From a rented garage to becoming California's first certified B Corp roaster, Brooke McDonnell, Maureen McHugh, and Helen Russell's globally minded brand has come a long way — both in accomplishment and distance — to bring you the best coffee.
How did Equator get started?
In 1995, we started in a rented garage in Corte Madera just north of San Francisco. The desk was two cabinets supporting a particle board slab. On it sat a phone, a small blue Mac computer, and a 2.5 kilo Petroncini roaster. Our first headquarters held just three of us. Helen took charge of the phone (sales!), Maureen took charge of the Mac (numbers!), and Brooke took charge of the roaster (maker!). It was truly a marriage of sensibilities.
Where does the name Equator come from?
Coffee is grown along the equatorial belt between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. From the early days, we were focused on where our coffees were grown and how coffee impacted the farmers and their communities.
What is Equator's approach to sourcing?
Equator connects global coffee farming communities and coffee lovers in the US. The journey from seed to cup is long. Every step in our supply chain should be equitable, sustainable and beneficial for all involved. Our goal is to develop sustainable business relationships with coffee producers around the world. By focusing on high quality coffee, seasonal recurring purchases, and high market prices, we are able to forge long term partnerships that mutually benefit all parties.
Why was becoming a certified B Corp so important?
As a certified B Corporation, Equator is a demonstrative leader in sustainable practices. This third-party certification requires us to demonstrate transparency and accountability throughout our supply chain and quantify the impact our business creates for our employees, the community, and the environment. It is a valuable process that pushes us to articulate policies and refine our processes. We are proud to be part of this growing community of more than 1,600 certified B Corps from 42 countries, and over 120 industries, working together toward one unifying goal: using business as a force for good.
Tell us about your local community.
Over the last 26 years what started as our Bay Area community has become our family. We create and build cafes that reflect the culture and needs of the customers we serve. Whether we’re offering a community gathering hub or hosting a cycling event at one of our cafes, we create space in the world for people to come together and commune over a cup of coffee. The San Francisco Bay Area is an inclusive and welcoming community and we strive to welcome a diverse community while fostering an environment that sparks inspiration, conversation and collaboration.
How have you seen women’s role in coffee evolve?
When Equator started roasting coffee in the mid '90s, there weren't many female roasters. It was basically unheard of at that time for three women to found a coffee company. Since then, women in coffee have gone from being overlooked to having a seat at the table. We are fortunate to work in an industry that has produced so many inspiring women leaders — from pioneers such as Erna Knutsen and producers such as Aida Batlle, to World Barista Champion Agnieszka Rojewska.
There's still work to be done... The difference now is that we [women] can speak up about what is happening within the industry.
While it's easy to see the progress that has been made by generations of coffee professionals and the changes facilitated by the great women who have come before, there's still work to be done. There is not equal representation in many key jobs in the field. Women are still kept out of some cupping rooms and roasting departments. The difference now is that we can speak up about what is happening within the industry. Women are seeking out companies that embrace diversity and moving to roles where they are valued.
Where do you see Equator in the next five years?
We’ll still enjoy being a platform for coffee professionals. The influx of energy, ideas and talent inspires us and keeps us evolving. Coffee brings people together. We’ll continue to pursue growth opportunities in wholesale, retail, ready-to-drink and direct-to-consumer. And we’ll definitely look to share our passion for great coffee and social impact far and wide.
What are you most excited about right now?
In the past year, we have been excited to see an increase in at-home brewing. Since people have been spending more time at home, we are seeing greater interest in improving brewing practices to achieve the best tasting coffee possible. Although we look forward to the day that our cafes are once again packed with coffee drinkers, we also are excited to know that the barista skills of many of our customers are even better than they once were.