The Coffeewoman PDX Recap

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 us14517578_1668450136801508_8461930091199044429_n

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.

15000605_1691752507804604_6805971206260817803_oOur 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.

img_2015Shauna 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 img_2022were 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 quimg_2030estioning 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.img_2040

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.

Talking About Race

by Kim Elena Ionescu

A few weeks ago, during and after The Coffeewoman’s public event at Roy Street Coffee in Seattle, social media was abuzz with quotes and photos of women from the coffee community sharing perspective and delivering encouragement to one another. Among many positive responses, retweets and conversations sparked by the event and its coverage, the event drew some criticism for the perceived racial homogeneity of the speakers. The tone of the criticism ran a spectrum – from gentle reminders to seek out women of color to more overt frustration and disappointment – and when Laila acknowledged it on Twitter and asked who would work with The Coffeewoman on issues surrounding race, I volunteered.

Wait… what?

kei-bio-photoYou read that right. I, a white woman in a position of authority in our coffee community, am writing about race, despite the risk that a white woman writing about race may smack (to people of any ethnicity) of hubris. This thought has crossed my mind pretty much every day since I agreed to the article, but I persist because white people don’t talk about race very much.

Several months ago, I participated in a two-day racial equity training hosted by a group called Organizing Against Racism (OAR) with approximately 75 other people from my hometown of Durham and surrounding communities in North Carolina. I had heard good things about the training from a diverse array of people – diverse not only in terms of race but in age, political viewpoint, religious affiliation, and educational background – so I was looking forward to it. I figured it would focus on teaching white people about racism and that I would probably be familiar most of the rules already, but I was wrong. I got a lot more than I bargained for, both as a white person and as an ethnic minority in that room. While the workshop did not shy away from discussing white privilege and individual action, it delved deeply into systemic racism. I learned things about the history of the United States that I didn’t know. I acknowledged aloud how white privilege has made it possible for me to do illegal things without fear of serious repercussions – from driving with an expired license to shoplifting. I’m embarrassed about shoplifting makeup from drug stores in college, but you know what feels worse? Accepting that I was able to attend that private university because my white family spent generations owning land, accumulating wealth, and accessing government support that was only available to white people.  

The most important part of the training, though, was hearing the experiences of people of color and being asked not  to respond, but just to listen. White people tend to take up a lot of space, whether in pop culture, in history, in day-to-day conversation or in discussions of race. We fail– no, actually, I should keep this focused on my behavior, lest it feel like an excuse or spawn some kind of nightmarish #notallwhitepeople discussion – I have failed to check my assumptions and when challenged in my judgment or challenged in my fairness, I have reacted defensively and wanted credit for my good intentions.

I appreciate that no one responded defensively to criticism of The Coffeewoman. Saying some version of “I tried” or “I’m not racist” can quickly derail a conversation and shift its focus away from building a better future and community and onto the individual. On one hand, The Coffeewoman is no more accountable to defying the norm – that is, all-white panels of coffee experts – than any other group, and I want to avoid the all-too-common trap of holding women to a higher standard than men. On the other, I don’t feel frustrated – it’s a valid critique, and the earlier we hear that critique, the more open we will be to examining and dismantling traditional hierarchies. As a group of predominantly white women, The Coffeewoman may face the same obstacles to attracting women of color as a coffee company with all-male management might face in attracting women. We intuitively understand that while those managers may be unflaggingly supportive of women in their roles as brothers, sons, partners, and fathers, if they’re not wondering how they ended up on a management team without women, and more to the point, if they’re not actively working to address biases in their company, they’re perpetuating gender inequality. I don’t want to build The Coffeewoman that way.

We also know that even if we achieve gender balance on every panel of speakers at every conference, we won’t have achieved gender equality in the coffee industry. In addition to its manifestations in our day-to-day interactions and public events, racism underpins the history of coffee production, trading, and consumption – as well as its present state – and begs us to keep working in pursuit of greater representation and equity. I am challenging myself to use my time, resources and influence to speak courageously, but also to listen, especially to people whose voices are less likely to be heard as a result of multiple factors including, but not limited to, race and gender.

I recognize the contradiction in telling white people to listen more and talk less in an article on race written by a white person. I could have not written it, but would that have been better? I don’t think so, but I don’t know. There are no easy answers to complex problems. White people aren’t going to solve the issues that result from racism, but not talking about race and racism just perpetuates the idea that victims of racism are responsible for fixing oppression while I go about my business as usual. I don’t want to be part of that anymore. I believe that as a leader in this community, I have a responsibility to be uncomfortable and acknowledge where I’m not succeeding, as well as speaking up on the subjects where I know I excel.

Thank you, coffee women, for listening to me. I’m listening to you, too – compliments and criticisms alike.

Kim Elena Bullock is listening at @kimelenabullock.

On Leading, Listening, and Loving Coffee

A conversation with…
Heather Perry, Vice President of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)
Katherine (Kat) Nolte, Vice Chair of the SCAA Sustainability Council
Laila Willbur, Chair of the Barista Guild of America
Mary Tellie, Chair of the Roaster’s Guild
Tracy Ging, Vice Chair of World Coffee Research (and 2nd Vice President of SCAA)

Tracy, Heather, Mary, Kat, and Laila

We’ve each stepped into new leadership roles within specialty coffee, so what’s ahead for your organization?

Katherine Nolte: The Sustainability Council envisions a world where every cup of coffee has a positive impact on the social well-being, environmental preservation, and economic success for everyone in the supply chain. Of course, that is monumental task so we are creating more and broader platforms to generate a solutions-oriented industry-wide dialogue addressing issues critical to the sustainability of specialty coffee. In 2015 we dedicated our resources to the topic of human equality and in 2016, we identified farmworkers rights, profitability for growers, and climate change as the three critical issues in coffee supply chains that need to be amplified in our conversations this year.

Laila Willbur: The Barista Guild of America has grown exponentially in the value it adds to its members. Our education has advanced leaps and bounds, Barista Camp has become a huge success, and all the events we put on for membership to network have become a highlight. We are excited to continue to grow all those avenues and make them stronger. The big project that I will be focusing on in my Chair term is how we market the BGA and how we connect and communicate with members and potential members. There are so many avenues via social media to get ideas and messages out there. I think the BGA has huge potential to reach more baristas. We have also added a new position to the EC, that Alex Littlejohn will be heading up, which is focused on outreach to potential members.

Heather Perry: The SCAA has so much ahead, with the most obvious being the unification with SCAE that I’m sure most have heard about. By the time this piece is released, SCAA members will be in the middle of voting to determine exactly what is ahead for this organization. In June, we held our annual leadership summit where 15 of our European counterparts attended and their input and voice was an exciting preview of what is possible in the coming years should unification occur. Almost every guild, committee, and council had a European representative and it was incredible to see how much was accomplished in such a short time—what this type of cross-cultural collaboration can yield. Whether or not we unify, our members have made it clear that they want a more global association, and this most recent meeting was a huge step towards that vision.

At the same time, we remain a very grassroots organization that accomplished so much locally this past year. Both Guilds introduced new events for their membership — the Sensory Summit by RG and Bloom by BGA — and together the events reached almost 1000 people. There were also more Member Driven Events and we are continuing to see the expansion of camps and retreats. There are two new guilds starting up, the Technicians Guild and the Producers Guild. The expanding Campus program is creating new opportunities for instructors and students. We’ll continue to expand on this work.

Tracy Ging: At World Coffee Research, we spent the first few years of our existence designing, fundraising and laying the groundwork for research. A number of projects were implemented that are now, or will shortly be, bearing results. As an organization, this raises a host of new considerations about how we disseminate findings, how we protect the intellectual property but maintain the spirit of “open-source” that we were founded on, and how we make decisions. For example, one outcome of our earlier research was discovering there is even less genetic diversity in the arabica species than we thought. So, the question becomes can we re-create diversity using strains from eugenoides, as one possibility, or do we seek other paths? It is quite possible that it will be easier to breed quality cup characteristics into robusta rather than breed climate and pest tolerant characteristics into arabica. Over the next decade, we’ll be focused on solutions to mitigate and adapt to changing weather patterns, increased pests and diseases, and socio-economic strife in coffee producing regions…massive, complex issues so everything has to be on the table.

Mary Tellie: This dynamic organization is broad in its scope but clear in its mission to support the professional coffee roaster and to promote the craft of roasting.  As we move towards unifying the SCAA and SCAE, the Roasters Guild’s vision to be the voice of the global community of coffee roasting professionals is more attainable than ever. We will continue to focus on research to build a solid foundation for quality differentiation and professional development to ensure we execute as a trade.

What do you see as challenges and opportunities for your organization and as it relates to the broader industry?

Heather: Mary referenced research and I think that is the biggest opportunity for SCAA in the coming years. In the most recent member survey our members told us research was important to them and a reason they were a member.  For the past decades tech standards has done a great job of helping to put industry standards in place. Some of those come from research while others have come from best practices. As Tracy mentioned, World Coffee Research is focusing on crop protection at the genetic level and with the seed (which includes agronomy and other pre-harvest research), but there is so much to be done along the rest of the chain. From cold brew to cascara, there is so much yet to be explored and building off the success of the sensory lexicon, by finding research partners like University of California (Davis) and the University of Zurich, we can begin to tackle some of these topics.

Mary: As we talk about unification and global activity, we also have to balance the overall vision of the RG and not leaving any member behind in doing so.  Our anticipated growth trajectory must be commensurate with a specific level of value added benefits.  This poses both a challenge and a great opportunity.

Kat: Sustainability topics are heavy. It is not always easy to make learning about critical issues in coffee supply interesting, engaging, and enjoyable. Solutions also often require behavior change or going against the grain of society. This is a recipe for sometimes frustrating conversations as we all try to see eye to eye. But, I believe that specialty coffee is full of deep thinkers who want to take the right action and the opportunity is to collaborate. There is a lot of reference to unification here, which the Sustainability Council sees as an opportunity to collaborate more formally across the globe.

Tracy: With respect to World Coffee Research, it’s always a challenge to sustain a long-term vision. It isn’t possible to do all the research and work necessary to protect our crop overnight, or in a year, or even five. This is a decades-long strategy. As I look at some of the big acquisitions that have happened in the past few years and all the attention paid to cold brew concepts, I worry coffee is becoming more of a beverage and less a distinctive agricultural crop. The opportunity for WCR is to make sure we don’t lose sight of the fragility inherent within coffee. We literally can’t forget our roots — the seed, the soil, the water resources, and the people that make specialty coffee so special— and keep building and believing in the case for investment.

Laila: Tracy’s point leads right into mine — the barista profession has grown and changed a lot recently. We have the job of protecting and translating everything that happens at the beginning of the value chain through to coffee drinkers. We have to make our origins meaningful to coffee drinkers rushing about the day. Even with the significance of our role, we still battle with the stigma of it being a “just while I’m in college, or figuring things out” job. Being a barista is truly a career path that deserves to be held in high esteem. We want to grow the awareness of the caliber of the barista…the knowledge, skill and dedication that goes into the craft.

How do you think about your leadership in the context of what needs to be done?

Laila: I think I’ve come into this leadership role at just the right time. The BGA EC members of the past have created amazing content for our membership, now is the time to drive that out to the masses and I excel in that space — turning ideas into action and amplifying efforts. I have an incredible team of members on the EC right now, all with their own strengths. Collaborating in ways that allow us to be most effective is something that we are starting the year off with and I know that it is going to reap great benefits to our members.

Mary:  I view one of my roles as the Roasters Guild Chair, as the advocate for the membership constituency of our guild. Likewise, among my RGEC peers. Starting as tiny a roaster retailer, I have a clear understanding of those member’s issues and concerns. As a business owner, I feel it is critical to maximize our membership experience to get continued support, which speaks to all RG members. Lastly, as a former banker I often view the world through a series of spreadsheets. To that end, engaging membership to understand the importance of financial sustainability while supporting the artistic and passionate side of coffee roasting.

Heather: When I think about my leadership and the future of the SCAA, I think more than ever I need to remember there is a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth.  There are so many stakeholders in this association and this industry, and we need to make sure that the moves we make are member-serving. I’m a mother so sometimes I look around and say “I know whats best,” but this is different, and I’m not the mother of the association.  That being said there are some traits you learn in being a mother that I think translate quite well, communication being a big part of that.

My role moving into the future is to be honest with our members, to listen and to have meaningful conversations about where we are and how we continue to move into the future.  I think one of the interesting things about leading a volunteer-driven association is to remember how powerful volunteers are and to stay out of their way. People like Todd Arnette, Laila Ghambari, Spencer Turner, Dorothea Hescock, Laura Sommers and Jess Steffy, just to name a few, are truly the ones making this organization as productive and meaningful as it. One of my favorite quotes is, “Never question the power of volunteers. The Titanic was built by professionals, Noah’s Ark by volunteers.”

Tracy: With WCR, we have some of the best thinkers around on our Board — CEOs, top scientists, and the coffeewoman, Lindsey Bolger — so my leadership there isn’t about strategic vision or drive. In many ways, it’s unremarkable and about process. It’s about knowing our by-laws inside and out, reading all the minutes and materials before meetings, and developing things like succession plans. I don’t want to undersell what I bring to the table or pretend there haven’t been times that required extraordinary amounts of leadership courage, but I also want it to be known that showing up and doing a lot of work go along way.

Kat: Leadership is about inspiring people to achieve their goals; it is about empowering people to do the things they think they cannot do. I’m working with other extraordinary leaders: Miguel Zamora (Chair), Samantha Veide (immediate past chair), Kim Ionescu (Director of Sustainability) and a brilliant council of 30 extraordinary minds from diverse functions across the industry. Our role is to stay optimistic and hopeful in the context of some intimidating issues facing the sustainability of coffee. Our role is to amplify good ideas and create platforms for successful efforts. Our role is to create achievable milestones along the route to a world where every cup of coffee has a positive impact.

The Coffeewoman Events

Coffeewoman_-7#TheCoffeewoman was first hosted in KCMO, during the USCC Qualifiers, in February of this year. It was an opportunity to have an open and honest conversation. I personally learned so much from the amazing woman who spoke. I wanted to share some of those take aways:

The first was about taking risk. It was a very common and powerful theme throughout the night. It became very clear to me that many of the woman shared in the opinion that often times we, us, ourselves, are the one holding us back the most. We tend to need more time, more information, more skill set, before we are ready to put our ourselves out there.


Hailee Bland Walsh spoke of the difference between being brave and fearlessness. Fear is very much a part of being brave and taking risk. Often times being brave can be the scariest thing we do. It’s a good fear. Sarah Kluth expanded on this idea when talking about risk management. What’s on the line here? Your ego? Worried about people judging you? Worried about failing? Are any of those things big enough to hold you back from pursuing your dreams and passions? A resounding “HELL NO!”.

Hailee looked at failure as a stepping stone in her life. That failure was not the opposite of successes. On the flip side, when I asked Andrea Allen, who later went to take second place in the US Barista Competition, the candid question about if she could in fact be the WBC knowing the time commitment it would entail, she answered gracefully. “Yes, I could…but would I? I’m not sure.” In the end the risk here is loosing time with her family, her child, her business. That risk might be too big to bare. We all have to know our boundaries.

Speaking of boundaries, everyone jumped in on the conversation of boundaries in the workplace. The coffee industry can be very casual, and we love that! However, we all need to understand that a causal work environment does not justify insensitivity. If a coworker says something to us that makes us feel uncomfortable we experience the internal struggle of “Do I say something? Do I let it slide? I don’t want to offend someone.” We all agreed we woman need to have each others back in these situations. Speaking up for others when they become stunned speechless.


These boundaries can become different as we visit Burundi or Guatemala where cultural differences come into play. Ultimately, it’s about being understanding, speaking up when things have gone too far, and supporting one another. The men that joined us this night voiced their openness to understand and respecting these boundaries.

The last question I asked my panel was “What would it mean to have a female WBC?” Holly Bastin spoke to the impact that this would have on the entire coffee community across the globe. For coffee woman in all parts of the world. Parts of the world where we see even fewer woman participating in all aspects of this industry. It’s meaningful for woman to have someone to look up to. To have a role model. Someone to strive to be like. It challenges us. It encourages us.

The in person #TheCoffeewoman event was a time for bonding, connecting, and working through the tough questions and concepts we face in our daily lives.  This event later branched into this online format so we that we could bring this conversation to the masses. However, that need for intimate, personal connection still stands. That is why we are asking others to host #TheCoffeewoman events in their  own communities. Here’s how:

The Coffeewoman Events

Purpose…to support, encourage, and inspire female coffee professionals

Through… events that promote a conversation representative of different viewpoints, which encourage diversity and inclusion, and cover a wide range of topics related to the coffee industry, competitions, leadership, etc.

Supported an online platform, newsletter, and social media presence that promotes and features female coffee professionals


We encourage others to host their own local #thecoffeewoman events.

Let us know if you plan to host one and we will:

•provide our logo and other available marketing assets
•promote your event on our website and social media
•feature photos, articles, and videos from your events on our website

When hosting an event be mindful to keep our purpose in at the core: support, encourage, and inspire. So please…

•Be positive and professional
•Be thoughtful about diversity and inclusion in all forms
•Be mindful the topic isn’t women but rather issues important to the coffee industry voiced through different perspectives

And more specifics…

The Coffeewoman provides promotional support and connection to the broader community. You are the host of the event. Venue, logistics, speakers, and local promotion are the exciting things in front of you!

Let’s do this…

Email us at
or via our “contact us” page on our website

Thank you for your partnership to TheCoffeewoman. 
Laila & Tracy