A San Diego Coffee Roastery Delivers a Delicious Cuppa Using Solar Power and an Electric Mini Cooper

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Behind a house in sunny San Diego sits a 70 square-foot shed. If passersby were to take notice, they’d likely assume it stores the usual things that go into a shed: tools, lawn equipment, cardboard boxes filled with items that are simultaneously unimportant and irreplaceable. No one would suspect that those four little walls contain a solar-powered coffee roastery for keeping local residents happily caffeinated.

“I like to have a tiny footprint,” says Heather Calatrello, referring both to the size of her workspace and the carbon footprint of her business. ShedLight Coffee is a micro-roastery by design. Though she has occasional help from her husband, Chris, Calatrello runs the show on her own, roasting organic, fair trade coffee beans with solar power and then delivering them to customers with her fully electric Mini Cooper. Impact — or lack thereof — is top of mind for Calatrello, who worries deeply about the state of our environment.

“I’m kind of prone to panic attacks and anxiety,” she admits, “and it’s driven by society and people and what we’re doing to this planet. I’ve always been able to find peace in nature, but at some point, there won’t be any nature left for anybody to find peace.” 

Calatrello’s roastery journey began during the COVID-19 pandemic. A longtime coffee enthusiast, she was already spending generously on artisan beans each month and using her spare time to read about coffee. Following a lay-off from a job she was disenchanted with anyway, Calatrello decided it was time to heed the signals the universe seemed to be sending, and she purchased an inexpensive coffee roasting machine.

“I roasted a few batches in that thing and we were like, ‘Wow, this coffee is not only drinkable, it’s really good,’” she recalls. “From there, I wanted to get a little more granular and have more control, so I started researching what types of roasters would be suitable for a home environment.” 

She settled on an electric roaster from Aillio that uses induction heating and is praised for its ease of use and precise heat control. Calatrello already had the shed and solar panels, so, after a few months of roasting beans for family and friends to hone her process, the wheels started turning and the ShedLight concept came to fruition. 

Through her small-scale operation, Calatrello has found opportunities to gently educate those around her, both on coffee quality and individual changes for the better. Whether it’s advising a neighbor on how to recycle Nespresso capsules rather than throwing them away, or turning another friend on to the joys of a French press instead of the pod-based machine they used previously, it’s not a stretch to say that Calatrello is — excuse the pun — shedding light on an everyday habit.

“If you can change just one person’s actions, that’s something,” says Calatrello. “I mean, even our little Mini Cooper is just one tiny electric car, but it’s one less gas-powered car on the road.” 

Small changes do add up, which is why ShedLight coffee beans also come packaged in compostable, biodegradable bags that are stamped with algae-based ink. And when it comes to future growth of her business, Calatrello isn’t trying to take over the coffee industry. It all comes back to that tiny footprint and being a force for good. (So, for now, only the lucky folks in San Diego can enjoy ShedLight Coffee.)

“The focus has never been to earn a ton of money doing this,” she says. “It’s really about earning enough to be able to make meaningful donations to charities we care about, and to have the availability to give our own time back to charitable organizations locally.”  

Calatrello acknowledges the privilege of being able to run a business that prioritizes purpose over profit, and she’s well aware that life’s twists and turns can be unpredictable. For now, though, she’ll be in her shed, roasting beans with sunlight and a smile.

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Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander
Summer Rylander is a freelance travel journalist writing on food, culture, and conservation. Her work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Reader’s Digest, Lonely Planet, Adventure.com, and more. She’s based in Nuremberg, Germany and you can find her at summerrylander.com.

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