What started as a hobby paired with a creative mind for mechanical gadgets has grown into a successful business for Michael Russo, founder of Firebean Coffee Roasters in Whitehorse. This small-batch coffee company produces hand-roasted beans using a process powered by…bicycle. He pedalled the equivalent of Mexico to The Yukon and back (roughly 5000km) before giving up the bike for a motor. Russo applies this innovative, grassroots approach to other aspects of his business as well, testing ideas to minimize packaging waste and partnering with other small retailers in the Yukon. Here, Russo talks about the creative satisfaction of his hands-on approach to business.
What makes Firebean coffee unique?
Firebean coffee uses an old style wood fire-roasting method. The fire hits a metal drum transferring the heat to the coffee. Whereas the modern way uses air, heating up the air and running the air over the beans like a convection effect. You can do way more at once this way, but the end result is more dehydrated. Using fire allows the beans to roast and maintain more moisture, the end result is a coffee with low acidity but still full of flavour.
Why do you prefer such a manual, hands-on approach?
Preserving an old style art and craft seems rebellious, we’re hanging onto something that would otherwise fade away. We believe if it’s easy it’s not worth it. That art and craft are what make us human. and above all you gotta follow the fire! We split the wood. Stoke the fire. And roast the coffee just like they used to. Go ahead, call us old fashioned.
How long have you been roasting coffee beans?
We have been roasting for close to a decade, but sometimes we still feel like a start-up.
What Inspired you to take this path with Firebean?
I wanted to do things that were more grassroots, more real. I feel more connected surrounded by the fire out in the bush. I see some coffees that say handcrafted on them. But you can look at my gloves and know that it’s really handcrafted.
What do you see for the future of Firebean?
We look at it as going forward by stepping back. We are focused on celebrating a traditional style of doing things. With that we hope to be the wood-fired coffee brand of Canada. I envision a Firebean roasting shack in every province and territory in Canada by 2025.