Celebrating Women Coffee Roasters

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By Emily McIntyre, The LAB

Here at The LAB, we celebrate the passionate folks who make great beverages. This month, our focus turns to eight female roasters who are changing the landscape of specialty coffee, each in her own way. I had the chance to speak with them about their passion for coffee and what they’d like to see in the coffee world. Without further ado, I present: The LAB’s 2nd annual Women Roasters Series!

WRS with LAB

            STEPHANIE RATANAS/DOGWOOD COFFEE CO. (MINNEAPOLIS, MN)

“My favorite coffee right now is the Costa Rica La Lia Finca Dragón,” says Stephanie Ratanas, Director of Coffee for Dogwood Coffee Co. in Minneapolis. “I love how sweet and balanced it is in the cup.” Ratanas has worked in Chicago, Portland, and Minneapolis, and travels to origin often for Dogwood.

“I think women are under-represented in any production-focused industry because of the demands of the job.” Ratanas says. She adds that she’s thrilled to see women moving into roasting and thinks the industry is wide open for them.

            MELODY HARWELL/COFFEE SLINGERS (OKLAHOMA CITY, OK)

Melody Harwell, owner of Coffee Slingers in Oklahoma City, lied about her age to get her first barista job at 16. “Growing up in Washington, the barista trade was attractive to me because there was a respect given that you couldn’t get working waitressing jobs.” That was the beginning of a life dedicated to great coffee.

Melody Harwell.

Melody Harwell.

In Hawaii she went to a coffee farm for the first time. The farm was just up the hill from her shop, and she remembers sitting on the porch with the farmer’s mother and talking for hours while looking out over the flowers of the farm.

Coffee Slingers came about after Harwell stopped in Oklahoma City to visit her mom after living in China for a while. Seeing that there was lots of room for specialty coffee served with love, she buckled down and opened her shop.

            CAITLIN MCCARTHY-GARCIA/EQUATOR COFFEES & TEAS (SAN FRANCISCO, CA)

“I see roasting as a meditation,” Caitlin McCarthy-Garcia says. “It’s one of the most gratifying things because you have immediate results that you can taste and share with your friends and family.”

Caitlin

Caitlin McCarthy-Garcia.

As a roaster, a certified Q Grader, and Associate Green Coffee Buyer for Equator Coffees & Teas in San Francisco, McCarthy-Garcia has certainly paid her dues. She recalls starting in Peet’s Coffee roasting facility, wearing a hair net and bagging coffees.

Current favorite coffee? Costa Rica El Espino, a yellow honey processed coffee with a pleasant stonefruit characteristic. She anticipates serving it next week at the Roaster’s Guild Retreat in Virginia.

            ZOË STARWATER/OZO COFFEE ROASTERS (BOULDER, CO)

Zoë StarWater started out her coffee career working as a busser in Kansas City icon Broadway Cafe. “Looking back, I was really lucky–I spent my first two years under the thumbs of about 10 incredible baristas. It was an outstanding training, and being on hand when Broadway opened the roasting facility, I got a great education in the science and intricacy of roasting.”

After moving to Boulder, Zoë eventually found herself in her current role of Production Manager for Ozo Coffee Roasters. She says her favorite aspect of roasting is “getting to touch all the beans before they go through the barista’s hands. I love being able to put my energy into that many pounds of coffee.”

She says that working in a production industry can be hard physically, and often women who want to start a family end up moving in other directions than roasting. She also points out that though women aren’t a huge part of the roasting force currently, they comprise a huge slice of workers at the farm level.

            JENNIFER SWANSON/COFFEA ROASTERIE (SIOUX FALLS, SD)

Jennifer Swanson, CEO of Coffea Roasterie, worked in coffee around the world, notably in Thailand where she helped set up and run a coffee shop to aid ladyboys who wanted to exit the sex industry. She eventually joined the growing business of Coffea, working in every role before assuming leadership.

“Coffee is such an incredible business as it provides a catalyst for people to be more relational”, says Swanson. “Instead of having computers between you, you have coffee.”

She’s currently stoked about a Geisha that Coffea has exclusive dibs on. This Filla del Pando from Volan, Panama, is similar to a freshly-bloomed water lily, she says. “It’s incredibly delicate–probably the most musical coffee I’ve ever tasted.”

            ANDA CROSS/BEE COFFEE ROASTERS (INDIANAPOLIS, IN)

Anda Cross’s background is in darkroom photography, and she says she “really enjoys the similarities between coffee and photography–both are process-based, related to time and chemical interactions.”

Anda Cross.

Anda Cross.

Roasting on a Dietrich IR-3, Cross has been working in coffee since high school. Her current favorite coffee is an El Eden from Mexico. “It has an unusual flavor profile–fruity and soft, with mellow blueberry notes.”

            MARIANA FAERRON/TICO COFFEE ROASTERS (SAN FRANCISCO, CA)

Mariana Faerron is a Costa Rica native who grew up “with the fragrant aroma of the coffee flowers in May and the smell of ripe coffee cherries during harvest season.” CEO and co-founder of Tico Coffee Roasters, Faerron was an Agricultural Economist before moving to the US.

Mariana Faerron.

Mariana Faerron.

For a woman from a coffee-producing country to build a successful business roasting coffee from her homeland is uncommon. But, she says, for her it is an honor to share the different tastes of the “Grand Cru” coffee as well as memories and experiences from her life in Costa Rica.

            KIERSTEN PERRY/BENETTI’S COFFEE EXPERIENCE (KANSAS CITY, MO)

“I really enjoy being able to full-on interact with the coffees in all its stages, using all my senses to take in the colors, sounds, and smells it produces as it roasts,” says Kiersten Perry, Roaster for Benetti’s Coffee Experience in Kansas City.

Kri

Kiersten Perry.

Currently her favorite coffee is a natural Wote Konga Yirgecheffe. Kiersten says, “The green smells amazing! When I first opened the bag it was like a watermelon, and that melon profile continues throughout the roasting. The end result is fruity, almost like starbursts.”

When asked her thoughts about women in coffee, she chuckles. “I think women kick major ass in coffee, and I think we should continue.”

 

EMILY MCINTYRE

EMILY MCINTYRE

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emily McIntyre is a freelance writer who focuses on coffee culture as well as one of the kick-ass team at The LAB (creators of Caffeine Crawl). Originally from Kansas City, she currently resides in Orange County with her husband Michael, a roaster and Q Grader, and her toddler Eire, also a coffee lover. She’d like to point out that the Women Roasters Series coffees are available through The LAB’s exclusive memberships for coffee and bean-to-bar chocolate.

 

About the Author

Barista Magazine is the leading trade magazine in the world for the professional coffee community.