A Brilliant Brew

Toledo Local Features  |  02/11/2013 9:00 am

Coffee can be a controversial subject. To buy FairTrade or not? Shouldn't my coffee always be organic? And why does my bag give me the sell-by date and not the roasted-on date?

Coffee enthusiast Lance Roper aims to put our weary minds to rest, offering a solution to stale, weak coffee from God-knows-where with his home-roasted Actual Coffee products.

Roper has been personally roasting coffee for friends and family for two years, and has recently been supplying his coffee to local businesses, including Bleak House Coffee in downtown Toledo and The Flying Joe in Perrysburg. Customers can also purchase Actual Coffee online at www.actualcoffee.com.

Actual Coffee has resonated well with locals seeking out an alternative to Folgers and Maxwell House. Business is booming and Roper recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a new, larger roaster for Actual Coffee.

"I think the biggest challenge for coffee lovers in NW Ohio face is finding fresh coffee that isn’t over roasted," Roper explained. Generally speaking, Toledoans are purchasing a mass-produced product, similar in quality to a McDonald’s Big Mac."

A "Wake Up" Call
A few years back, Roper experienced a revelation when he happened across www.SweetMarias.com. The site introduced him to home coffee roasting and provided Roper with every imaginable coffee resource. After tasting properly- roasted coffee for the first time, he decided to make it his personal mission to share actual coffee with everyone he could.

But Actual Coffee isn't just about the taste or quality. One of Roper's primary reasons for starting his own business was to help benefit the farmers who grow the coffee, whether they reside in Honduras, Kenya, Ethiopia or elsewhere.

"It's safe to say that we benefit from the sale of coffee more than [the farmers] do," Roper said. "Actual Coffee aims to help balance the scales by making business decisions that aren't just self-serving."

Going Green
Purchasing its green coffee from Oakland, California-based Coffee Shrub, Actual Coffee is able to provide top-notch coffees from across the world, ensuring that the farmers are receiving a fair price that not even FairTrade can compete with. In fact, Roper explained that while FairTrade is a popular brand, and "organic" is tossed around freely when it comes to labeling coffee, these terms can be somewhat deceiving.

"FairTrade is a co-op certification, which means that small, independent farms aren't able to benefit from it. By no means should people use FairTrade as their primary buying motivator," Roper explained. "And farms that produce great coffee rarely use any form of pesticide. It actually costs the farmer fees to qualify for 'organic coffee.' So even if the farm is organic, there's a likely chance the consumer will never know, and might even refrain from buying coffee because it doesn't say 'FairTrade Organic.'"

In Toledo, there are only a handful of local coffee roasters who display their roast dates on the bag, everyone else uses expiration dates with the roast date unknown. Actual Coffee lists the roast date, and Roper has a few suggestions to ensure freshness.

"Coffee has a very short shelf life," Roper said. "It's proven that it begins to lose its aromas and flavors about two weeks after roasting. Once you miraculously find fresh coffee, I recommend keeping it in a cool, dry place--not the refrigerator or freezer. And always grind the coffee minutes before brewing."

Caffeinating The Kickstarter
Now Roper and Actual Coffee need the support of the community. In order to keep Northwest Ohio supplied with fresh, fairly-brewed coffee, they require $15,000 to purchase and run The San Franciscan SF-6, which has a reputation for roasting spectacular coffee, and is 100% made in the United States of America.

With 19 more days to left, Actual Coffee has raised more than $5,800, but they still have a ways to go.

"When it comes to Kickstarter expectations, I simply didn't have any," Roper said. "Before I launched the campaign, I knew that friends and family would get behind it as best they could, but it was difficult to fathom what that would look like. I'm completely amazed."

If the trend keeps up, Actual Coffee will meet the goal before the March 3rd deadline. The campaign offers coffee-lovers some great incentives, including Actual Coffee mugs, t-shirts, a pound of Actual Coffee and more. Pledges can be made from $5-$2,000. For more information, or to make a donation, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lanceroper/actual-coffee-a-toledo-coffee-roaster.


Photos courtesy of Andrew Weber Photography.


Photos courtesy of Andrew Weber Photography.