Women in Coffee - Jesse from Sisters Coffee

As I recently wrote here, 2020 was a year of deep reflection for us at Dripkit. We believe that how we choose to run our company is as important as what we produce. We believe in recognizing the value and potential of all, and we are committed to making the coffee industry an inclusive space. For too long, the coffee industry has been largely male-dominated. This multi-part series will focus on women in the coffee space, and we hope, will open up conversations around making the entire coffee industry a more inclusive and equitable place. 

Dripkit is excited to launch a collaboration with Oregon-based roaster, Sisters Coffee. Sisters is an important partner for Dripkit, as they share a commitment in supporting women-owned organizations at every level of the coffee supply chain. Jesse Durham owns and operates this family-run business with her brothers. We're excited to share a recent conversation we had with Jesse about the work she has been doing to empower women in the coffee industry.


Why do you think female leadership is important in coffee?

“Being a female entrepreneur in any industry is both inspiring and challenging. However, in the coffee industry I believe female leadership is especially vital to moving our communities forward. 

It's important for the simple reason that coffee is so prevalent in our daily lives and has historically operated in a male dominated space, from the farm to export, from roasting to barista work. Women play integral roles in bringing coffee to life, yet have largely been left out of farm ownership, finance, and management. In an industry known for its supply chain opacity, women leading women is the answer. Women demonstrating to fellow women professionals that we are business owners, we are managers, and we are experts in our field will create an industry that lifts communities up and moves them forward.” 

What inspired you to focus on female empowerment as it relates to Sisters, and the coffee industry as a whole?

"I don’t know if I can say that there was a specific event that motivated me to focus on female empowerment, but I will say that the more I worked in the coffee industry the more I noticed that oftentimes I would find myself in a room of decision-makers who were predominantly male. At the same time, I started to realize that despite being a small company, many opportunities to lift up women were readily available to me. The more I collaborated with fellow women coffee professionals, the more I saw the importance of simply talking about the work we were doing. In so many ways, women have been fundamental in creating smart, and meaningful change in the coffee industry. As women, I think we need to put a megaphone on that work so we can broadcast our message and shape the future of coffee. It’s time to turn up the volume on women in coffee."

Can you explain your experience with, and understanding of the coffee supply chain? What are the problems? How do those problems relate to gender?

"I remember one time in 2006—early on in my career—I traveled to a dry mill outside of Popayán, Colombia. At the time I was researching the efficacy and transparency of certified fair trade coffee. In 2006, it was not as common for roasters to travel to coffee producing countries, and so the dry mill had prepared a great presentation on their work, and I also spoke about our family business and shared our experience as a small coffee roaster in the U.S. Upon finishing my segment in the conference room, surrounded by a table of 10 men, I asked if they had any questions for me. The room was silent for a moment, and then one person asked if I had a boyfriend.

The coffee industry has come a long way since then, but this memory is one that I hold close to my heart, as motivation for giving women a louder voice in coffee. At the leadership level, it’s still not uncommon for me to be in a room where I find myself to be the only woman. So many of us want the best future for coffee, yet we still struggle to include the solutions for creating that future. One example of this is the sobering and tragic fact that the vast majority of coffee farmland is owned by men. Women are largely left out of financial and management decisions in coffee, yet we know that when women are included in these aspects of the supply chain, that we see more thriving coffee communities."

Can you explain your experience working with women-led groups in the supply chain?

"In 2014, I was invited to speak on an all women's panel at Let’s Talk Coffee Rwanda to share my experience as a woman business leader. While there, I was connected with the Nyampinga cooperative, comprised of 235 women farmers in Southern Rwanda. Sisters Coffee’s first purchase of Nyampinga’s coffee was just 1,320 pounds, but because of their commitment to quality we’ve been able to increase our purchase each year. Today we are purchasing 24,000 pounds, and the entrepreneurial spirit of this women led cooperative continues to move our businesses forward. Sisters Coffee is proud to be one of Nyampinga's largest customers, which has allowed the cooperative to invest in infrastructure and new technologies on the farm.

Other women partners include the woman owned and operated farm in Panama, Hortigal Estate, Tigesit Waqa in Ethiopia and many others. We have also led several fundraising campaigns to support the Partnership for Gender Equity, which works to reduce gender gaps in coffee producing countries."