By Jen Hurd
To me, The Coffeewoman is about relationships and building up one another. It’s understanding that we share similar struggles and can learn from each other’s journeys through the coffee industry. It’s seeing how we can bolster one another and come together, rather than getting stuck in our own negative thoughts and roadblocks.
After attending The Coffeewoman event in Seattle, Caryn Nelson (of Junior’s Roasted Coffee) and I were very excited about the idea of bringing an inclusive, energizing event to Portland. With Stephanie Backus and Libby Allen of Buckman Coffee Factory, we were thrilled to plan The Coffeewoman PDX. As it was so close to Ha
lloween, we decided to run this event in costume and encourage others to join us. We even had Jessica Ornelas (who designed the incredible Coffeewoman artwork) create some awesome Halloween themed posters for us
Fast-forward two months to October 27; The Coffeewoman PDX was in full swing. Joey and Cassy Gleason of Buckman Coffee Factory were generous enough to let us use their space for this event, and Joey was also our emcee. In addition to Buckman, she also owns Marigold Coffee Roasters and had some wonderful insight to share in her introduction.
“…Women are simply underrepresented in leadership and ownership roles in the coffee industry and in order to change this, we must first acknowledge it and find ways to work together to get more women in positions of power.”
“Having more women leaders in coffee translates to having more women leaders worldwide. We are lucky to be in a position and in an industry to increase women’s voices, not just in Portland, but in all kinds of countries where coffee is produced, traded, and enjoyed.
Our keynote speaker for the evening was Maria Botto. She has been running her family coffee farm (Nombre de Dios) in El Salvador since 2002. Maria is also the president of the El Salvador chapter and the Chapter Mentor Program Chair for the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and has been active in the microloan program for women coffee farmers. This microloan program is relatively new, but has allowed women coffee farmers access to funds during more difficult seasons, has helped cover children’s school fees, an
d promoted an attitude of leadership for recipients.
With a long family history in coffee farming, Maria spoke to the expectation that women in her country were supposed to be wives or secretaries, and that agriculture was not the standard career path. With the support of her sisters, they worked to improve the family farm and leave a lasting legacy for their children and grandchildren.
Maria has pressed for science and education in coffee production; as she puts it “we have to learn how to prepare specialty coffee if we want to sell specialty coffee.” With a focus on coffee plant resilience and quality, Maria demonstrates that there are strong women supporting one another through the entire chain of coffee production.
Following Maria was Shauna Alexander Mohr, the Sustainability Manager for Volcafe, one of the world’s largest coffee traders. Shauna focuses on sustainability and shade-grown coffees. She works with 11 countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa to find a unified approach to producing sustainable coffees and supporting farmers.
Shauna stated in her talk that we need to find balance in coffee industry leadership. While we all stumble and have to move past obstacles, Shauna pointed out that we have to be positive and fight. “If you focus on the barriers, you won’t get out of bed. If you focus on what they’re not, it energized you,” she said in regard to the coffee industry being comprised of over 51% men.
Next, we heard from Christine Herman, the owner and roaster of Case Study Coffee. Case Study started out as a catering cart here in Portland and is now has three café locations. They were one of the earliest Portland coffee bars to function as a multi-roaster café, and they started roasting their own coffee in the last few years.
There were two concepts that defined Christine’s talk: perspective and attitude. Case Study works to main a unique perspective on specialty coffee that came from Christine’s early days working their catering cart and preparing coffees on a three group La Marzocco Linea at her home. Christine mentioned that baristas are an interesting group of people, as they require specific technical skills, but also a hospitality mindset. She continues to maintain an optimistic attitude and hires employees who have “a giddy passion for coffee and want to share it with everyone.”
Our final speaker for the night was Ro Tam, owner of Either/Or Café in Portland and Tanglewood Beverage Company. Ro, like many of us, didn’t enjoy her job and spent a lot of time in a café until they offered her a position. She described some of her frustrating encounters as a café owner as the “bro culture” of coffee, including people assuming her male employees were the café owner and men questioning her coffee credentials before they’d tasted the espresso she prepared.
This still didn’t dampen Ro’s spirit, though. Positivity and optimism (the unofficial theme of the night) ruled her approach. As she told us, “It’s really difficult to be a small business owner in coffee, but if that’s what you wanna do, don’t be discouraged. It’s worth it!”
Following our speakers, Caryn had the attendees break into small groups for an icebreaker. Each group was given a poster on which they answered the question “what does Coffeewoman mean to me?” We received a variety of great responses, including “fearless collaboration,” “women can be BOSSES,” “community,” “inspiration,” “formation,” and more. This exercise was a fun way to get everyone to interact and meet new people in the coffee community.
We were also selling posters and shirts featuring the Coffeewoman artwork created by Jessica Ornelas to benefit the p:ear barista school. P:ear offers an in-depth eight-week barista training course for homeless and transitional youth. They cover everything from green coffee sourcing and milk steaming to hospitality and cash handling. It was so inspiring to have Claire Whitt speak about this program and how it helps these individuals build a skillset for their futures.
We (Caryn, Steph, Libby, and myself) were so impressed with the outpouring of support for this event. From our sponsors (Pacific Foods, La Marzocco, Mazzer, Barista Magazine, InterAmerican Coffee, Roast Magazine, Lauretta Jean’s, Hip Chicks Do Wine, Rogue Brewery, and Fresh Cup Magazine) to the over 100 attendees and dozen volunteers, we thank each and every one of you. You made this event a success, and we a
re full of inspiration and excitement because of it.
So, then, what’s next? More discussion, more questions, and more women in coffee, especially leadership. Ask for help when you need it and help others when you can. Take inspiration from those around you, and be the inspiration for another woman in coffee.