The Tate galleries in the UK are home to some of the greatest art in British collections, but if you drink a cup of coffee at Tate Britain or Tate Modern you will also be guaranteed a great cup of coffee – coffee that was probably produced by a woman.
This article first appeared in the November ’17 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read other informative articles in the November and future issues of C&CI.
Women are said to do 70 per cent of the work in the coffee supply chain, but few own the land on which it is grown or benefit directly from the trade in it. UK-based Tate Coffee wants to see that change, and is championing women producers in its Gender Equality Project.
Led by Tate Coffee’s Head of Coffee, Thomas Haigh, the project was launched last year after 2-3 years in gestation. Since launching it, Mr Haigh has travelled extensively to, engaged with and supported women and men in the coffee chain to create a new range of speciality coffee.
Under-represented in the industry
“For some time I had been aware that women producers’ representation in the coffee sector was minimal, and wanted to do something about it. The coffee we now roast and sell isn’t entirely women-focused, but it does put women and their role in coffee-growing families front and centre.”
“Our growing portfolio of gender-focused producer relationships demonstrate the diversity and quality of speciality coffee and we hope to continue working with these producers – as well as instigating new producer relationships and welcoming additional producers to our project – in the future,” Mr Haigh told C&CI.
The company buys microlots but larger volumes too. Mr Haigh says it’s not so much a question of volume as finding a high quality coffee in which women farmers or co-operatives have produced and working closely with them.
The company currently buys around 55,000kg of green coffee a year, but Mr Haigh expects that number will grow as the company develops its wholesale business.
As part of this ongoing initiative, the coming months will see Tate Coffee showcase a range of coffees from around the world – from Honduras to Guatemala, Nicaragua, Kenya and Ethiopia – chosen specially to support fair gender representation and positive social impact in the coffee supply chain.
Honduras and Ethiopia in focus
Autumn 2017 will see coffee from three women producers from Honduras showcased across all of Tate’s sites, in the cafes and restaurants and available as retail bags at all Tate Coffee outlets.
Mr Haigh has worked closely with the three Honduran female farm owners, visiting them in March to source the coffee directly. In October and November, Tate Coffee was due to begin showcasing two Ethiopian coffees as part of the range in support of the Girls Gotta Run Project – a non-profit organisation that empowers girls in Ethiopia through running and education.
Mr Haigh is passionate about exhibiting the diversity and versatility of coffee’s flavour attributes, whilst echoing Tate’s ethical standpoint. Since launching the Tate Coffee Gender Equality project in 2016, the company has showcased female coffee producers in up to 75 per cent of their coffee range at any given time.
Raising the profile of women producers
“We are attempting to raise the profile of equality agenda when building relationships with and purchasing coffee from producers,” said Mr Haigh added. “Our ethos when it comes to sourcing and purchasing coffee is now focused on quality, equality and sustainability.”
“Understanding the cost of production in each producing country that we buy from allows us to be certain that we are paying a fair and sustainable price that shows respect to the producer,” said Mr Haigh. “This, together with visiting the farms each year and agreeing the price paid directly with the producer, ensures that they can we can simplify and make more transparent a sometimes complicated supply chain.”
Tate’s coffee is roasted in a Second World War Nissen Hut in the grounds of the Tate Britain art gallery. More recently, Mr Haigh and his colleagues have also begun training other roasters.
Mr Haigh says that one thing he is anxious to avoid is a farmer or a cooperative becoming wholly-dependent on Tate Coffee. “It’s about building relationships and trust. We also know that the flavour of some coffees varies a little from year-to-year. We have sometimes found that the coffee we have bought from a producer has been better in one year than another. As a specialty roaster we have minimum flavour requirements and I think it’s important that we don’t buy everything a producer has in any single year, and that they develop opportunities elsewhere,” he concluded.