Friends of Short’s: Higher Grounds

Higher-Grounds-Logo“Burly coffee → Burly beer.” Those are the first notes on my notepad from the first Friends of Short’s blog post in recorded history. Ever. With the aim of spreading love for some of the other great companies we feel lucky enough to know, a natural (pause for alliteration) first friend to feature was Higher Grounds Trading Company, our co-collaborators for Cup a Joe Coffee Creme Stout.

On a snowy winter day, the Short’s Marketing Team packed into the old family station wagon and made the trip down to the Big City. Across the courtyard from Building 50 of the Village at Grand Traverse Commons in Traverse City, it only takes one step inside the coffee bar to feel the warmth of a true community hub of activity. A sensory explosion marries scents of the freshest roasted and brewed coffee with a seemingly endless palette of color in every direction.

After a moment of orienting ourselves in the welcoming atmosphere, the Short’s crew was met by the similarly warm disposition of Higher Grounds Co-Founder and “Chief Instigator” Chris Treter. Chris started Higher Grounds in 2002 through the formation of relationships with coffee growers around the world in hopes of stimulating their communities while bringing the highest quality coffee to ours. Higher Grounds is now one of twenty-four roasters in a co-op throughout the US banded together to multiply buying power and ensure fair wages for dozens of coffee growers.

In the space that had been the laundry building of the old state hospital, any scents of fabric softener have long ago been overtaken by the browning beans in Higher Grounds’ Diedrich drum roaster. Workers move deliberately around the floor staging “green” (unroasted) beans the size of your pinkie nail, checking progress in the roast, and cooling finished beans. Their commitment to the environment is present everywhere, from the composting of discarded bean membranes to the Ruth-powered bicycle that delivers all coffee locally to Traverse City (over 95,000 lbs at the time of our visit!).

A cupping led by Director of Marketing and Quality Assurance Jennifer Yeatts took us through the aroma and flavor profiles of organic coffee from around the world. Anthropomorphizing the coffees along the way, Jennifer directed a conversation of fruity undertones in aromas, acidic sweetness on the palate, and mellow bitterness on the finish. (Note: this coffee neophyte relied heavily on the Flavor Wheel graciously hanging on the wall beside the tasting table).

Higher Grounds sets itself apart from most every company in the world with its focused involvement in the betterment of its communities. This involvement is manifest in charitable giving, support for local non-profit organizations, the founding of On the Ground, and countless other efforts. While there’s only one physical location, spending time with HG staff gives visitors a sense that they are connected, active members in communities (plural). They have navigated effectively supporting local in a globalized world.

On our tour, Chris mentioned that “the global economy has made everyone our neighbors”. We at Short’s feel very fortunate to share this earthly neighborhood with Higher Grounds.




Higher Grounds 9Raised in the heartland of Upstate New York, Matt Gacioch began a westward migration that began with an undergraduate education at the University of Michigan, headed to an introductory stint in the craft beer industry in colorful Colorado, on to a teaching position in rural Indonesia, and back around the world to Short’s Brewing Co. He splits time between customer service emails, waste water spreadsheets, web content development, working logistics of the recycling program, and everything in between, all from the comfort of his yoga ball in the conference room. When not nestled up to the warm glow of his computer screen, you can find him running, skiing, or simply existing outside with a Pande nearby.