LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — It might look like just an old, wooden cabin, but the rustic building on Route 1 is hiding an invigorating secret: bags and bags of coffee beans that have been imported to the coast of Maine from growers in exotic lands like Colombia, Brazil and Ethiopia.
John Ostrand, the longtime coffee buyer who recently opened the Green Tree Coffee & Tea retail store and office building next door, knows his beans. His father was a buyer for Folgers Coffee, and he started working in the coffee business in 1979 in New York City, then went to Central America to work for coffee exporters 10 years later.
Now, Ostrand buys beans directly from the growers in what’s called the “green trade” and sells gourmet whole beans, roast, ground and flavored coffee to customers all over the country. Coffee is one of the most-traded commodities in the world after oil, Ostrand said, and it is a fascinating business.
“I was drawn to coffee,” Ostrand said. “Coffee’s not boring. It has a lot of dynamics and factors that are always changing the business model.”
The hunt for good coffee beans has taken Ostrand to some exotic locales. He moved to New Orleans from Costa Rica and there began Green Tree Coffee & Tea in 2002, mostly selling roasted, packaged coffee for the hotel market.
Even before Hurricane Katrina and its resulting devastation hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, Ostrand and his wife, Sara Ruffin, had decided to relocate north.
“There’s a fair amount of crime in New Orleans,” he said. “You hop out of Central America and go to New Orleans. It doesn’t necessarily get safer, and Maine is safer … We decided it would be nice to have a calmer life.”
Although their New Orleans home wasn’t badly damaged in the hurricane, the coffee stock was. A million pounds of coffee beans stored near the Industrial Canal in the Ninth Ward were “wiped out,” Ostrand said.
Otherwise, he said he has a relatively good Katrina story.
The couple’s Garden District home was located two feet above sea level. Though water gurgled out of the drains — “It was kind of freaky,” he said — the house itself was OK. Outside the doors, that wasn’t the case.
“It got pretty chaotic really quick,” Ostrand said. “The direness set in pretty quickly.”
They stayed for three weeks, helping to save neighborhood dogs until the police told people they had to leave.
“Katrina pushed me out of New Orleans, for sure,” he said. “It was the last straw.”
Now, part of the business is located in Slidell, La., and part in Lincolnville. Four employees work in each location, he said, but Maine hosts the organization’s only retail shop.
“We got lucky with this little spot,” he said. “When I saw it, I knew I wanted it. It was exactly what I was looking for.”
Every couple of days, coffee roaster and retail manager Abby Dwinnells roasts about 100 pounds of beans in the back of the remodeled antiques shop just south of Lincolnville Beach. The shop opened in February, and already it has garnered the attention of a “fair amount” of locals, Ostrand said.
The company’s signature Coastal Maine and Dog Friendly blends are available to buy at the retail shop and at a few other locations in the Belfast area, including the Purple Baboon and Harrigan’s Seafood Market. The company donates $1 a bag toward one of two charities — the Mobile Greyhound Adoption Center in Mobile, Ala., or the Coastal Mountains Land Trust in Camden.
Kristen Lindquist of the Coastal Mountains Land Trust said that her nonprofit organization is very appreciative of being singled out for support by the company — especially because the donated dollars are unrestricted, which allows them to be used where they’re most needed.
“We’re incredibly grateful and really honored,” Lindquist said. “They came to us with this idea, and we’re grateful that they wanted to support us in a really creative way.”
The land trust also is proud to be associated with such a quality local product, she said.
“They could have chosen to do this for anyone. They really recognize the value of what we do in this area and went out of their way to support it,” she said. “It’s no casual thing on their part to do this for us.”
Ostrand said he’s also interested in taking care of the land where the coffee beans are grown and the farmers who grow them. He carries a lot of shade-grown coffee, and much of the beans he imports are certified by the Rainforest Alliance and are organically grown.
“I believe in paying the farmer a fair price for the product,” he said.
He travels twice a year to buy coffee or to attend coffee conventions, and when he’s in Maine he’s closely connected to the market. On a recent day, a scrolling ticker on his computer screen showed the changing prices of coffee and other commodities. The phone rang, and Ostrand chatted for a few moments with the caller — and smiled when he hung up.
“I just sold 4,000 pounds of coffee in a 30-second phone call,” he said. “It’s a very fluid business. There’s always something going on.”
Green Tree Coffee & Tea is at 2456 Atlantic Highway in Lincolnville, just south of Lincolnville Beach. For information, call 706-7908 or visit www.greentreecoffee.com.