Alabama’s New Wave of Ground Coffee

October 12, 2012 | By | Comments (21)
Alabama Ground Coffee

Photo by Robbie Caponetto

The state has a buzzworthy crop of passionate roasters. Here, we filter out our favorites.

Higher Ground Roasters – Leeds

Glenn Smith, Alex Varner, and Josh Kelly opened the first coffee roaster in the Birmingham area when they founded Higher Ground 10 years ago. From the start, the partners decided all of their coffee would be made from beans that were certified organic, fair trade, and shade-grown. Now they encourage visitors to come by to learn the fine art of bean-to-bag coffeemaking.

Try a Cup: Higher Ground’s Magic City Blend is a medium-roasted, slightly sweet coffee made from a combination of several Central American beans ($10.99/12-ounce bag). 8110 Parkway Drive;

Seeds Coffee Company – Birmingham

Seeds’ head roaster Jeff Huey roasted his first batch of beans in a stove-top popcorn popper about a year ago. Then, joined by four friends, Jeff did some research and reading of coffee grinder reviews, bought a small-batch roaster, moved it to the back room of a real estate office, and opened Seeds, Birmingham’s only nonprofit coffee roaster, in March. This month, in addition to making organic coffees using only fair-trade beans, Jeff and his crew will also start offering housemade scones for breakfast ($5) as well as a rotating lunch menu.

Try a Cup: The organic blueberry-jammed Ethiopia Harrar is a smooth way to start the morning ($12/pound). 174 Oxmoor Road; or 205/240-8030

Alabama's Octane Coffee

Photo by Robbie Caponetto

Octane Coffee – Homewood

The state’s newest roaster will open later this year on Homewood’s Central Avenue as Brett Burton and Brian Wilson (manager and head roaster of the town’s popular Primavera Coffee Roasters) merge their business with the Atlanta-based Octane Coffee houses. In addition to freshly roasted javas, Alabama’s Octane will also feature a cafe offering draft beers, classic cocktails, and small plates featuring appetizers such as bacon fat caramel corn ($3).

Try a Cup: The floral Guatemalan comes from the country where Brett learned his craft working on a coffee farm ($12.99/12-ounce bag). 2821 Central Avenue; or 205/969-1177

Toomer’s Coffee Roasters – Auburn

Sandy and Trish Toomer learned to love freshly roasted coffee while living in Costa Rica. “We were working as missionaries and lived in Costa Rica for a year taking language training,” Trish says. “There, we discovered great coffees, and when we moved back to the U.S. we couldn’t find any as good.” So the Toomers (no relation to the family that owns the famous drugstore) settled in Auburn and started roasting and selling their own. “We buy as many beans as we can from small family, tribal, and community co-op farms in Central America and Asia,” Trish says. “We like knowing the people who supply our beans. We call it ‘friendship coffee.’ ”

Try a Cup: Made from a blend of three kinds of Arabica beans, the dark Auburn City Blend gives the day an orange-and-blue glow ($13.99/pound). 1100 South College Avenue, Suite 102; or 334/329-9852

Springhill Coffee Roasters – Mobile

As soon as Van and Tomi Sue Rusling saw the 100-year-old Victorian house in Mobile’s Springhill neighborhood, they knew they’d found the perfect place for their coffee business. (Sadly, Van passed away in 2005.) Now working with local roast master Alan Tolson, Tomi Sue roasts hundreds of pounds of beans a week in one room of the restored home and offers coffees, espresso-based drinks, and teas, as well as homemade muffins, scones, salads, and sandwiches in the Carpe Diem Coffee & Tea Co. Cafe, which occupies the rest of building. “We also sell our roasted beans to fine restaurants around the South,” Tomi Sue says.

Try a Cup: Grown at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, the peaberry coffee bean gives Springhill’s Tanzanian Peaberry blend a sweet, soft flavor ($15/pound). 4072 Old Shell Road; or 251/304-0448

The Kaffeeklatsch – Huntsville

When Grant and Kathy Heath moved to Huntsville in 1976, the Rocket City was mainly fueled by bad coffee. So they rented an empty building, installed a classic 1929 Jabez Burns roaster, and opened the city’s first coffeehouse. These days, Kaffeeklatsch (“in German it means a social gathering around coffee, or literally ‘coffee gossip,’ ” Grant explains) offers coffees from around the world as well as 50 varieties of loose teas.

Try a Cup: Kathy loves the medium-bodied Costa Rican ($17.25/pound). 103 Jefferson Street; or 256/539-1636

Alabama's Octane Coffee

Photo by Robbie Caponetto


  1. Cà Phê Nguyên Chất

    I live in Viet Nam with “cafe sua da”. What types (sources) of coffee beans is the best for me….?

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  12. Kirk

    Hey that’s awesome! Two roasters in the Birmingham area taking the direct trade route. It’s a big deal – I wonder why none of the local media has done a story on it?

    October 19, 2012 at 7:47 am
  13. Andrew

    Red Cat is not the only ones. Seeds just got back from Guatemala doing the same thing…meeting farmers, learning from them, and buying direct.

    October 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm
  14. Kirk

    Hmmm, there are definitely some gaps here. The Red Cat in Birmingham is the only roaster in the state setting up direct-trade relationships with the farms. They actually go to the countries, visit the farms, and ship back thousands of lbs of the beans that they choose. That’s really the next wave of coffee roasting, to by-pass the importers.

    October 17, 2012 at 4:44 pm
  15. Adam

    Seriously, how is Mama Mocha’s not on here?? And there’s FinerGrind Coffee in Birmingham. Two of the highest quality roasters in the state, and somehow not on the list…

    October 16, 2012 at 8:11 am
  16. Leah Johnson

    I absolutely love Carpe Diem in Mobile! I always make sure to make a trip over there when I’m in town. It’s very interesting to hear the history behind Springhill Coffee Roasters and they definitely deserve to be on this list!

    October 15, 2012 at 9:24 pm
  17. Laura

    How did Mama Mocha’s not make this list?!? Amazing roaster in Auburn’s southside. It may not have been around as long as Toomer’s, but Mama Mocha’s is much higher quality.

    October 15, 2012 at 7:40 pm
  18. Michael Butterworth

    I’ve heard great things about Octane in ATL. It’s awesome that Alabama has one now too!

    October 14, 2012 at 7:49 pm
  19. George Ireland

    I’ve been roasting my own coffee now for about 6 years and love it. I own a small, personal, roaster capable of roasting about 1/2 pound at a time. A lot of time went into researching the various home sized roasters on the market before I took the plunge and bought an upper end model. When it comes to coffee, you get what you pay for so don’t go cheap. Finding a good supplier to purchase your green coffee beans from also requires some time and research as well. Home roasting gives me a chance to try various coffees from all over the world; I really love the coffee beans produced in Yemen.

    October 14, 2012 at 8:35 am
  20. Jon

    Mama Mocha’s in Auburn deserves to be on this list.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:29 pm
  21. phil1960

    Being a coffee lover and a employee of Starbucks I enjoy hearing about new roasters in the southeast. Wishing all the above mentioned businesses good luck in their ventures.

    October 12, 2012 at 1:30 pm

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