Our Women in Coffee series highlights the experiences of female leaders and women-owned businesses at every level of the coffee supply chain. In a predominantly male-led space, we recognize the importance of addressing gender disparities and championing the women who point the way to a more diverse and inclusive future for the coffee industry.
We are so grateful to Chelsea Grant for speaking to us about her experiences as the “Head of Paranormal Production Roasting” at female-led Brandywine Coffee Roasters.
What was your first job in the coffee industry?
"My first job in the coffee industry was working as a cashier at a Brew-Haha Cafe (a local Delaware coffee shop). I trained as a barista but was only there for a short time after that."
How did you become a roaster?
"I took on a job at the roastery as a production worker and quickly gained interest with the science aspect of coffee. I've always gravitated towards the more hands on and tinkering side of things so naturally I wanted to learn everything I could about all the buttons on the roaster and how it all worked. Fortunately, the Head Roaster at the time needed help so it gave me a lot of time to ask questions and learn what I could while helping. While working at the roaster, the position of Production Roaster was offered to me and I took it and ran."
What were the challenges like becoming a roaster?
"One of the biggest challenges I faced was during my first holiday season order rush. It was some of the most physically demanding work I had ever done in my life. I would have a grocery list of things to do from the moment I walked in, until the moment I could cool the roaster down at the end of the day. It took me a while to become conditioned to the responsibility of being the Head Production Roaster for such a well established company. Once I figured out an efficient workflow with the help of my manager, Tara Donnarumma, the days became a lot less strenuous."
Were there perceptions about your gender as a roaster from your colleagues?
"I am surprisingly fortunate enough to have most of my leadership identify as women. They pushed and supported me to be the most efficient at work which led to me becoming the Head Production Roaster and now Coffee Roasting Manager."
What advice would you give to women who are aspiring to become a roaster?
"Be as creative as you can. Always try to have fun and learn from your mistakes. Ask questions from other roasters and learn as much as you can about your roaster, its maintenance and the coffee you're working with."
Tell us a little about your day-to-day life as a roaster?
"As a production roaster with a profiling mentor I roast everything for our wholesale and retail needs. First thing is first and I make a cup of coffee while waiting for my roaster to warm up, yes I drink it black in case you were wondering. While sipping and catching up with my work pals, I log into my computer and check demands for wholesale and webstore orders. Based on that information I determined how many roasts of each coffee I will need to do. I weigh my green beans out and separate them into labeled buckets. Once I have all my buckets in a row I spend the rest of the day roasting. Whenever I’m on a roll and finish early I help the rest of the coffee production assisting in bagging coffee, packaging mail orders to be shipped, or organizing green beans for the next day’s roast."
What are you excited about right now?
"Outside of roasting coffee I really enjoy being creative. I play drums in a band called Hoochi Coochi as well as play guitar in my free time. I’ve been drawing and creating physical art since I was a kid and recently have been doing commissioned artwork for bands as well as my own. During lockdown I vowed to be more physically active and have been spending more time in the rock gym with some of my Brandywine Coffee Roasters pals. I’ve also been trying to take advantage of the slower pace of life during quarantine by reflecting, prioritizing my values, and spending time with the best dog in the world, my Boxer Kenzi."