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She's the Roaster Is Building a Powerful Community

This hashtag is doing big things IRL.

by Randy Miller | March 08, 2021

"Far too often, women stand as a minority at a cupping table and defer to the overpowering voice." Out to change that — and the lack of respresentation throughout the coffee industry — are roasters like Jen Apodaca, Founder and Owner of Mother Tongue Coffee in Oakland, California, and Baylee Engberg, Head Roaster at Trailhead Coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon.

When at the 2016 United States Roasters Championship, these two women found a like mind in one another, She's the Roaster, known on Instagram as #shestheroaster, was born. "It’s invaluable that we have a space to talk about our craft, our current projects, our wins, our losses, our struggles, and share opinions openly without scrutiny and correction."

In honor of International Women’s Day, we spoke with Baylee, Director of Marketing and Engagement at #shestheroaster, to learn how this organization is chipping away at that lack of representation and inequity through community, education, and empowerment.

How and why was She's the Roaster founded?

She’s the Roaster wasn’t necessarily “founded,” but rather patched together by some masterminds in 2016 at the United States Roasters Championship. Jen Apodaca can be coined the mother of She’s the Roaster, but with no shortage of help — the movement blossomed to promote and encourage the very few women roasting competitors and professionals as the championship had long been male dominated. There’s a long list of volunteers past and present that have served time to the cause.

It’s all in constant evolution. Around the time of origination there was a lack of representation for women (I mean, still is, but we’re at least holding down a noticeable percentage). So, safe to say, the goal back then was getting more women into roasting roles and empowering them, however necessary, and that sentiment will always ring true for us.

Nowadays the focus is community. She’s the Roaster exists currently to find scholarships for the marginalized and to network with like-minded and fellow women. Many of the hosted events (editor's note: which are currently on hiatus due to the pandemic) have been coffee cuppings — a “show and tell” if you will.

How does She's the Roaster empower women in coffee?

She’s the Roaster is a soap box. She’s the Roaster is a proud mother putting her child’s work on the fridge. She’s the Roaster is a frontline activist ready to get hosed. She’s the Roaster is the best friend you call on a bad day. She’s the Roaster is your biggest fan sitting front row. She’s the Roaster is your favorite teacher in high school telling you how talented you are. She’s the Roaster is your mentor explaining how to correct something for professional growth. She’s the Roaster is your favorite coworker. She’s the Roaster is your personal assistant.

I’m serious when I say that She’s the Roaster started as a club and has flourished into a colossal support system. My work with She’s the Roaster changes from personal messages responding to mental health, to making shirts, to promoting charities, to seeking scholarships, to planning events, to reposting your photo, to connecting women roasters to women producers — I don’t say no and I’m here to help however and whenever I can.

Tell us more about your scholarship program.

So, scholarships are tricky for us. In the past, scholarships have been donated which is ideal. Donations range from free admission to coffee courses all the way to financially covered Coffee Roasters Guild events. (In more typical times) we often struggle with travel expenses and lodging for the recipients, as we are not a non-profit and purely volunteer and cannot entirely cover those costs.

In the future, we aim to have a large enough budget to accommodate our scholar’s travel. If anybody is interested in hosting a scholarship, please email us at [email protected].

Why are programs like She's the Roaster so important for the future of coffee?

This question! She’s the Roaster originally made waves to protest the lack of women representation in roasting communities — and that’s the beauty of She’s the Roaster — it’s changed and keeps changing.

The main goal is still representation, and always will be, but my vested interest, personally, is the mental and professional well-being of women and the non-binary coffee professionals.

Let’s use some data to back this up. In the 2020 Roasters Championship (four years after She’s the Roaster made waves), nearly 25 percent of the US Roasters competitors used pronouns other than “he/him.” Of the roasters going on to Nationals, only 8.33 percent are women or non-binary — and don’t get me started on how few are people of color. There’s still work to be done, and every year these statistics motivate the hell out of me.

How has Instagram played a role in the success of your message?

She’s the Roaster has no “headquarters.” Relatively speaking, Instagram serves as our predominant platform, while our Facebook page is more of a forum for women roasters seeking the help of their peers. I try not to cloud it up with daily content, so when folx see something pop up or be shared, they know it’s time to show up for a scholarship or an event.

Why is coffee an important cause of She's the Roaster?

Coffee depends on women. Evidence shows that women play an imperative role in coffee cultivation and coffee farms as a homestead. Studies in Colombia allude that women produce a higher quality coffee due to attention to detail and inherent nurturing traits adopted culturally at youth. How the world has historically sexually divided women— we are now using that trauma to our advantage by banding together. Your “stay at home mom” who is tending to the crop, workers, children, and the house, is now the maternal force from whom you are receiving your ninety-plus micro lots!

What changes have you seen through your work?

The only outcome I ever hope to instill is a sense of belonging and family. I realize that I, nor She’s the Roaster is a superhero that can wave a magic wand around to correct gender and sexism in the world — let alone this industry.

So, I stand as a mere outlet for anyone seeking a friend, help, guidance, or a shoulder and I maintain that She’s the Roaster will continue to create safe spaces and inclusive environments with allies. But, with a side of let’s give ‘em hell!