Bean there, roasted that

Off the Water photo/AARON MUELLER Rich Siri, co-owner and master roaster for Infusco Coffee Roasting, is buying coffee beans directly from impoverished farmers in Kenya at fair prices.

Jones is a coffee farmer in Kenya. In April and May, he harvests the coffee cherries and sells them to a local co-op for 38 cents a pound. It is eventually sold to coffee roasters across the world for about $5.27 a pound.

He is one of thousands of coffee farmers in Kenya living in poverty.

When Rich Siri found out about this unfair system, he wanted to do something about it.

Siri, a Stevensville resident and coffee connoisseur, had been roasting coffee for several years. He recently had launched a business, Infusco Coffee Roasters, in Sawyer. So he saw an opportunity to not only buy high-quality African coffee beans but also benefit impoverished farmers in Kenya.

“The coffee market has really collapsed over there,” Siri said.

“Poverty is huge.”

So he made a trip to Kenya last month to better understand the plight of the people there and to obtain a license to buy coffee beans directly from the Kenyan farmers. It was on that trip he met Jones.

“There are children living there without families, and everything they have occupies a shoebox. There are people living in small thatched huts that don’t survive the rainy season,” Siri said. “Jones told me, ‘If there is anything you can do to help us, please help.’”

And Siri has followed through on that request.

He obtained the license to buy coffee there and will now be purchasing coffee beans from Kamba Tribe farmers for more than $5 a pound.

“We didn’t want to just give these people a handout. We wanted to empower them,” Siri said.

The Kenyan coffee harvest will come in April and May, and Siri and his company Infusco Coffee Roasters, which he runs with his colleague Seth VanderArk, will be importing the coffee this summer.

Humble beginnings

Siri, who pays the bills as a machine builder and programmer, began coffee roasting about three years ago as a hobby when he stumbled upon an old pizza oven at a scrap metal recycling center that he converted into a roaster.

“It went well, so a year later, I graduated to a little roaster that could roast one pound at a time,” he said.

Soon after, he began selling his coffee to Greenbush Brewing Co. that used the product in its beers.

“It turned out to be really good beer,” Siri said.

But when Greenbush began asking for 40 pounds of coffee at a time, Siri again had to upgrade.

“It took 65 hours to roast 40 pounds of coffee (with the one-pound machine),” he said.

So Siri bought and restored an old 1930s roaster that can roast 77 pounds per batch.

Coffee from across the globe

Infusco has eight single-origin varieties of coffee from Brazil, Mexico, Ethiopia, Indonesia and soon Kenya.

He is hoping to purchase coffee directly from impoverished growers in Haiti and Peru in the future.

One of Siri’s favorite varieties is the Monsooned Malabar, a two-toned roast from India.

“It has the dark, smokey flavor of a dark roast with the light, fruity notes of a light roast,” said Siri, who admittedly “hates” decaffeinated coffee and also brags on his decaf sumatra.

“You can barely tell it’s decaf,” he said.

Freshest coffee out there

Although Infusco hasn’t obtained the licensing to sell its coffee yet, when it does begin selling it, the goal is for it be the freshest possible. The company will mainly sell the beans in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, so it can be delivered within four days of being roasted.

“Freshness makes a big difference,” he said. “The longer the coffee sits, the oils evaporate. When the oil fades, you lose the flavor.”

The goal is to also open a coffee shop, ideally at its roasting location on Sawyer Road, so customers can watch the coffee being roasted while they sip.

While Siri and VanderArk are waiting to get licensed, they have been building a buzz by handing out samples and offering tastings every Saturday at Greenbush Brewing Co. in Sawyer.

More information on Infusco can be found at infuscocoffee.com or on its Facebook page. Siri can be contacted directly at rich@infuscocoffee.com or (269) 213-5282.

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