Roasting coffee isn't just part of a day's work here at Alterra. For our roasting department, it's a bit of an obsession. Our crew puts in long hours roasting, testing, tasting, and adjusting to make sure that every pound of coffee we sell reflects our commitment to quality and freshness. But rather than just tell everyone about this devotion to coffee-greatness, we invite customers to take a front-row seat inside our Humboldt Blvd. café and watch the roasters at work. You can look on as green coffee beans are loaded into the roasters from burlap bags and transformed by heat, precision, and a lot of quirky enthusiasm into the flavorful brew you sip from your mug.

Finding the right roasts for each variety of coffee means more than just cooking up some beans. First, we roast small batches very lightly in a sample roaster to reveal the inherent flavors and complexity of the beans. Based on this sample, we can then tailor the full-scale roast to bring out the best characteristics. The roasting crew manually operates our vintage Probat drum roasters, yielding production batches that range in size from 35 to 200 pounds. Known for their ability to roast evenly, drum-style roasters have become the darlings of the specialty coffee world. We have outfitted both of our Probat roasters with modern controls and heat sources to deliver all the flavor potential of our carefully sourced coffee. By making subtle adjustments to the temperature, timing, and length of the roasting process, we can regulate the rate at which the beans absorb heat, and thus many aspects of flavor. With all of these variables to consider, it's no wonder the folks in our Roasting Department never stop discussing the finer points of all things coffee.

Our roasters constantly gather new information to pass on to the rest of the Alterra staff. By traveling to the farms where our coffees are grown, attending trade conferences and events, and meeting other coffee enthusiasts from around the world, they are able to provide us with great descriptions of the latest coffees and improved techniques. Their passion for roasting coffee is evident in the consistence and quality of our beans and the eagerness our entire staff has for sharing fresh, quality coffee with all of our customers.

Fair Trade

In less than a decade, Fair Trade has rapidly evolved into a widespread consumer-based movement - one in which Alterra is proud to actively participate. Designed to help small-scale farmers in developing countries earn more money for products that are consumed in the developed world, Fair Trade is a business model that promotes direct trade linkages, higher incomes and standards of living, and positive socio-economic development.

To participate in Fair Trade, small-scale farmers must organize themselves into cooperatives and request an inspection to ensure that they satisfy the conditions for Fair Trade certification. Once they are certified, the cooperatives are eligible to sell through the Fair Trade market and receive at least the Fair Trade minimum price, thereby bypassing the intermediaries (called "coyotes" in Latin America) who traditionally have taken advantage of them. To secure these prices, however, they need to find buyers who are willing to pay that amount. Just having Fair Trade certification is not a guarantee that the cooperatives will earn more money.

The Fair Trade system first started in The Netherlands in the late 1980s and is now common in many Western European countries, however it didn't formally take root in the U.S. until 1998 with the founding of TransFair USA as the sole third-party certifying and monitoring agency for Fair Trade in the U.S.

Alterra became a licensed roaster in 2002 and continues to work closely with TransFair in promoting Fair Trade at the local, regional, and national levels. Our involvement with Fair Trade dates back to 1998, however, when we initiated a long-term relationship with the Kulaktik cooperative in Chiapas, Mexico, under Fair Trade terms.

Alterra currently sources eight Fair Trade Certified single-origin coffees (including decafs) and ranks among the top 12 roasters in the country based on total volume of Fair Trade Certified coffees purchased. For more information, please visit TransFair's Web site:


imageAlthough coffee has been grown and processed organically for centuries, certified organic coffee is still a relatively new phenomenon. It's produced by farmers who not only refrain from using chemical pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, or fertilizers but also emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Before the coffee can be marked as "organic," however, the farmers go through a three-year process to obtain certification that must be renewed annually.

Over the past decade the popularity of organic foods has exploded, pushing what was once a niche market quickly into the mainstream. As such, the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced a set of standards in 2002 that govern the production, processing, and labeling of food products classified as "organic." Since we roast and sell a large volume of organic coffees - as well as package a variety of organic teas - Alterra is certified as a processor under the USDA's National Organic Program (NOP).