HISTORY & PHILOSOPHY
OUR STORY LIVES IN EVERY CUP OF COFFEE WE MAKE.
In 1995, when business partners Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell began roasting coffee in a Marin County, Calif., garage, it marked the beginning of their journey to build a high-impact coffee company focused on quality, sustainability and social responsibility.
At the beginning, Brooke and Helen were content to define Equator as a boutique “concierge” roaster, determined to wow wholesale customers with outstanding coffee and service. Over time they realized they were uniquely positioned at the center of four communities—the farmers cultivating the coffee, the wholesale customers buying the coffee, the employees helping to grow the business, and, more recently, the local communities supporting Equator cafés. Learning how to be a good partner to each community became, and continues to be, a motivating force for doing business.
In the early years of Equator, at a time when very few coffee roasters knew which farm the coffees they purchased came from, Brooke went to Guatemala to visit coffee farms. It was this visit that gave Equator the foundation for learning the ways to establish lasting relationships with producers, as well as a better understanding of the struggles and challenges that the coffee farming communities face.
Our commitment to a sustainable, transparent approach spans more than two decades. Today, Equator operates five cafes in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2016, the U.S. Small Business Administration honored Equator by naming us the "National Small Business of the Year." Since our founding, we have been a leader in sustainability and social responsibility. In 2011, we formalized our commitment to sustainability by becoming a certified B Corporation, making it the first California coffee roaster to do so.
Equator’s philosophy on coffee is built from a question: how do we create value from our perch in the coffee supply chain, standing at the intersection between local and distant coffee communities? It is this question that continues to frame our narrative as we strive to grow a business that values the stakeholders in both communities with respect for the people, the process, and the product. Equator believes that quality underlies economic and environmental sustainability, and this is the pillar of our approach. We support environmentally sound certifications, as well as practices that produce the highest quality coffee while securing a dignified life for those who produce it.
It is no surprise that the relationships we have nurtured through the years remain at the heart of our coffee program. Brooke and Helen routinely pay quality incentives to farmers, support farming community initiatives, and provide micro-loan credits—all to ensure Equator has a consistent supply of quality coffee. Only with those practices in place can Equator’s dedicated and experienced team here in Marin transform the farmers’ efforts into a quality cup of coffee so that you can enjoy the results of all their hard work.
WE SUPPORT PROJECTS AROUND THE WORLD THAT IMPROVE QUALITY OF LIFE AND FOOD SECURITY IN COFFEE GROWING REGIONS.
In 2011, Equator was the first coffee roaster in the U.S. to become a certified B Corp., solidifying its role as a company that is part of a global movement redefining impact and success in business, while valuing everyone in the supply chain.
Finca Sophia is a coffee farm owned by our very own Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell, along with Willem Boot of Boot Coffees, and our former Director of Coffee, David Pohl. Located in the highlands of Panama at an altitude of 2,100 meters, possibly the highest farm in Central America, Finca Sophia was founded in 2008. It is planted solely in Gesha—pairing this legendary coffee varietal and the extreme altitude—with the goal to yield a one of a kind coffee. After years of planning and preparation, our first harvest of Finca Sophia was fortunate enough to be named a Good Food Awards winner in 2016.
Finca Sophia’s loyal workforce is led by its manager, Kelly Hartmann, a second generation coffee farmer whose family pioneered coffee cultivation in this part of Panama back in the 1920s. Six workers and their families, all from the Ngobe Bugle indigenous group in Panama, work with Kelly on the farm. They bring their culture and traditions to the farm and we are grateful for their dedication to making Finca Sophia a reality.
From our farmers’ communities to our local cafés, Equator’s mission is to create a positive impact. This is why we have an intense, loyal following. Whether it is Thomas Keller of the French Laundry or a customer visiting one of our cafés, when we say, “Our story lives in every cup we make,” we mean it.