Black Coffee goes green

Missoula's Black Coffee Roasting Company welcomed a new, high-tech piece of machinery last week called a Loring Kestrel, something BCRC co-owner Matt McQuilkin describes as "the Prius of coffee roasters." Manufactured in San Francisco, it is the only one of its kind in the state of Montana.

McQuilkin and partner Jim Chapman opened BCRC in 2010. With a seven-person crew they produce wholesale organic roast coffee beans, with the vast majority of their customers in and around Missoula. Faced with a growing demand that challenged the capacity of their traditional roaster, and with goals to expand regionally, BCRC applied for and won a green energy grant from NorthWestern Energy that enabled them to purchase the Loring.

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  • Chris La Tray

What makes the system so green? For starters, the Loring is 80 percent more efficient than a traditional roaster. It accomplishes this by operating as a "closed" system, meaning air pulled into the roasting chamber remains there, depleted of oxygen, throughout the roast.

A traditional roaster constantly circulates ambient air, subjecting the roast to seasonal variations in air temperature and humidity. Heat is lost up the exhaust pipe as smoke, and chaff from the beans becomes an additional byproduct. But the Loring—with a single burner positioned in front of the exhaust stack—incinerates both byproducts. This recycles the heat back into the roasting process and reduces the amount of gas necessary to maintain temperature. Waste is negligible, and the exhaust up the pipe is essentially smoke-free. The oxygen-free roasting chamber also creates an inert environment, so the flavor comes from the beans themselves, without variable influences caused by the roasting process.

The truck transporting the Loring arrived last week, and the roaster is now installed at the BCRC shop on the corner of Russell and Wyoming. Final plumbing and utility connections are being made, and the BCRC hopes to start roasting their first coffee beans on the new machine within the next two weeks.

"The best coffees roasted in the most efficient and clean-burning machine on the market. Sustainability tied directly to high quality," Chapman says. "The Loring really ties our goals together."

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