Africa. These are the main exporting areas around the world. While it would be nice to get beans that grow more locally, they don’t. Connecticut is not exactly hugging the Equator. Instead, he focuses on having a local business model.

Currently, he works with a solid handful of local restaurants and cafés that serve his products. Of course, he is looking to expand that. But for now, he’s got such places as Westport’s The Dressing Room, the Trumbull Marriott’s Parallel Post, and Fairfield’s The Pantry on board. Not too shabby for a company that just opened its doors a little over a month ago.

“We try all the products we sell,” said Thierry Le Meur, co-owner of The Pantry. “The coffee is really good. It was really smooth with no bitter after taste.”

Freshly roasted beans are brewed into coffee and taste-tested in the cupping room at Shearwater.

What’s best about his coffee is its freshness. FGFG was lucky enough to stop by for a tasting. He offered his Colombian blend, which was light but earthy with a touch of sweetness.

Jon Vaast, The Dressing Room’s executive chef, couldn’t agree more. He said that sweetness is what surprised him about Freedman’s roast. When he visited Shearwater in Trumbull, he wasn’t expecting a great cup of coffee.

“I was fairly surprised at the quality,” Vaast commented. “It was almost naturally sweet the way he roasted it. It had tons of flavor.”

Freedman talked about the coffee market’s big Kahuna, Starbucks. As he says, they’re the baseline that most people compare to. While they might be the ubiquitous label you see around town, they’re also much more bitter than a Shearwater cup of coffee.

Freedman explained that good coffee needs clean equipment. Roasting and brewing all day long ensures that all those oils in the beans build up. So you’re bound to have something that tastes a little more astringent than it should.

“It’s hard for a high-volume place to keep out the bitterness. They don’t have time to keep the machine clean,” he explained. “They may be roasting Ethiopian or Sumatran, but can you tell the difference?”

At his shop, he notes the different tastes of coffee depending on the region. It’s not unlike a description of a fine wine—floral, spicy, chocolaty, or mellow. You might choose an Argentinian Malbec for its fruit-forward jamminess just as you might choose an Ethiopian coffee blend for its citrusy brightness. Need that caffeine jolt in the morning? Grab a cup of Sumatra. And if you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up in the afternoon, a nice medium-bodied South American blend can give you just the right balance you need.

Shearwater is not a café, although Freedman isn’t ruling that out as a possibility for the future. But it is a place to get high quality beans if organic, Fair Trade products are important to you.

It’s also a great space if you’d like to host a fundraising event. Freedman will happily accommodate and show off his Diedrich IR-12 roaster while he’s at it. It’s parked in the back like a Cadillac. If you’re lucky, he’ll roast up some beans and really get the party started!

For more information about Shearwater’s products, email or visit them online.

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