Earth-friendly shops serve coffee and the environment at the same time

RoosRoast Coffee in Ann Arbor. Credit: Ray Garcia.

Coffee shops – those homey respites that provide caffeine, community and conversation – are moving toward greater sustainability practices, conserving everything from water used to make their brews to recycling the grounds to looking at where their beans are grown and processed to be more environmentally friendly.

There’s every kind of “green” effort being made around the state of Michigan. In Holland, Lemonjellos is not only housed in a former gasoline station, but it also shares its coffeehouse waste for composting on local farms. Kalamazoo’s Rose Gold Coffee Company is not only vegan-friendly but it composts its own materials, including straws.

RoosRoast Coffee in Ann Arbor. Credit: Ray Garcia.

“We do our best to compost as much as we can. If you compost at home, you can just rinse out your cup (and straw!) and add them to the pile. If you’re at the shop, you can leave to-go cups, lids, and straws in our bus tub, and we’ll rinse them out and compost them ourselves,” Rose Gold owners Braden and Kim Strayer said.

Restaurants and food-service businesses of all kinds work on recycling, composting and creating zero-waste environments. For example, Grosse Pointe Park’s The Bricks, a new pizzeria, put sustainability front and center in its efforts for Mother Earth, said executive chef and founder Trenton Chamberlain and General Manager Kaitie Belmore.

“My vision for us at the Bricks is sustainability – being a fundamental, and necessary, endeavor,” Belmore said. “Our concept will be (focused on) the food and drink of course, but it’s also about our team, our facilities, our practices — and the hundreds of decisions we make each day that affect the world around us. I believe we will find a balance, which allows us to sustain our quest of making quality, accessible food, while also giving back to our community and the environment.”

Earth avengers

But coffee shops and houses in particular have taken on this environmental challenge in new and inventive ways.

John Roos, the owner of Ann Arbor-based RoosRoast Coffee shop, thinks hard about what he can do to make his business stand out. Roos takes the quality of his coffee seriously. However, as an environmentally conscious person, he understands the impact coffee-making has on the planet and tries to find ways around that.

“One of the things we do right off the bat is we purchase a lot of products locally, which kind of lowers our carbon footprint,” Roos said.

Running a coffee shop uses a lot of milk. Roos prefers to buy it from Calder Dairy and Farm, a small business in the area. Not only does it help the local economy, but the bottles are glass.

“We use a lot of milk,” he said. “So that means we have no plastic waste. The glass bottles get returned every week, washed and reused again. So that’s a huge impact right there.”

Like many coffee shops, RoosRoast prepares specialty beans on-site and donates the leftover grounds to community gardens. It also offers customers a small discount if they bring in a cup rather than using a disposable one.

Many in the coffee industry hope to brew Michigan a rich blend of environmental, community and sustainability.

In Ypsilanti, Cultivate Coffee & Taphouse uses part of its space to house a 12-bed garden and donates the produce to the local food pantry. Cultivate operates as a nonprofit with proceeds going to more than 170 local programs and agencies.

However, staying environmentally conscious isn’t always as simple as buying local and contributing to the community. How beans are grown is a significant factor for people in the coffee industry.

Over on the west side of the state, Phillip Jewell is the chief operating officer of Blue Hat Coffee in Coldwater. One of the biggest things he looks at when buying beans is how and where they’re grown. One of its primary goals is to sell coffees grown without pesticides.

Jewell looks at high-quality flavors, which typically means shying away from beans grown in lower altitudes where pesticides often have to be used and where beans are harvested with machines.

“There are several reasons for that – one is that when you grow at high levels in the mountains, you tend to have less problems with defects because you have less problems with bugs and other problems you would have at lower levels,” Jewell said.

Consumers care

According to David Ortega, an agricultural economics professor at Michigan State University, consumers what to know more about the origins of their food. In a recent study conducted through MSU, he found that consumers are willing to pay more when they are better informed about how their coffee is grown.

“In terms of the coffee shop owners, I think really focusing on conveying the story behind the coffee and who produced the coffee and where it was produced, I think that’s that information consumers are really keen on and oftentimes can fetch a premium,” Ortega said.

Issues like banning plastic straws receive lots of attention from consumers, but many in the industry are looking to innovate new ideas.

The owners of Ann Arbor-based Mockingbird Coffee are looking to the future. In the back room of their shop, amid boxes and crates and dozens of burlap bags of beans, sits a large industrial-sized coffee roaster.

However, their goal is to stay carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, which means offsetting their carbon dioxide emissions, also known as CO2, or removing it altogether.

According to co-owner Peter Woolf, one of the major problems with coffee production is the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

“In Michigan, in the middle of winter, when it’s minus 20 [degrees] outside, most coffee roasters here are roasting coffee,” Woolf said. “And then they have a smokestack that comes out, which is about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit – it’s enough to melt aluminum.”

However, that heat can be recaptured.

Rather than seeing the emissions as an unusable waste of the coffee roasting business, Mockingbird has created a piping system to redirect that heat. The owners can use it to heat their store and water and are working on using it to heat the entire building, which houses about a half-dozen other businesses.

They also plan to use the open lots around their building for a garden and use the plants they grow in the beverages and food they sell. Another goal is to sell to other businesses, so they can further reduce the co2 emissions used to import fruits and vegetables.

They want to share their ideas and push their work as a new standard within the coffee industry and other industries.T

Ray Garcia of Capital News Service contributed to this report. Read the CNS story at