Kore Directive Gets the Party Started

Founder of Kore Directive, Sierra Burgess-Yeo. All photos by Elizabeth Hotson.

LONDON—“You wouldn’t get Avril Lavigne on the speakers if men were doing the music.”

That observation made by one of the attendees at Kore Directive’s launch party may or may not be strictly accurate (the internet reveals that Avril has a significant male fanbase), but women were definitely in control at the organization’s inaugural event this November. Held at Volcano Coffee Works in Brixton, South London, the idea behind the Kore Directive is to give women a chance to network, build up skills, and get a sense of belonging in what can feel like a male-dominated industry.

Georgina Borton

Georgina Borton is the manager of cafe Iris & June in Victoria, central London.

“I’ve only been in coffee for two years and when I started I found it very difficult to meet other women in the industry,” she says.

Borton is currently working on her AST qualifications to become an Authorized SCA Trainer, which she hopes might help to redress a widely held perception of gender imbalance in the higher echelons of the coffee world.

“I was trained by a man and lot of people training with me were men and it could be intimidating,” she says. “But this kind of event helps; it’s supportive, you see familiar faces and share experiences.”

Pollyanna Ward

Pollyanna Ward has just started a monthly coffee subscription service and found the Kore event on Instagram.

“When you think of roasters it’s normally a tattooed hipster guy wearing an apron,” she says.

And then Ward discovered roasters Girls Who Grind on Instagram. Something clicked, and she signed up to the Kore event.

“I’m surprised about how many people here,” she says. “It’s refreshing.”

Ward doesn’t necessarily agree that there are fewer women in coffee, but says that there is an issue with perception.

“People aren’t shouting about women,” she says. “They’re there but they’re not as prominent. When you look at latte art for example, it’s very male-dominated.”

Justine Prain

Justine Prain is Manager Director of coffee equipment suppliers Brewed by Hand, which sponsored the event by providing equipment and training. She says that gender representation seems to differ depending on where people are in their careers.

“You often see a mix behind the counter but when you see who’s running companies, roasting, buying, as you get further up the ladder or branch out from more customer-facing roles you don’t see as many women,” she says. “I wonder whether this is partly because people who’ve grown their own brands have come through the competition network.”

This said, Prain is optimistic about progressing via the competition structure, adding, “We’ve just had our first female world barista champion—Agnieszka Rojewska from Poland—so that’s a big change.”

And it’s a change Prain wants to encourage, not necessarily just in competitions but across the board.

“Roles like roasting, buying, sales and development aren’t as visible, this is what this event aims to do—increase visibility and give people a chance to try something,” she says.

Kerri McCarton

It’s this kind of opportunity that excites barista Kerri McCarton who’s looking ahead to a career in coffee.

“I’m especially interested in global supply chains and in the future I want to work in sustainability and auditing,” she says. “From an outsider’s perspective, Kore Directive and also Girls Who Grind create hope; they show women that it’s possible.”

Aashifa Hussain

Aashifa Hussain, head barista at Vagabond in north London and head of coffee at Kore, is also quietly optimistic.

“I didn’t know what to expect from tonight, normally in this kind of situation I try to keep my expectations minimal,” she says. “But it’s been great, especially in terms of the coffee we were sent for the cuppings. Extract, Tate, and several other top roasters supplied us with product and it feels like we’ve started a really supportive network.”

After a stimulating evening (fueled in part by some blinding espresso martinis), the evening drew to a close. I finally grab a word with the woman of the hour, Sierra Burgess-Yeo, Kore Directive’s founder. How does she rate the night?

“It feels more chilled out in reality than it was in my head, everyone’s chatting to each other, which is how it should be,” she says. “Obviously it’s early days and we’re still gaining traction and recognition but there were around seventy people here tonight which is great.”

Not everything’s gone to plan, but Burgess-Yeo is philosophical about it.

Sierra Burgess-Yeo

“We had wanted to start a series of roasting workshops,” she explains. “That fell through, so we need another sponsor and host, but looking around this evening at the support we’ve had, it shouldn’t be too hard.”

2019 looks set to be a big year for Kore, starting with a no-waste latte art competition, sponsored by oat milk producers, Oatly.

“The idea is for the undrunk lattes to be turned into vegan white Russians,” says Burgess-Yeo. “We’ll add Kahlua and shake everything back up.”

Which seems a fitting philosophy for the Kore Directive.