Coffee Activism, Part 2: Paving the Way Forward

Starting off as a grassroots movement in the U.S., the current wave of coffee activism has become a global movement binding the industry together. In the wake of #MeToo, stories from professionals in the coffee industry have been surfacing and made alight to push against sexual assault, intimidation, and harassment. And like with any movement demanding change, the more involved, the better the chances of disrupting the status quo. This is Part Two of Coffee Activism.

Movement for Change
The coffee industry in the U.K. is one that is established, respected, and professional—but it is also one that has for some time excluded women, people of color, LGBQTI+, and non-binary folks. To challenge this, The Kore Directive, a London-based non-profit organization, was founded to aid women in coffee. The organization celebrated its soft launch on November 15, 2018, at Volcano Coffee Works (VCW) in Brixton.

Right, The Kore Directive founder Sierra Burgess-Yeo

“Our soft launch was a blast—it was incredible to see people coming together and to have a largely womxn-centric atmosphere at the venue,” says Kore founder Sierra Burgess-Yeo, who is also a barista and manager at the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs’ Facebook Headquarters. “I think most people felt it most keenly through the cupping and the networking, and that it was a natural, neutral space for all of us to get to know one another.”

Kore was formed from Yeo feeling “angry and upset” about the state of the industry and wanting to “make sure these feelings had some positive impact.”

The organization is split into two aspects, one of which is a monthly social event where coffee professionals come together and network, regardless of their gender. Panel discussions or guest speakers are also featured at these events to talk about a range of different topics concerning women in the industry.

The other aspect is the practical workshops, where a small group of women are taught various skills. Yeo explains this aspect was inspired by the Specialty Coffee Association, since many of their courses are “quite inaccessible and expensive—we wanted to provide an alternative.”

The first event to take place was a no-waste latte art competition held at VCW in conjunction with Oatly on January 10, with other forthcoming events centered on discussions about coffee and mental health, and how female competitors prepare for coffee competitions.

Yeo adds that although discussions about gender equality in coffee are starting to take place and people are having more informed conversations, the industry in the U.K. is very much in the early stages.

“It comes down to cultural difference and down to the fact that we just don’t talk about it as much,” she says. “It is quite systemic and quite insidious; there aren’t many open conversations. As far as I know, this is the first of its kind [in the U.K.], which is really quite shocking.”

“We want the Kore to be stable, routed, and organically grown,” adds Yeo. “We want this to be around over the long term and hopefully, this is something that we will be able to give back to the community.”

Power & Influence
While Kore was starting to challenge traditions in the U.K., another organization, based in Australia, was forming. SAME CUP celebrated its official launch on November 16, 2018, in Sydney.

The organization strives to improve the success, empowerment, and visibility of women and the LGBTQI+ folk in the Australian specialty coffee scene.

Same Cup Launch Party: (from left) Shirin Demirdag, Jessica Gough, Georgina Lumb, Priscilla Fischer, Aislinn Cullen, Michelle Johnson, and Demelza Jones. Photo courtesy of Demelza Jones.

Led by Demelza Jones, former account manager for Five Senses Coffee’s New South Wales team, SAME CUP encompasses events, competitions, spaces, and parties that inspire success through networking, education, and personal development.

“The launch party was as much about celebrating the coming together of a supportive coffee community as it was about giving ourselves space to really hone in on what we want SAME CUP to become in the future,” says Jones.

The night consisted of networking, discussions, and an “Iron Chef”-inspired signature beverage throwdown, to which Jones says, “the competitors all had a great time exploring the possible flavor combinations and methods in a competitive environment that was far less stuffy than the normal comp scene.”

Panelists Georgina Lumb, Jessica Gough, Aislinn Cullen, Michelle Johnson, and Priscilla Fisher discussed aspects of training, entrepreneurship, café ownership, green bean buying, social commentary, and roasting.

“We had amazing feedback from the panel discussion featuring some of the most incredible women in coffee,” says Jones. “Attendees commented that they felt inspired, encouraged, and motivated after hearing experiences that reflected their own.”

During the event, Jones set up an interview room where attendees were encouraged to share, on camera, their experiences in the coffee industry. When looking back at the interview footage, a few common underlying themes began to appear.

“Nearly every woman mentioned ‘being taken seriously’ as a struggle while others also identified ageism and blatant sexism as their experiences,” she says.

There were personal stories about hardship and how much some “had to fight to find opportunities to break into entry-level coffee roles either as a person of color or a trans-woman,” says Jones.

At the end of the night, it was evident SAME CUP is needed.

Jones describes SAME CUP as a “future-oriented organization,” where the aim is to look forward with “positivity, by necessity.”

“We are now, more than ever, committed to the goal of bringing diversity to positions of power and influence in the industry,” she continues. “That is the future we want and already we are hearing echoes throughout the community about this shared vision.”

Jones’ 10-year plan is to ensure continuous visibility, equality, and awareness by creating a SAME CUP certification so that cafés, corporations, competitions, and events are held accountable on how they run their businesses; they can then buy the certification to display their dedication to inclusivity and diversity in their work culture.

Jones also has plans for a traveling event that focuses on educating and connecting women and queer folk in rural areas through coffee.

“I want more diversity in positions of influence and power in coffee,” she says. “I want more diversity visible for everyone starting in coffee, so people can go, ‘Look at that woman in coffee, I want to be like her.’”

Leadership
As soon as Sasha Jade saw Jones’ post on Facebook seeking advice on starting SAME CUP and asking the industry on whether it was needed, Jade jumped on board and became a corporate sponsor.

“Anyone promoting that it isn’t a fair game for women in coffee is great,” she says. “The more that people pop up, and the more women that jump into those positions, and are pushing those ideas, I think the better chance that change will happen faster.”

Sasha Jade, founder of Sydney’s Fat Poppy Coffee Roasters, is Australia’s very own specialty coffee veteran. She points out that the current movement of coffee activism is a mere reflection of what’s happening across various industries because of the political climate.

Fat Poppy Coffee Roasters founder Sasha Jade. Photo courtesy of Fat Poppy Coffee Roasters.

“If we look across the globe, you see women everywhere rising up, protesting, marching, organizing, and trying to build power, to get [sexual harassment and intimidation] to stop,” says Jade.

I don’t think the coffee industry is unique to that. I think because we are a heavily male-dominated industry, it makes sense that the coffee industry, maybe like Hollywood, is feeling that a lot,” she continues. “I think when you have a large proportion of men in a workplace those gender issues really perpetuate more….Over the last few years women are feeling more empowered to speak out, mostly because they realized they are not alone in their experience.”

Ultimately, women have been suffering in silence for too long, says Jade, and have been too afraid of playing the gender card.

“Once you play the gender card, you think everyone’s going to be like, ‘You don’t deserve to be here. You only got the job because you’re female,’” she says. “So women are overworking to prove their worth.”

Before starting her business in 2012, Jade had already been in the industry for around 10 years, working across all sectors of specialty coffee including training, teaching, roasting, buying, quality control, and spending time on a coffee plantation for two harvest seasons.

“When I went to start Fat Poppy, I had this realization that in the ten years I’ve worked in diverse roles in coffee I’ve never actually had a female boss,” she says.

She realized just how much that lack of female leadership had impacted her, and from that moment, she was determined to start Fat Poppy and put everything she’s learned across the supply chain into practice.

“I was absolutely terrified, and not terrified of the feeling of, ‘I don’t have enough coffee knowledge,’ but terrified of being like, ‘Can I actually start a business? Do females actually start a business?’” she says. “And I think particularly when I started in 2012, there wasn’t so much of, ‘Yeah, go women!’

Despite working under men who inspired, encouraged, believed in, and educated Jade, she says the one thing they couldn’t teach her was that “women could be bosses too,” she says. “I didn’t have any hands-on experience or inspiration from any other women in my career that I could follow.”

At this point in time, Jade found herself with “a lot of confidence with coffee knowledge, but with no confidence that I, as a woman could be a female boss,” she explains. And despite the self-doubt, Jade went for it.

“I decided I had to do this to prove to myself that I could,” she says. “[And] with the hope that in the future, simply because I am a woman in a position of leadership who started a company in coffee, that other women would follow and draw inspiration from what I did.”

Jade says her overarching belief is that “if you can’t see it, then you can’t believe it,” which has been her driving force for Fat Poppy.

“I think as a consequence of being in business, the women who’ve walked alongside me or who know me, have drawn inspiration, and so it’s like, ‘If she can do it then maybe I can too,’” she says.

Looking ahead, Jade is busy building a social enterprise that will offer hospitality training for refugees.

“The idea came from feeling lucky to be born in a country full of opportunities,” she says. “Even as I say, ‘Hey, I’m a woman and it’s been hard, and I have definitely had self-doubt,’ ultimately, I’m still lucky that I’m in a country where I’m allowed to have those opportunities.”

Be Bold
Floozy Coffee Roasters, based in Newcastle, Australia, started to fill a gap in coffee—a gap of visible women roasters.

“We just wanted to shake things up,” say the two Floozy founding members, Kristy Mujana, aka Kmac, and Priscilla Fisher, aka Cill. “Floozy is outwardly branding itself to be into diversity.”

Together with their passion for coffee and Kmac’s knowledge of the industry as a former café owner, Floozy’s bright pink brand was born. Its bold and loud marketing techniques and active presence across social media made Floozy stand out and be noticed for what it was: a brand that supports women in all parts of the value chain.

Floozy Founders, Priscilla Fisher, aka Cill (left), and Kristy Mujana, aka Kmac.

“When we first started, we really expected that only women would get behind our brand,” says Cill. “We really just thought, this is so pink, and it’s so girly, and men won’t buy it, and that’s okay.”

However, that was not the case: The first 10 or so cafés to stock Floozy were all male-owned.

“They were just like, ‘Yes! This is what the industry needs,’” says Cill. “And we were really surprised, we didn’t think dudes were going to buy it.”

Since starting Floozy 18 months ago, the founders set a profoundly important intention: recognizing the inequality at the origin level.

“It’s only since starting Floozy that we also realized how much inequality there is at origin too,” says Cill. “Initially, we came into it thinking, ‘We want female roasters to be a thing,’ and as we learned more, it became, ‘We want female single origins to be a thing.’”

Another area where Floozy wants to further support women is in competitions.

“We had our first Floozy-representing competitor competing in the National Barista Championships in Canada,” says Cill. “That’s been a goal as well, and it’s cool to be at a point now where we can support, because obviously women in competition, whether it be baristas or brewers or whatever, is so under-represented.”

The focus this year is also to expand their offerings, as for the past 18 months Kmac and Cill have been renting roasting spaces off other people—but soon, they’ll have their own roaster in Newcastle.

“[The roaster] has just landed in Australia, we’ve got a loan, and it’ll [soon] get installed,” says Cill. Floozy’s new roasting space will also be utilized as a training ground for women wanting to learn to roast.

“We are at a point now, where we are in a position of power in our business,” says Cill. “I’ve just submitted my master’s, where I did some research into women and land rights in coffee producing countries, and in a few different ways we’ve built this brand up. We have this global recognition, so we are in that position now where we can reach out to the younger generations that are coming through.”

Doing the Research
While working on her master’s, Cill also started to do some work with the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA) to formulate gender-segregated data at origin, because at the moment, such research doesn’t exist.

“You can’t really implement any effective development policies, if you don’t know the demographics of the people you are trying to reach,” she says. “We don’t really have much of an idea of how many women are producing coffee, and what kind of land they have access to, or what they own, or their access to credit.”

IWCA, which leads women’s empowerment in the international coffee industry by supporting a global network of independent, self-organized, self-governing organizations, is extremely under-funded. Therefore, Floozy has been working to organize fundraisers to help raise money, including helping to create a program for International Women’s Day on March 8, where 30+ cafés across Australia raised money for IWCA’s Research Alliance.

“We are severely under-resourced,” says Ruth Ann Church, IWCA board member and Research Alliance Chair. “So the fact that Floozy and other roasters and cafés are fundraising on our behalf, supporting research and broader goals of livelihood improvement, is tremendous.”

Through their collaboration, Floozy and IWCA are working towards a stronger future for women in coffee.

“This is finally a time where women are uniting in their stories,” says Floozy.

And as women and marginalized professionals in coffee continue to unite, the future of specialty coffee is bright.

“The more diverse voices we have, the stronger specialty coffee will be,” says Jones.

“The ball has started rolling,” adds Jade, “and there’s no stopping it.”


FIND MORE INFORMATION ON THESE ORGANIZATIONS:

Fat Poppy Coffee Roasters
www.fatpoppy.coffee

Floozy Coffee Roasters
www.floozycoffee.com

International Women’s Coffee Alliance
www.womenincoffee.org

The Kore Directive
www.thekoredirective.com

SAME CUP
www.samecup.org

Click here for a list of more resources and organizations
for coffee professionals around the world.