Locally Roasted Coffee, Now with 95 Percent Less Air Pollution

Jul 2, 2014

Utah Governor Gary Herbert was in Cache Valley this week to hand deliver a check to the owner of Logan’s Caffe Ibis Coffee Roasting Company. The money will partially cover the cost of a piece of equipment that reduces the roaster’s emissions by 95 percent. Despite a tragic setback, the company’s efforts to clean up the air are proceeding at full speed.

When we think of things that produce air pollution, we think of things like cars and oil refineries. We don’t necessarily think of the giant oven that bakes goldfish-shaped crackers or the small cabinet shop on the edge of town or the local organic coffee roaster. But anything that burns creates particulate pollution -- so any effort to reduce air pollution in a community has to address individual contributions from our homes and our vehicles and the contributions of factories big and small.

In Governor Herbert’s state of the state address earlier this year, he promised to do something about Utah’s air pollution problem. A grant program for small businesses through the Utah Clean Air Partnership, known as UCAIR, is the fulfillment of at least part of that promise. UCAIR works with a lot of auto body paint shops and printers, but Caffe Ibis’ was their first request to help out a coffee roaster.

Governor Herbert paid a rare visit to Logan this week with Ted Wilson, UCAIR’s Director, to hand deliver the grant to Sally Sears, the roasting company’s owner.

“Caffe Ibis is in compliance with all the air quality requirements. But they’re going to do more,” the governor said in front of a small crowd that gathered at the company’s roasting facility. “This grant of $15,000 will help them on a $40,000 expenditure to put afterburners on their coffee brewing equipment here.”

The rocket ship shaped afterburner is really an exhaust scrubber that reduces pollution from Caffe Ibis's coffee roasters by 95 percent.
Credit Jennifer Pemberton

He means roasting equipment, of course. The governor and everyone else who attended the presentation of the grant money learned a lot about coffee roasting on a tour of the facility that followed.

Brandon Despain runs the roaster at Caffe Ibis. He was the group’s tour guide, spending the most time on the new afterburner installed with the UCAIR funds.

The afterburner is really a scrubber attached to the exhaust pipe of the coffee roasters. It’s less of a filter and more of a super-heated chamber where smoke and fine particles are further incinerated until there is hardly anything left to emit out the chimney. What’s released from the plant now that the afterburner is installed is 95 percent cleaner than before.

The afterburner was installed back in April and Caffe Ibis paid for it outright. It’s a custom job, manufactured in Canada, the dream of Caffe Ibis’ late owner Randy Wirth. In what can only be described as a tragic coincidence, the $40,000 piece of equipment was delivered to Logan on April 11, one day before Wirth was involved in a traffic accident that took his life a few days later.

Wirth was an integral part of the daily business at Caffe Ibis. His wife and co-owner, Sally Sears, explains to Governor Herbert how every cup of Caffe Ibis coffee is her late husband’s legacy. She tells him Wirth was a “master cupper” — a phrase the governor and many others have never heard of. When she describes the roasting and tasting process he says, “It sounds like a lot of art,” and she replies, “Yes, that’s the artisan part of coffee.”

Randy Wirth championed sustainability in his business and throughout the community. There is currently no regulation limiting the emissions from coffee roasters in Utah, but Wirth and Sears thought of it as their personal responsibility to reduce their footprint as much as possible.

“There are no requirements for shop roasters,” says Sears. “But we need to be proactive because of the valley in which we live. There’s a problem with air pollution. We’ve always thought that it was important to respect the environment and look at social justice as a part of our coffee roasting.”

Coffee roaster Brandon Despain (right) tells Governor Herbert about the new technology Caffe Ibis purchased in part with a state UCAIR Air Assist grant.
Credit Jennifer Pemberton

Employee Brandon Despain also talked about this personal responsibility that motivates Caffe Ibis to consider their impact.: “Before we were legally required to do this, we wanted to be there. To lead by example….”

UCAIR offers grants to small businesses who need help meeting air quality requirements or like Caffe Ibis want to go above and beyond to clean up the air. UCAIR Director Ted Wilson was on hand to encourage companies and communities to think outside the box and ask the state for assistance to creatively reduce emissions and increase efficiency.

More information about the Air Assist grant program is at UCAIR.org.