Two people with a passion for coffee who grew up on different continents and met when they moved to the UK have come together to promote coffee grown by women
The west country of England may not seem the most likely place for a mould-breaking coffee roasting company to start work, or for an Australian and an American to meet and start a company, but Frome in Somerset has been home for the last couple of years to an all-female coffee roasting operation that does things differently.
The company may be a relatively new one, but the small batch roaster has already come to the attention of a much wider audience than coffee drinkers in the southwest of the England.
Anyone who attended the International Coffee Organization’s (ICO’s) thematic workshop on women in coffee in London in September last year will remember Girls Who Grind Coffee, the all-female coffee roastery run by Fi O’Brien and Casey Lalonde.
Casey, originally from upstate New York began her coffee career as a roaster working in a coffee lab and roastery in Vermont. Fi, originally from Melbourne, Australia has always swayed between working in design and cafe ownership/management.
‘Bigging up’ ladies in coffee
Both now living in Frome, Somerset, they started a roastery after meeting as parents of young children. After long conversations about gender inequality in the coffee industry, they got together and co-founded Girls Who Grind Coffee in 2017. Casey is head roaster and head of coffee; Fi’s background as a former coffee shop owner and creative branding consultant exactly complemented Casey’s skillset. She is responsible for sales. Their aim is simple: to celebrate the work that women do in the coffee industry and do so by seeking out coffees that are specifically helping to empower women.
As they note, it’s no secret that the coffee industry is a very male dominated so, as Fi put it, “we’re here to ‘big up’ the ladies in the coffee industry, from the female farmers through baristas to consumers, sourcing all of our coffees from female producers and farmers and those who work to support them. Not only is the taste of the coffee important to us, but also the incredible stories behind them.”
Speaking to C&CI in January 2019, Fi and Casey said their strategy is “all about empowerment,” and about empowering the many women around the world who grow top quality coffee.
In the short time since they started their roastery, word about Girls Who Grind Coffee has spread, and cooperatives, women farmers and importers have begun sending them samples on a regular basis.
Among the latest coffee they have begun roasting is coffee grown by three daughters of a farmer in El Salvador who are taking over management of the farm, but they have already roasted coffee from all over the world. These include a Democratic Republic of Congo coffee that supports the Rebuild Women’s Hope Programme established by gender equality pioneer Marceline Budza, and a Nicaragua Jinotega from Finca La Plata, a farm run by Cynthia LaRue, who returned to Nicaragua to rebuild her family’s coffee farm after the revolution had forced the family to flee to the US years earlier. They have also roasted coffee from female co-operatives in many other places, including Rwanda, Ethiopia and Colombia.
The volume of coffee that Girls Who Grind Coffee roasts – on a bright yellow Giessen roaster – is growing all the time, but the focus remains on small quantities of high quality coffee grown by women – microlots as small as 20- 30 bags in some cases. The company roasted about a tonne of coffee in 2018 and expects to twice as much as that in 2019. “We are aware of issues around consistent quality with small growers, but that is a risk you take when you build a relationship with small growers,” Fi told C&CI.■ C&CI
This extract is from an article that first appeared in the March’19 issue of C&CI, click on subscribe now if you wish to read the article in full and other informative articles in the current and future issues of C&CI.
(photo: Girls Who Grind Coffee)