By Keysha Drexel
A Homewood coffee company has been recognized for its efforts to not only build community here in the Over the Mountain area but also for its commitment to ethical business practices as it works with coffee farmers around the world.
Jeff Huey, a partner in Seeds Coffee Co., was recently nominated for the 2013 Epoch Awards, which honor “unsung heroes” from around the world.
“These are the people that nobody sees and nobody really celebrates,” said Tim Abare of Atlanta, founder of the Epoch Awards. “This is about recognizing people who are open-handed with their times and their gifts and their talents.”
Huey, 33, was nominated for the award because of the work he has been doing since opening Seeds Coffee with some like-minded friends in March 2012. The company first opened as a coffee roaster but expanded in April of this year to include a cafe at 174 Oxmoor Road.
“I’m a pastor, so the idea for Seeds Coffee was birthed out of trying to find a way to build community among people who might be interested in religion and those that might not be, at this point,” he said. “We wanted a common place where people could get together, and we wanted to provide coffee in an ethical and sustainable way.”
Seeds Coffee roasts only fair trade coffee beans and seeks to protect coffee field laborers and their communities around the world, he said. Huey and his business partners travel the globe to share the message of the Bible and empower farmers, he said.
“We want to buy quality beans from people who are doing it the right way and support them in those efforts and at the same time, we want to honor our customers by offering them great coffee at the right price,” Huey said.
The pastor of Five Points Community Church grew up in Mobile in a church-going family but then distanced himself from his religious upbringing while studying mass communication at Auburn University.
“I kind of dropped out of church and went my own way, but in my fourth year of school at Auburn, I really had a calling to not pursue the avenue I was pursuing and to instead pursue Jesus,” he said. “My dream was to be a sports anchor, but I knew there was something more satisfying that I wanted to do.”
So when he was 21, Huey shocked his friends–and even himself a little bit–and enrolled in seminary school.
“A lot of my friends thought that I had lost my mind,” he said. “It was shocking to me that I did it because before, I wouldn’t have defined myself as a truth-seeker at all. I did lose some friends and got a few odd looks from my family, but I knew I had to live based on what I felt compelled to do. It’s kind of the same reason we started the coffee shop.”
The faith-defined purpose of the company is all about making people feel valued, Huey said, whether that means building friendships with customers at the cafe or with farmers halfway around the world.
“I guess it really is the Golden Rule in action,” he said. “The person serving you at the cafe cares about you and what’s going on in your day, and we care about the lives of the children of the farmers in Indonesia and want to make them better.”
Seeds Coffee offers coffee blends from Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Guatemala, Honduras and Brazil. Most of the coffee is bought from private farmers in those countries.
“Traveling around the globe to these coffee farms is a learning tool, spiritually and also in a business way. You really see that there are hundreds of people involved in bringing that pot of coffee to the table, and we want to make sure that these farmers are not getting run over by rich Americans who are only interested in making a profit,” he said.
Huey said he thinks the business’s early success comes down to being “honest and transparent and providing a welcoming environment people are attracted to while at the same time giving a great product.”
Huey, a self-described “coffee nerd,” wasn’t always crazy about java.
“Starbucks started getting popular in the late 1990s and even though I thought coffee was gross, I would go in there to study. I felt bad about not buying anything, so I would buy a sweet, syrupy coffee, but soon I couldn’t afford $4.50 for coffee every day.”
That’s when Huey decided to start drinking his coffee black.
“I would get a small black coffee and from there, I started to develop a taste and realize that you didn’t have to douse good coffee with a lot of creamer and sugar,” he said.
From there, Huey said, he sought to educate himself on the many ways coffee beans can be grown and processed and how that affects the taste of each cup.
“Now, I study coffee intensely–everything from how hot the water should be to brew it to the texture we get from grinding,” he said. “In Indonesia, for example, they grow and drink coffee in a completely different way than we do, and it’s been fun to learn about all those differences and nuances.”
At the moment, Huey said, he is loving an Ethiopian coffee that Seeds Coffee offers.
“It’s a really different tasting coffee in that it almost tastes like a tea,” he said. “It’s unique and very good.”
Huey said he was humbled to be among the 20 finalists for the 2013 Epoch Awards and was thrilled when those attending were served Seeds Coffee at the awards ceremony at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta on Oct. 28.
“It was a milestone experience that affirmed that we’re doing something that the Lord wants us to continue,” Huey said.
Plans are being made now to build an outdoor patio at the cafe and to create an outdoor playground for patrons’ children.
“We want to be the coffee shop that is community-driven and not one where you feel like you have to be hip to even come in,” Huey said.
Seeds Coffee is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m. and on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m. For more information, visit www.seedscoffee.com or call 259-6405.