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Roasting the beans

Question & Answers with Mira Hall

Kevin Wilson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Apr 15/02) - Mira Hall has lived in Yellowknife all her life.

Recently married, she also has the distinction of being the only full-time coffee roaster in the NWT.

Between looking after daughter, Noah, and the next load of beans, Hall sits down to talk about life in Yellowknife, getting married on the road to Rae, and what makes a perfect cup.

NNSL Photo

Lifelong Yellowknifer Mira Hall with the staff of life. Despite the intense temperatures associated with roasting coffee, the NWT's only roastmaster's worst injury was to her pride. - Kevin Wilson/NNSL photo

Yellowknifelife: So you're not Mira Hache anymore?

Mira Hall: That's right, I'm Mira Hall now.

Yellowknifelife: You're officially Mira Hall now?

MH: Yup. I just got married to Adam Hall.

Yellowknifelife: You bear the singular distinction of being the only roastmaster in the NWT, is that correct?

MH: That is very correct.

Yellowknifelife: So how did you wind up becoming a roast-mistress?

MH: My boss, Adrian Bell, bought a roaster two and a half years ago, and he'd taken up roasting as a hobby and it was good for business at Javaroma. He's a total coffee freak, maybe even more so than myself. He was roasting for a year as I patiently envied him and didn't say anything for the first six months.

After six months, I told him I was interested in learning, and he thought that was really cool. He made me watch him for three months, and then he watched me for three months, all the while beating coffee knowledge into my head.

At the end of a six-month probationary period, he let me roast for the first time by myself, while he drove by Javaroma every 15 minutes making sure I didn't burn it down.

Yellowknifelife: What's the most important thing about roasting coffee?

MH: Probably keeping your eye on the flame, and keeping your eye on the time.

Yellowknifelife: How many cups of coffee do you drink on an average day?

MH: Now, at least four.

Yellowknifelife: At your worst?

MH: At my worst, 12 to 13.

Yellowknifelife: That's a lot of coffee.

MH: Those are on our cupping days, where we try to taste every coffee that I've roasted.

Yellowknifelife: You've lived in Yellowknife your whole life.

MH: Yup, all my life.

Yellowknifelife: You didn't stick around here all the time though. Where have you managed to get yourself to?

MH: My parents travelled every other year, so we'd always drive to New Brunswick to Yellowknife. We also drove from Yellowknife to Tijuana, Mexico, with a stop in Disneyland. I've been to every province in Canada except for Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island. I've been down the west coast of the U.S. and along the northern border.

Yellowknifelife: What's the biggest difference between Disneyland and Tijuana?

MH: Disneyland doesn't smell quite the same way. It smells more of popcorn and happiness rather than feces and poverty.

Yellowknifelife: What's your favourite roast?

MH: I generally drink medium roast, because you can taste more of the flavour aspects of the coffee, rather than tasting the carbon and the effects of the roast.

Yellowknifelife: So, take me through the process of taking a green coffee bean to the final finished product.

MH: I usually do batches of 25 pounds, because it's easier to control. I work with a drum roaster that's powered by propane and electricity. It's got a temperature gauge that runs down the middle of the drum so I can tell what the core temperature of the beans are. I dump in the green beans, the temperature drops for the first two-and-a-half minutes of the roast.

Then it slowly starts coming back up. If I'm doing, say, a Guatemalan roast, I want to make sure I'm doing it in approximately 18 to 20 minutes. I have to make sure the first part of the roast lasts at least eight and a half minutes.

Then at 300 degrees, I blow off the chaff that comes off the beans, and I use my airflow to come back for the second half of the roast. The first half is the drying out of the beans, the second half is when the roast actually starts to happen.

After the second half, I blow off the chaff again. I ventilate to continue letting the air blow the chaff off like shrapnel off its shell.

Yellowknifelife: How severely have you wounded yourself?

MH: The first time Adrian was watching me roast, I burnt my forehead looking into a little circular window. There's a metal bar that heats up, and I was checking my flame. But that's the worst injury I've ever sustained. More embarrassing than anything else.

Yellowknifelife: The roaster just got moved from its location at Javaroma to Northshore in Frame Lake. Is it a better location?

MH: It's a totally better location because on Franklin the amount of smoke spewed out by the roaster seemed to be alarming the public. People were calling the fire department every time I roasted. It's less intrusive down there.

Yellowknifelife: You miss your regulars?

MH: I really do. I love my regulars more than anything. I could've gone to university, I could've made something of myself, but my absolute love of the customers at Javaroma kept me there for so long. I miss them terribly.

Yellowknifelife: What's up with getting hitched, anyways?

MH: I used to date my husband in high school. Right when we first started dating, we had skipped school and with a couple of our buddies spray-painted a rock on the highway to Rae. We saw each other for a while. He was probably the most formative relationship I had. Then we split while I was still in high school, but met up again during a party just recently. Everything was right, and we went out to the original spot and got married.

Yellowknifelife: So, a quick elopement?

MH: I fully recommend it for anyone.

Yellowknifelife: Did you have some kind of party?

MH: It wasn't very formal. My husband and I came back into town, took our wedding party out for supper, went back to his parent's house and drank a bottle of wine, and thought, "Hmm. Maybe we should have some people over." So we started calling our friends and just kind of said, "Hey, we just got married, do you wanna come over for a beer?" Our friends were like, "What the heck," then they started coming over.

Yellowknifelife: Did you serve coffee there?

MH: There was coffee. And alcohol and decaffeinated beverages.

Yellowknifelife: Was it stuff you had roasted?

MH: Actually, it was gourmet cup.

Yellowknifelife: Do they take instruction well?

MH: I've since converted them.