Potent and pedal-powered

When Mike Russo talks about his company, he uses the word we even though he’s the only employee at Firebean Coffee Roasters.

“I just do so many jobs, ‘I’ becomes ‘we,’” he said over the phone on a Tuesday from the property in Golden Horn where he roasts his beans.

It would be one of the last low-key weeks for Russo before the busy season, when he ramps up from two to three roasting days weekly. The job is exhausting in a different way than small business ownership is for your average entrepreneur—Russo roasts with a bike-powered roaster.

“And then I go home and stretch,” he said, laughing.

The stationary bike that powers his six-pound drum roaster takes anywhere from 12 to 18 minutes per batch, depending on the roast he’s after and the speed he’s riding. The cadence controls the heat. If he rides fast, the beans don’t see as much of their namesake “fire.” If Russo wants to mellow the flavour, he slows the pace and the heat lightly kisses the beans. It was a learning process, but so was running a business. Before Firebean, Russo worked as an educational assistant.

In 2015, he and his wife had moved from the Yukon to Ontario for her job. Russo started roasting just to keep himself in quality coffee. He did it with a little contraption he made himself, one that roasted a quarter pound at a time. That was enough at first, but then he started supplying friends and family. After about three months, he realized he needed to scale up. That’s when he found his current stationary bike at a yard sale in Parry Sound. It cost 50 cents. Russo outfitted it with the roasting drum himself. He knew he was coming back to the Yukon and it just seemed smarter to have a roaster that was easy to move.

“If we were going to be taking it to northern communities, it needed to be portable and able to work anywhere and then it became part of the branding … we became coffee peddlers.”

These days, Firebean is available at Matthew Watson General Store and White Pass & Yukon Route Station in Carcross. It’s available all over Whitehorse too—at Wykes’ Your Independent Grocer, Riverside Grocery and Midnight Sun Emporium. Midnight Sun, as well as Happy Camper Cafe (at High Country RV) will sell brewed cups of Firebean this summer. Russo also sells at the Fireweed Community Market on Thursday evenings at Shipyards Park and is always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other Yukon producers.

There have been beer partnerships with Winterlong Brewing and Deep Dark Woods. He’s done biscotti with Yukon Chocolate Company, soap with Berry Blue Toes Apothecary and a special blend for Adaka Festival. Collaborating is something he’s excited to do more of.

“I think there’s some pretty unique people up here running unique businesses and I think it’s cool that we help each other and help each other cross-promote and help grow each other’s audiences. It’s a feel-good community builder,” he said.

“You can put an ad in the paper or you can make a beer with Winterlong. What’s going to have more impact? It’s way more effective and valuable and powerful than doing a print ad or something more traditional.”

It’s a win for both businesses and for the consumer, he said.

Find out more at FirebeanCoffee.ca

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