Women's History Month Feature
As Head Roaster at Equator Coffees, Michelle Fleming is at the helm of the very identity of our coffees, perfecting roast profiles to taste, and overseeing our full team of roasters here in Marin. She connected with us this week to talk coffee roasting, role models, and what Women’s History Month means to her.
Hi, Michelle. Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi, I'm Michelle Fleming, Head Roaster at Equator Coffees. I started my career in coffee as a barista, during college, but pretty quickly realized I'd rather be behind the scenes, roasting. I love fruit forward washed coffees, especially from Colombia, Burundi and Kenya. I think kouign-amann is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of black coffee. I love to bake elaborate pastries in my free time.
What does it mean to work at a women founded company?
One thing I've noticed working at a female founded company is subtle, but meaningful differences in workplace culture compared to other jobs I've had in the past. The Equator Coffees roastery is an incredibly collaborative environment with great communication between teams.
What is it like being a woman in coffee?
Being a woman in coffee is both gratifying and frustrating, as it is anywhere else in life. Many of the women in the coffee industry are employed as coffee producers, both as farmers and in coffee mills, or baristas. These roles are so essential to the industry, but they don't have the biggest platform and voice. I love getting to roast coffees from women's producer groups, and help to highlight their exceptional work. But in the future I hope to see more women in the management roles that drive conversations about the future of the coffee industry.
What does Women's History Month mean to you?
For me, Women's History Month is about discovering women's contributions to art, science, and culture that may have been left out of history classes when I was growing up. In the last decade I see women's accomplishments being included in classrooms and media to a much greater degree. I missed out on a lot of that growing up in the 90's and I've got to catch up now!
Who is a female role model that inspires you?
One of my role models is Erna Knutsen, who first used the term "Specialty Coffee" in 1974! Her name isn't well known outside the coffee industry, but she changed the way the world thinks about coffee, and she was a big advocate for women in coffee. She started out as a secretary, and really had to prove herself just to get a seat at the cupping table. I feel that she paved the way for so many of us, and I hope I can achieve even a fraction of the impact she made in her career.
Which coffee is your current favorite at the Roastery?
What advice would you give to other women looking to build their career in coffee?
My advice to other women looking to build a career in coffee is to be confident and speak up, even if you have to push yourself outside your comfort zone. I've trained a lot of roasters who are coming in with a love for specialty coffee but little experience cupping and naming what they taste. Consistently I see women hesitate to voice their opinions, feeling like they need to earn the right to name tasting notes or suggest a different way to roast a coffee. In contrast, most of the men I have trained are confident in sharing their opinions earlier in their careers.
Associate Lead Roaster Lauren West and Head Roaster Michelle Fleming at the Equator Coffees Roastery in San Rafael, CA.