Slow Food Nation: Ritual Roasters Gets Fresh


Today we start a month’s worth of Monday blogs, leading up to Slow Food Nation, which lands on SF this Labor Day weekend. I’m glad the big food festival is happening here, but I’d venture to say that in SF, Slow Food Nation is almost redundant. It’s kind of like putting an Obama bumper sticker on your car. There are Slow Foodies wherever you look.

Ritual Roasters' owner Eileen Hassi and her vacuum-packed baby.

Case in point: Last week, I stopped by Ritual Coffee Roasters for a cup. Ritual is going to be part of the SFN Coffee Pavilion (“Coffee: Finding a Fair Fix”), curated by Andrew Barnett of Ecco Caffè, one of my favorite roasters based in Santa Rosa. Ever-chirpy and caffeinated, owner Eileen Hassi was behind the counter, presiding over things. We got to talking about what’s new in the world of coffee geeks, and she excitedly (I mean, like her big blue eyes getting wider by the second) told me that they now are getting in green beans that are … drumroll … vacuum packed!

She brought me to where the beans were being roasted. The back of Ritual has slowly morphed from being a seating area, full of hipsters with their laptops aglow with an apple, to a storage area for stacks of huge burlap sacks full of green coffee beans from all over the world. (They’re eventually going to move the roasting side of Ritual into another space, but she said they haven’t found the perfect spot yet. Wherever it is, they'll sell espresso too; stay tuned.)

Kind of like a wine cork (versus a screwcap), the burlap bag has a romantic quality about it—it’s pretty iconic. But for Hassi, taste clearly comes first. From a very unromantic cardboard box, she pulled out a big brick of vacuum-packed beans from lot in Columbia and sliced one open. I took a whiff: pure coffee. Then we took a whiff of some newly shipped beans in a burlap sack: they smelled grassy and miles away from what I know I like to drink.

Getting the exporters to vacuum pack the beans is going to involve some serious arm twisting, says Hassi. “Even the progressive exporters are skeptical,” she says. To that, Ritual is taking the stance that they won’t be buying beans in the bag when they can help it. In a year, Hassi expects to have everything vacuumed—proof that Slow Food doesn't have to always be a slave to tradition.

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