When Alma puts its mind to something, it also puts its heart and soul — or Alma in Spanish — into it. And in 2018, Leticia Hutchins, her husband Harry Hutchins, and her father Al Lopez, "Decided to further what the generations before us had started and were never able to do — delve into coffee roasting. Our mission is bringing you the freshest coffee straight from our farms, to our roastery, to your cup!"
Alma Coffee does just that, by extending its fourth and fifth generation coffee farming legacy into truly extraordinary coffee. We sat down with one of its founders, Leticia, to find out how — and why — Alma does it.
Where does the name Alma come from?
"We chose the name Alma because it means soul in Spanish. The whole idea that we have put the entirety of our hearts and soul into the business, not just from us but also from the many generations before us.
You can find heart imagery in our branding that pays homage to the heart and soul aspect of our business. Our staple coffees' names play off the romantic theme, too! Soulmate, for example, was the most perfect name for our medium roast, the first roast we came up with!"
How does your community impact Alma?
"Our community is EVERYTHING for us here at Alma, both in Georgia and in Honduras! We lived in Chicago for six years and moved to North Georgia to start Alma simply because of how amazing the community is here.
We are located in Cherokee County and the entrepreneurial spirit — along with the large focus on supporting small business — continues to amaze and inspire us every single day! In Honduras, our family has lived in the same town we have our coffee farms for decades. The village is essentially one big family: everyone helps each other out and has each other’s back in a way that is truly unique!"
Family is at the core of Alma, how does that shape your brand?
"Family has shaped our brand from the very beginning. We are 100 percent family owned and we love it that way! Alma Coffee is an extension of our legacy and the five generations before us.
When you enjoy a cup of our coffee, you are joining our family. Our family, from the farms to our roastery, have nurtured those beans from the moment they were planted."
What is Alma's approach to sourcing?
"Our focus is to source direct. Apart from our own farms, we have a program that we call 'Alma-doptions.' In an Alma-doption, we commit to purchasing a farmers crop above market at a livable and sustainable wage.
We personally know coffee farmers who have abandoned their farms simply because they can’t feed their kids or put shoes on their feet, so we decided early on to implement Alma-doptions because we knew changing the industry as a whole goes beyond just us. Without change, the industry is not sustainable."
Why is sustainability so important to you?
"As coffee farmers, we see firsthand the effects of climate change and how it effects our crop. In 2018, we had such little rainfall that coffee cherries were drying up before they were even picked. We ended up losing about 20 percent of our production due to this. In 2020, on the other hand, we had so much rainfall that the coffee cherries were bursting and splitting while still on the trees.
These factors from the earth are uncontrollable but completely affect the yield and taste of our harvest. We are as proactive as we can be to protect our farms from mother nature, but it truly is unpredictable. We work on being as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. Down at the farm, we re-use as many coffee byproducts as possible. On the US side, we roast on a Loring Smart Roaster, which is extremely environmentally friendly."
Tell us about Loralai!
"Loralai, our Loring Smart Roaster, is one of the MVPs here at Alma! Before we even had our roastery, we attended the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and took time to learn about all the commercial coffee roasters available.
There are so many great options out there, but we ultimately chose Loring because it is extremely environmentally friendly. According to Loring, their roasters emit up to 80 perrcent less emissions than other commercial coffee roasters. As farmers, we’ve seen climate change firsthand, so this was a biggie for us!
Loring also manufactures their roasters out of Santa Rosa, California. Being USA Veteran-owned with Al Lopez having served in the US Military, we prefer to support USA made when possible.
We were also very fortunate to have friends in the industry who let us shadow their roasting operations. We got to roast first hand on various different roasters, and the Loring blew us away! We wanted the roaster to have a California Coachella vibe in honor of her birth place, so we went with Loralai — plus it sounds similar to Loring!"
How does Alma name its blends?
"Coming up with names is DIFFICULT! We knew we wanted a theme amongst all our core roasts, and we explored so many categories: cocktail terms, Honduran terms, Spanish words, family names, and so many more.
Finally, one of us wondered 'How about playing on the love theme and going with romantic names?' It was genius. We started naming off a few, and then ‘Soulmate’ came up! The perfect name for our medium roast — our first ever roast — and the roast we always recommend our customers start with. Now, we have a list of names just waiting to be released once we have the perfect coffees for them.
A quick rule of thumb when navigating our offerings: if a coffee has a romantic name, it’s from our farms; if a coffee has a name on it, then its a direct trade partnership with the farmers name, paying homage to the grower behind that coffee."
Where do you see yourselves 5 years from now?
"It is crazy to look back and think of the growth that we have had in a relatively short time. Although, for Harry and I, it sometimes seems like it’s been 20 years not two.
Our five year vision is not so much about us, but instead the industry as a whole. In five years we hope to see the coffee industry move to a point where most coffee consumers are questioning where their coffee is coming from, and that they feel like they have a direct relationship with coffee farmers as well!"
What are you most excited about right now?
"Well, as I’m writing this I’m most excited about this amazing partnership with Trade! In addition to this new partnership, I am most excited to be able to go back to my coffee farms again. Due to COVID-19, I haven’t been able to visit in over a year and it has been weird so the least.
We FaceTime with the team down there almost daily, but it’s simply not the same. This year we decided to invest in rebuilding some of our processing mills and actually began building an exporting facility. We’ve got equipment coming from all parts of the world to our small village in Corquin, Honduras. Taking this task on amid a global pandemic has had more challenges than we could have ever imagined, but sadly I have only been able to see photos and videos of all the amazing progress being made. I can’t wait to see it in person!"
How has this past year impacted Alma?
"One hundred percent it brought our team closer together. When COVID hit we had the fight or flight situation occur, and we decided to fight. This was not only to survive as a startup, but also to continue the fight for coffee farmers everywhere who don’t have a voice. We pivoted quickly to improve our policies and procedures in every aspect of our business, and we are truly blessed to still be in operation after last year!"
— Leticia Hutchins, Owner and Founder, Alma Coffee