After opening its newest cafe in downtown Muskegon, Aldea Coffee has big plans to make Muskegon and Muskegon Heights an epicenter of the country’s sustainable coffee culture—including significantly expanding its roasting operations in Muskegon Heights and shipping the coffee it sources from independent farmers and roasts locally across the state and country.
“I’d love it if people all across the United States are ordering Aldea Coffee and saying, ‘This great coffee comes from this amazing town called Muskegon, Michigan,’” said Andrew Boyd, who co-owns Aldea Coffee with Jeremy Miller.
The coming expansion is multi-tiered, including Aldea growing its roasting operations at its facility at 2709 Peck St. in Muskegon Heights. Just this week, Aldea roasted its 100,000th pound of coffee, which it currently sources from farmers in Honduras and sends to its cafes in downtown Muskegon and Grand Haven, as well as other local spots like Toast ‘N Jams and Steak ‘N Egger in Muskegon and Paisley Pig in Grand Haven. With its roasting growth, the company plans to expand its wholesale operations and sell to venues throughout Michigan and, ultimately, the country.
Too, Aldea plans to debut a third cafe at its Muskegon Heights production space—potentially by this spring—and, at the same location, open what essentially amounts to a coffee center that would do everything from offer coffee tastings for businesses and other local organizations, train individuals from throughout the region on how to use a variety of brewing equipment, repair businesses’ coffee equipment, and more.
“We hope it’s a coffee center that establishes a culture of great coffee in West Michigan; it gives people everything they need to accomplish it,” Boyd said.
At the Muskegon Heights space, which is located just across from Muskegon Heights City Hall on Peck Street, Aldea plans to fix up the facade and put windows in before opening a “nice coffee bar” that will include both indoor and outdoor seating.
It’s a coming expansion that, for Boyd, Miller and their team of employees, is as much about their company’s growth as it is about creating a more sustainable world: a world in which small farmers can make a living—through the nonprofit Aldea Development, Aldea Coffee currently works with about 20 coffee farmers from Honduras; in which businesses and customers can support areas that have been marginalized and disenfranchised—whether that’s in Central America, Muskegon Heights or elsewhere; in which we can all prioritize people and the environment over profit and unsustainable economic growth.
“This has never been, in any way, ‘Let’s start a roastery and sell coffee because it’s a successful business model,’” Boyd said. “It’s: how do we ourselves find a way to really explore how we can have an appropriate impact on the world? And how do we help other people be in the position to do that themselves?”
For Boyd, Miller and their team, Aldea’s growth must be focused around people—the farmers they work with, the communities in which they’re located—La Unión, Lempira, Honduras, Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, and Grand Haven—and their employees and customers.
Every year, Aldea Development—a nonprofit that Boyd helped to launch in 2009 and which works to empower the farmers and families of La Unión, Lempira, Honduras through microloans, market access, community partnership projects, and more—purchases coffee beans from about 30 farmers. Between 15 and 20 of those farmers’ beans are served through Aldea Coffee, both in their cafes and through wholesale, and Aldea is planning to expand its operations to working with farmers in Tanzania this coming year. (The nonprofit also annually provide about 200 microloans to farmers in Honduras and provides hundreds of agricultural trainings, among other initiatives.)
“We plan on doing more of that in the future—finding unique locations to bring coffee from,” Boyd said. “Instead of working through an importer, it’s a direct contact for us. It’s a slower process because we go to the place and spend time developing relationships with the farmers.”
From the beginning, Aldea has paid its farmers prices that are “quite a bit above market rate,” Boyd said.
“What we’ve been doing has become very important because coffee prices over the past two years have really fallen through the floor, and it’s left a lot of small, mid-range farmers in bad or desperate situations,” Boyd said.
A rise in global production, particularly in Brazil, and the devaluation of Brazil’s currency, have caused the cost of coffee beans to plummet in recent years, despite the fact that American coffee consumption is approaching record highs. A pound of wholesale coffee beans now costs less than $1 on New York’s Intercontinental Exchange, a price that hasn’t been seen in more than a decade. In Honduras, where Aldea’s farmers live and work, the drop in prices too is a result of five years of droughts that have devastated crops throughout the Central American country.
“Just because the market drops, we don’t pay less,” Boyd said. “We’re something our farmers can count on, and it’s why we get such a great product from them. It’s the reason a lot of the farmers have been able to keep going and keep their farms alive.”
The close relationships Aldea has with its farmers translates to the kind of world they hope to see play out in their cafes, and among anyone drinking their coffee: an understanding of the history of the cup of coffee in their hands and its impact on our world.
“The true power in the U.S. is how much we consume, and we have so much power through that,” Boyd said. “Every single day when we wake up, if we can choose how to spend our dollars, that is where true change starts to come about.”
Much of that change—that intentionality and ethics behind consumption—comes from people knowing the stories of those making the goods they’re consuming and being able to connect with them, Boyd explained. For the owners and employees at Aldea, that means their customers, at the very least, seeing the names of the farmers on the bags of coffee beans sold at their establishments—and, ideally, wanting to further learn about the people who spend their days in the Honduran fields, growing the beans that have made their way to West Michigan.
Those farmers include people like Pedro Mejia, the proud father of five children who loves cheering on Real Madrid and Olympia soccer matches—and whose family has been involved in coffee production in Honduras for decades. Breaking the glass ceiling in the male-dominated landscape that is coffee farming, Sara Juárez, who too works with Aldea, bought her own field at the age of 22 and has been harvesting, processing and selling her own coffee for the past four decades. Roland Cárcamo, another farmer who partners with Aldea, would help his dad in the coffee fields while growing up; he now has been producing coffee for the past 17 years and has his own fields.
The stories behind the farmers, their farms, and their communities are ones that connect us to our world at large, to the way our decisions impact those thousands of miles from us. And, yet, despite the distance between us, these stories are reminders that the world is filled with humans much like ourselves: people who work hard for their families, who want lives of peace and security, who love the nature around them and want to be able to remain in the communities in which they’ve grown up.
“They’re doing amazing work,” Boyd said of the farmers. “The funny thing for me is, in 2009 or even 2011, we didn’t start Aldea Development to work with coffee; we started it to give microloans. Coffee wasn’t even on my radar, but we learned how important coffee is to the region. This is what we’re passionate about: having an impact on a community.”