Alma Coffee roasts beans with love
Imagine taking a journey to follow the coffee you drink all the way back to its origin. In November 2019, I trekked to Honduras with Harry and Leticia Hutchins on a mission to capture the story of Alma Coffee. Walking between thick rows of coffee trees in Finca Terrerito and listening to the rustle of the branches as ripe coffee cherries were plucked and tossed into baskets, I witnessed the care that Leticia’s father, Al Lopez, and his team put into every inch of their coffee farm. “We’re trying to make sure that the farm lasts another fifty generations and leaves the planet a little better than when it started,” Harry explains.
Tucked snugly amid the hills of Corquin, Honduras, Finca Terrerito is a fifth-generation coffee farm that boasts peaceful acres of shade grown coffee. Nothing is wasted here. The skins of coffee cherries are reused as organic fertilizer. Picking and weeding are done by hand as a deliberate effort to improve lives by employing more workers. And thanks to recent investments, Finca T is one of the few coffee farms that grows, processes, and exports its coffee, making it easy to keep a sharp eye on quality. This farm is where Alma Coffee began.
Following a move from Georgia to Chicago, Harry and Leticia both began impressive careers in corporate accounting. After realizing an unfulfilled desire to make the world a better place, the newlyweds started rethinking their plans and traveled to their family coffee farm in Honduras to learn as much as they could. “Immediately we just fell in love with it,” Leticia remembers. “From the very first trip we came back and started our business plan and said, ‘How can we take this one step further? How do we bring our coffee to consumers and educate them along the way?’”
Traceability and transparency are difficult with the average bag of coffee. Because coffee typically passes through the hands of so many middlemen, it’s hard to fully know the quality and ethics of what we are sipping. This is where Alma stands out. Direct-trade coffee eliminates the middleman and heightens the focus on quality and excellence. By bringing coffee straight from their family farms, Harry and Leticia are hands-on throughout the entire process. “What I love the most is seeing the smile when people think that it tastes so different,” Leticia tells me. “It proves that all the work that hundreds of people involved from the farm to the café are doing is worth it.”
When choosing where to grow their small business, Harry and Leticia decided to plant their roots in the South. “We settled on Cherokee County because we met here, went to high school here, and both our parents live here,” Leticia shares. “We knew we’d have a good support system, and we’re very familiar with the area.” Knowing the entrepreneurial culture of Cherokee County gave Harry and Leticia confidence that the community would be supportive. “The good thing about Atlanta, too, is the one-way flight to Honduras,” Harry adds, alluding to frequent trips back and forth.
It wasn’t long before the first shipment of green coffee rolled up to Alma Coffee Roastery in Canton, Georgia. “We have the environment open so [you] can see everything,” Harry says. “To walk into a place and see the whole facility is dedicated to making the best cup of coffee I think is pretty cool for folks. Most people don’t know how it was roasted, or even what ‘roasted’ is.” That’s really cool for me, opening their eyes that there’s a whole supply chain they’re supporting, and a lot of work goes into it.” Leticia adds the importance of honoring the generations before them who endured poverty and struggle. “Now consumers are actually aware of our family and all that hard work from hundreds of years ago.”
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Every morning I open my bag of Alma Coffee, and the words “tear here and breathe deep'' prompt me to take a luxurious sniff. I don’t wonder where my coffee came from. I’ve witnessed how Finca Terrerito and Alma Coffee are intentionally changing the narrative around specialty coffee by improving lives, practicing sustainability, and providing extraordinary coffee. “It’s a labor of love, with a lot of passion, where everyone is striving to make the best cup of coffee. And not only the best cup of coffee but also a coffee that’s going to really make a difference,” Harry says. “We’re connected to the customers, and we’re also connected to the farm, so we can make real change a lot easier.”
In Spanish, Alma means “soul.” That’s exactly what Alma brings to coffee, a more soulful approach to a coveted daily ritual.