Where the mountains meet the clouds

Cloudland Coffee finds a niche in the booming coffee world

Kristina Madh, Founder and Head Roaster of Cloudland Coffee
Photo by suzanne pacey/staff
Kristina Madh, Founder and Head Roaster of Cloudland Coffee
Photo by suzanne pacey/staff

Like many “accidental” entrepreneurs, Kristina Madh never envisioned her talent in creating the perfect cup of coffee would expand beyond her kitchen. Her growing list of clients thought otherwise.

“This really started out as a hobby,” said Madh, who operates Cloudland Coffee from her home base in Johns Creek. “I became interested in roasting my own coffee because it was hard to find a coffee that was freshly roasted and not too dark.”

She began experimenting with roasting techniques in her own kitchen, drawing upon the experience she acquired working in a coffee shop in college. Soon, Madh perfected the intricacies of roasting the temperamental beans, and the idea of a possible career began to take shape.

A graduate of Eastern Michigan University, with an MBA from the University of South Florida, Madh had the business acumen to take on the challenge of small business ownership. She worked in the financial field till the economy crashed in 2008, then redirected her energy to raising her two children.

In 2012, the family moved from Tampa to Atlanta, and was drawn to the Johns Creek area for its great schools, community feel and proximity to mountains and lakes. Once settled with her busy husband, two kids and two dogs, Madh faced a career crossroad: resuming her climb up the corporate ladder, or trying something entirely new.

“I decided I would pursue starting my own business instead of going back into the banking world,” Madh said. “Ultimately I started Cloudland Coffee.”
She named the company after her favorite state park, Cloudland Canyon in the northwest corner of Georgia, as well as after Arabica coffee, grown in the high altitudes where  the mountains meet the clouds.

Madh secured a Cottage Food License and launched the business by selling directly to friends and neighbors. She learned all she could about the world of coffee, taking classes in roasting and brewing, networking through industry events such as the Coffee Fest and the Global Coffee Expo, and becoming a member of the Specialty Coffee Association.

Coffee is big business – the average person drinks two cups a day – with a growing number of consumers searching for options beyond the industry giants.  
“Business starting picking up quickly because I think people really noticed how much better freshly roasted coffee tastes compared to the coffee that has been sitting on the shelf for a while,” Madh said.

Soon her “little home roaster” could not keep up with the demands for Cloudland Coffee, especially with her move to the Alpharetta Farmer’s Market. Madh purchased a commercial roaster for her home, then an even bigger one when she moved the company out of her home kitchen into shared kitchen space at Prep ATL.

She is a mainstay at the Alpharetta Farmer’s Market, which operates in in downtown Alpharetta from April through October. The market has basically become Cloudland Coffee’s storefront where she interacts directly with her customers. During the off season, she takes orders on the company’s website  (www.cloudlandcoffee.com) and tends to her growing list of corporate clients.

Madh only uses beans responsibly sourced by importers through programs including Fair Trade and Women Coffee Producers. She says more consumers want to know where their food is coming from.

“Ultimately, in order for my business to be successful, I need to offer a high quality coffee. The fair trade and sustainable farming practices play an important part in helping the farmers benefit financially, [allows] them to purchase better equipment to produce higher quality products, make improvements to their communities and provide more for their families.”

She says this approach is a “win-win” for the farmers and the environment, and especially the consumers.

“Most of the coffee that my importers bring in comes from smaller lots or cooperatives of small farmers,” she added.

Her most popular coffees are from Ethiopia, and she also uses beans from Colombia, Ethiopia, Sumatra, Costa Rica and Mexico.

The number of women involved in the coffee industry is growing, with an industry group formed that works exclusively with women-owned farms and cooperatives in various countries, including Sumatra, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil and others.

“There are a lot of women producers in these regions,” Madh said. “Some may just own an acre or two, or manage a farm. The WCP (Women Coffer Producer) Sumatra that I have been offering comes from 282 coffee producers, all of whom are women.”

Looking ahead, Madh has grand plans for the future of Cloudland Coffee.
“I would love to be known as the ‘Official Coffee Roaster for the Alpharetta/ Johns Creek area’,” she mused, noting she is expanding her wholesale business segment to get into more restaurants and cafes.

“It would be great to see my sign on several restaurants and cafes that says ‘proudly serving local coffee roasted by Cloudland Coffee Company’,’ she laughed, noting the company will have a presence in a downtown bakery beginning this month.

For someone surrounded by the aroma of coffee and roasting beans all day, Madh said her own coffee drinking habits are actually quite limited.

“Really just one, maybe two cups in the morning. Sometimes I will have the occasional cappuccino in the afternoon. Shocking, right?” she said, laughing. ■


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