Portlanders are not actually terrible at
making toast. That smell of burning breakfast that lands heavy on our
streets, especially on wet days, isnât bread-basedâitâs smoke from a
small coffee roastery.
âIt can sometimes be
pretty astringent,â says Dave Monro, air quality manager for the
Department of Environmental Quality. âThat smell is not the one people
normally associate with a fresh cup of coffee.â
Coffee beans need to
be roasted for up to 30 minutes at temperatures of up to 550 degrees
Fahrenheit. The resulting smoke can be a nuisance to neighbors and,
according to an Environmental Protection Agency report, fumes from
coffee roasters include alcohols, aldehydes, nitrogen and sulfur
compounds along with a thin, flaky skin called chaff, which burns at
1,400 degrees. To incinerate the chaff, many roasters use an
afterburner. But afterburners use a lot of expensive fuel and can make
the shop uncomfortably warm.
Itâs a problem big
outfits like Stumptown spend a lot of money to solve. The company
recently spent $500,000 on a high-tech ceramic filtration system. Small
roasters donât have that kind of money, and the fact that many favor
primitive, vintage equipment doesnât help.
Oregon roasters are
not required to get an air quality permit unless they roast more than
60,000 pounds of coffee a yearâthatâs enough to make 1.3 million
12-ounce cups of coffeeâmeaning most small roasters only fall under
general rules against any business churning out thick smoke. Possibly
because of these very lax rules, the DEQ rarely takes enforcement action
against coffee roasters. According to state records, the last fine
levied was in 1998, when a Bend roaster was charged $2,658.
least one Portland roaster deserves plaudits for going above and beyond
with his afterburner alternative. In the basement of unassuming Cellar
Door Coffee Roasters in Laddâs Addition, roaster Jeremy Adams has
quietly overcome these cost and environmental issues with some
old-fashioned Portland DIY ingenuity by building his own system. Adamsâ
roaster employs a second chamber where a fine mist of water and ionized
electrons cool the smoke as water molecules drag the chaff to the bottom
of the chamber. The cooled smoke goes through a series of filters that
Adams calls an âelectrostatic precipitator,â which uses ionized
electrified wires to grab organic compounds from the air. It sounds
complicated, but to put it simply: It uses less fuel, was cheaper to
make and keeps the neighborhood from smelling like burnt toast.
âI try to be a good neighbor,â he says.