It doesn’t always take a trendy location and hip baristas to produce a good cup of coffee.
Buried in a bland-looking Coeur d’Alene office building and sharing space with a benefits group and an Internet company, the owners of Cafe Avion are roasting pounds of fresh coffee every day.
The slightly sweet smell of roasting beans wafts past cubicles and offices just outside the door of the small room, which holds stacks of imported coffee bags and a gleaming, red roasting machine in the corner.
“It’s an interesting little spot,” said co-owner Hannah Swanson, who with her fiancé Bart Shields runs the small roasting operation. “The specialty coffee industry is small, but it’s growing.”
Cafe Avion may not be solely focused on local business, but that doesn’t mean the company doesn’t give personal attention to each of its orders.
Coffee drinkers of all varieties – from individuals to large restaurants, coffee shops and grocery stores – can log on to www.cafeavion.com and special-order their beans. Once Swanson receives the order, she hands it off to Shields and he roasts the beans to perfection using a Diedrich roaster from Sandpoint.
The fresh-roasted beans are then sealed into a special, individually numbered bag and are then shipped out that day. The company prides itself on having orders filled and shipped in 24 hours, Swanson said.
Many coffee drinkers don’t know that coffee can quickly go stale, Shields said. A bean can lose its best flavor a few weeks after it is roasted, he said, so when people order coffee from Cafe Avion, he suggests they only get enough for two or three weeks.
“In a grocery store, they’ll roast a huge, huge batch and then sell it off until they need more,” Shields said. “But we spend a lot of time making sure the beans are roasted well, and they’re fresh.”
But the business isn’t mindful only of flavor. Coffee drinkers can enjoy their products with a clear conscience, as Cafe Avion is both free trade- and organic- certified. Both certifications are long, involved processes but ultimately are well worth the time and cost, Swanson said.
By using organic beans and keeping their operation organic, Cafe Avion can do its part to make sure that crops are grown without harsh chemicals or pesticides. Even the decaffeinated coffee is made by using a water process that avoids chemicals altogether.
By participating in fair trade, coffee growers in distant lands can be paid a fair, living wage for what they work.
“It can be difficult, but the extra buck does flip all the way down the line to the grower,” Shields said.
Huge 150 to 200 pound bags of coffee are stacked in a corner in the roasting room, each bearing a stencil from some distant country. Cafe Avion imports beans from such places as Guatemala, Ethiopia, Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, and Swanson said she can tell the economic vitality of each country by looking at its stencil.
“If it looks poor, it means the bag came from a poor country,” she said.
The roasting process is usually pretty fast. Greenish, small coffee beans are weighed and then placed in the roaster, where for 15 minutes they rotate about and slowly cook. Late in the roasting, the beans start to crackle and pop like popcorn, which means they are growing in size.
The Deidrich roaster is fully electronic, which means Shields can set the roasting parameters one time and it will duplicate as many times as needed.
“An artist can have a hard time duplicating his work,” he said. “But with the machine, I can make it work the same each time.”
Swanson and Shields also spend time testing their roasts and trying to teach other restaurant and coffee purveyors the correct way to make the drink, including the amount of water to use per ounce of beans.
“Coffee is a relationship product, and it’s all about consistency,” Swanson said. “That way people are getting the freshest coffee possible.”