A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: NORTH RIVER ROASTERS, POUGHKEEPSIE’S VERY OWN HOME OF THE BEAN

To many of us, coffee is its own essential food group. The first recorded use of the bean to brew a hot drink was in the 15th century, possibly in Ethiopia or Yemen. Legends tell of a goatherd who noticed his flock pepping up and getting feisty after eating the plant, of a sheik exiled to a cave who discovered brewing and used it to survive. (According to the story, he was allowed to come home and hailed as a literal saint for the discovery.)

No one really knows how that first tasty cup actually came to be, and who drank it. What we do know is that by the 16th century, coffee was on its way to taking over the world, spreading through the Middle East and North Africa, enjoyed in Turkey and Persia; by 1600, it had spread to Italy. Pope Clement VII declared it a suitable Christian beverage that year, and the first recorded coffee house opened in Rome in 1645. A British coffee house, the Queen’s Lane, opened in Oxford in 1657 and is still perking along today, though it’s changed hands and locations a few times over the centuries.

Every culture has put its own stamp on the beverage, But mass production swiftly became problematic. Coffee production provides a living for about 25 million people; over 100 million more make a living by importing, processing and distributing it. Sixty of the world’s 90 coffee growing countries are “developing” countries, while the vast majority of the product is consumed in wealthy countries, with northern Europe, Iceland and Canada at the top of the list. As usual, when the wealthy crave something the poor folks have, problems arise. In too many places, the hard work was performed by underpaid people or outright slaves, while the profits were skimmed by corporations.

Poughkeepsie native Feza Oktay moved back home with a graduate degree and a family nine years ago now, working as a nonprofit business consultant and volunteering with Hudson River Housing on their Middle Main revitalization initiative and the restoration of the historic Underwear Factory there. His daughter’s job as a barista got him interested in coffee. He started roasting small batches at home, soon getting results that deserved to be shared, and launched a community supported coffee roasting program on a CSA (community supported agriculture) model.

He does it his way: sourcing organic beans for the benefit of farmers and the planet; using only compostable bags and reusable buckets for wholesale customers; employing 100% electric roasters powered by 100% renewable energy through the City of Poughkeepsie CCA (community choice aggregation) power program. The company is an endorser of the Citizens Climate Lobby. 

The commitment to fair trade is not just lip service: North River vows to  “prioritize coffees with interesting flavor profiles that are certified Rain Forest Alliance (RFA) and Fair Trade Organic (FTO) and support farms that provide their workers with fair wages and use sustainable farming methods. When possible we feature coffees sourced from areas that represent the diversity of the Poughkeepsie community such as Oaxaca, Mexico, and Peru.”

Coffee shares are available on North River’s website, along with cool coffee accessories like mugs and grinders. In Kingston, you can buy their whole beans at Tilda’s Kitchen & Market and Adams Fairacre Farms; various Dutchess County coffee shops can brew you a cup. 

But North River Roasters won’t ship you any, and the reason for this Current member’s policy is a study in the sharing economy: no shipping, says Oktay, because “every community should support their local coffee roaster…We also don’t feel it’s necessary to add more greenhouse gasses to the environment just to ship coffee. So go pick up a bag from your local roaster,” Oakley advises. And raise a toast to our neighbors North River Roasters with your morning cuppa.