Roasting roadblocks to employment for people with trouble seeing

Mark Berry runs the coffee-bean roasting show single handed, from the start in large white barrels of green, un-roasted beans to the finish of cups of fresh-roasted, French-pressed, hot coffee.

A bean starts out green, a little dusty and smelling more like dirt or strawberries than the rich, earthy whiffs of caffeine people are familiar with. Berry marks the lids of his drums containing the raw beans with letters in puffy paints, so he can feel them.

Berry wakes up early and pours buckets of beans to be roasted into smaller buckets that can be carried by hand. He lines them up next to his fire-engine colored coffee roaster and drops in an index card with the name of the coffee in Braille.

Each index card has Braille writing on it, so Mark Berry can navigate his buckets of beans.

When the beans go into the roaster, most coffee roasters watch a small circular window, paying attention as the beans’ color goes from white to tan to deep brown. But Berry pays attention to other things.

“Do you hear that? The beans sound less gravelly now.”

Mark berry listens to a timer count down the minutes until his beans are done roasting.

“It smells like baking bread to me now.”

After tumbling around in the roaster like dirty laundry in a washer, Berry flips a switch marked with a hard metal Braille dot and the beans cascade with a splash of steam into a tin with a rotating paddle. As they go around and around, the beans cool, making soft scraping noises. Berry listens to them and waits for the talking timer to tell him when to stop the rotation and open a chute that drops the beans into a plastic tub.

The next step for the beans is to be dropped into a tumbler, similar to a cement mixer. When it’s turned on, the small shed fills with noise. Berry quickly sticks his fingers deep in his ears.

“I’ve learned to take really good care of my ears,” he says.

The tumbler separates the beans from non-beans. Small bits like pebbles or screws often get mixed in with the coffee. The non-bean bits fall into a large scooper and Berry throws them away.

Out of the bucket of ready-to-grind beans, Berry uses another scoop to pour beans into an industrial-sized grinder to produce a small mound of fine, black coffee.

“One of the things I’ve learned to do is finish everything I start,” Berry says. “If I don’t put something back in the same exact place, it might as well be in Egypt.”

Berry even has an electric kettle, a French press and a couple of mugs, so after all the work, he can sip the brew he just made.

Read more about Mary Berry’s coffee-roasting process at:
Blending abilities into new job opportunities
Learn more about Blind Dog Coffee at:
Blind Dog Coffee
Learn more about Assistive Technology at:
NCED’s Assistive Technology page