Coffee empowers worldwide
Traverse coffee roaster helps coffee farmers and does good in his community. By Johnston M. Mitchell
Photography by Coreene Kreiser

Rich, deep scents arise when you enter the Higher Grounds Coffee Bar and Roastery in Traverse City. Aromas of espresso and brewing coffees waft through the open space. Beyond a wall of framed glass, artisans slowly pour green coffee beans into a roaster. As they cook and turn color, different scents emerge: the fruity sweet scents of lighter roasts, the earthy toast-like smells of darker roasts.

Located in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Higher Grounds ( occupies the former laundry facility of the Traverse City State Hospital. The popular coffee shop, with its recycled mugs and outdoor sandbox, is more than a local gathering place. It is the hub of an international coffee business with an operating philosophy to do good for the local community and for the coffee farmers around the world who grow its products.

Founder Chris Treter with wife Shauna and daughter Pearl outside the cafe.


For founder and owner Chris Treter, the virtue underlying his business philosophy began to take shape during his undergraduate studies at the University of Cincinnati. “Working at a day center for mental health forced me to think systematically about a values-driven life oriented by compassionate activism,” Treter said.

Higher Grounds coffee, for example, is served in a recycled ceramic cup rather than paper. Customers bring extra cups from home and leave them as part of the Higher Grounds community. A wooden box just outside the coffee bar says, “Please leave mugs here. Thank you — HG.”

After receiving a master’s degree in organizational management for social change from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, Treter accepted an internship in Chiapas, Mexico. Working in the Mayan culture, he witnessed the struggles of local coffee growers. Returning to Leland in 2002 to work for the advocacy-oriented Organic Consumers Association, a national nonprofit, Treter was encouraged to start his own coffee roasting operation. Back to Chiapas he went, returning to the United States with eight bags of coffee beans.

One Saturday morning, he set up a booth at the Traverse City market and sold four of the bags. “I realized then that a cooperative model targeting small-scale, indigenous coffee bean growers to distribute and sell their product in the U.S. could work,” Treter said.
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