Of course the most sustainable choice would be to not drink coffee at all, to instead sip tisanes made from freshly garden-plucked herbs whenever we wanted a hot drink pick-me-up. When you think about it, it’s actually ridiculous to be addicted to the brewings of a roasted, ground bean that is grown on the other side of the world.
But… COFFEE IS SO GOOD.
The Man and I both love it, and it’s a special ritual for us to sit down and enjoy a coffee together every morning. In our many years together we’ve made coffee – proper coffee, never instant – at home, pretty much every way you can think of: plungers, drip-filter jugs, stovetop cafetiera, cafe-style espresso machines, and even a second-hand Nespresso purchased to take on holidays (I know, I know, but at least we have a refillable stainless-steel pod to use in it now).
Earlier this year, despite multiple repair attempts, our big old beast of an espresso machine / coffee grinder / steam wand combo died a slow and leaky death. It was too soon for a solid piece of equipment for which we had paid a pretty sum.
Any time an appliance can no longer be fixed, there is an opportunity to find the best, most sustainable option.
We looked at the amount of collateral damage incurred: all that metal, plastic and electronics bound together making recycling nigh impossible; the inbuilt grinder that still worked, but took up too much space on the benchtop to just use as a grinder; cleaning tools that only worked on that machine; the heavy tamp that only fits that brand’s portafilter; the milk frothing jug on the shelf next to the milk frothing jug that came with our previous espresso machine – and shuddered. There had to be a better way.
Luckily I remembered reading an excellent post about coffee by local zero-waster Lindsay Miles on her blog Treading my own Path. Inspired, here is how we decided to make the next stage of our coffee drinking ‘sustainable-ish’.
First, drink less and enjoy mindfully
Most days I have one coffee a day. On a rare day I might have two. I try and sit down with my coffee and really notice it. Consuming coffee mindfully is much more satisfying than slamming it down while multitasking. Taking into account the food miles our coffee has travelled, surely coffee should be a ‘sometimes food’ to really be appreciated, not taken for granted?
We are fortunate to live within walking distance of an excellent cafe, Antz, that source their coffee beans from number of small, sustainable coffee growers around the world and then deliciously roast them. They let us bring in our coffee bean container for refills, so we’re not even using a paper bag to bring our beans home in.
Here is our new grinder – it uses people-power not fossil fuels! Much easier to use than the old-school hand grinder with the little drawer underneath we had years ago that looked pretty but took 45 minutes of sweaty labour to get enough coffee for one cup. It’s ROK brand, a company with some serious sustainability credentials including a simple, minimal-plastic design (so less bits to break), plastic-free shipping, 10-year warranty on all metal parts and replacements available for all other parts.
The burrs are adjustable so you can grind coarse or fine coffee.
Our espresso machine also uses muscle-power instead of an electric pump. It’s ROK brand, like the grinder. We heat the water in a little saucepan (with the lid on for efficiency) on our gas stove and pour boiling water into the top of the machine. Lift the arms to infuse the coffee and a few minutes later, push the arms down to pull the shot of coffee.
Our favourite milk was from Margaret River Organic Creameries. Sadly they closed earlier this year, so now we choose milk from another local, family-owned ethical dairy, Bannister Downs.
For now we’re foaming our milk in this milk frother, which I bought second-hand on Gumtree about three or four years ago to take on holidays with the Nespresso machine. It’s ok, but doesn’t quite give the silky milk of a traditional steam wand. But it is what we have, and using what you already own is usually a better choice than buying something new.
That’s all fine, but what’s the coffee like?
Look, it wasn’t love at first sip for me with this way of making coffee. It seemed like a lot of faff compared to the easy rhythm of button-pressing on the espresso-beast. And faff is what no-one needs ever, but especially first thing in the morning, BEFORE coffee! But we kept experimenting, learning, trialling – and now have a method that works for us.
The Man says you have to ’embrace the Zen’ of the process. Treat it like a ritual. Know that what is coming will be all the sweeter because there has been effort in creating it.
So I’ve come around to this slower, more sustainable-ish coffee.