“Our first headquarters held just three of us.” Oh, how Equator has grown!
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.”
March is Women’s History Month — 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.”
Tell us about some of the initiatives you’re currently leading.
“We lead a number of initiatives at the producer level, many of which benefit women coffee producers. From Sumatra’s Ketiara co-op, we have been purchasing coffee exclusively from the women members, paying a premium that goes into a special fund to support women’s programs. For many years we have been buying coffee from all-women co-ops in Honduras and Rwanda and just began our second year of purchasing from a group of women farmers in Burundi. In Nicaragua we support a women’s land rights program that transfers legal ownership of property into the hands of the women who farm it. These efforts make a genuine impact in the communities where these women grow coffee.”
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.”
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