Culture: Rob Butterworth's coffee column looks at championing women
Last week we marked International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, celebrating the exceptional women in our own lives and turning our minds to the work of women in our industry and in our own supply chain at Butterworth & Son.
At origin, women are estimated to make up 60-80 per cent of workers on coffee farms and we make every effort to ensure our coffee comes from farms which treat all workers well and fairly, regardless of gender. We have championed the work of female farmers – in 2017 we bought and roasted coffee from a farm of 100 per cent women growers in Guatemala with great results, and, as a small business we are able maintain personal relationships with the people who supply the green beans that we roast right here in Bury St Edmunds.
Unfortunately, outside of our supply chain, gender inequality continues to be a problem. Although much of the work of harvesting and processing coffee is done by women, ownership of farms and business is almost exclusively held by men. Indeed, in some coffee producing countries laws still prohibits women from owning land. However, initiatives such as the International Women’s Coffee Alliance aim to empower women in coffee-producing countries. With the goal of helping women to “achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognise the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry,” the Alliance encourages women in the coffee industry to self-organise to address the specific problems of their region.
Butterworth & Son is also lucky to work with women at a distribution level; Nadine Rasch founded Third Wave Coffee source in 2012, having worked in the coffee industry in North America. She returned to her family farm in Guatemala with the aim of connecting roasters with the best coffees in Guatemala and exporting to the speciality coffee industry. Nadine also helped form two co-operatives and manages the supply chain for the coffees she chooses to represent. In Guatemala, she has begun roasting the beans and sharing her knowledge with producers, roasters and coffee shop owners.
Closer to home, the UK coffee scene, especially the speciality industry, with its focus on passion and attention to detail, has allowed women to find success at every level. We supply a variety of local cafés with a passion for coffee but Applaud stands out as a great example of female entrepreneurship. Run by sisters Hannah and Beth in Ipswich, the café has become a social hub for the local community and they have worked hard to build their brand and customer base, serving home-baked cakes, food and coffee.
Women, such as Abigail Forsyth, managing director of KeepCup which produces high quality reusable cups, are driving innovation and highlighting the bigger issues. Because of its strong ties to the environments in which coffee is grown, the speciality coffee industry remains conscious of the need to strive for a new approach to waste, as well as fair and sustainable working practices at every stage. Efforts to empower women at all levels ensure that women continue to succeed in what is a vibrant and exciting industry from bean to cup.
Rob owns Butterworth & Son coffee roasters and tea smiths, based on Moreton Hall, and Guat’s Up! café in Guildhall Street.
His job takes him around the world visiting coffee farms to source great coffees.