Girls Who Grind Coffee is an all-female, speciality coffee roastery owned and run by Fi O’Brien and Casey LaLonde. Casey, originally from Upstate New York, and Fi, from Melbourne, Australia, met and became friends in their adopted hometown of Frome, Somerset.
Wanting to create an industry where women felt empowered and celebrated, they solely buy coffee from female producers, sharing their stories to the world and giving them the financial reward and recognition they deserve. Melanie Sykes finds out what fills their cup.
Your story is so inspiring. Tell us how you both met and your reasons for igniting this business.
Fi O’Brien and Casey LaLonde: We met through our children at a baby yoga class of all things. We got chatting about our insane love and need for coffee and our past backgrounds in the industry. Casey previously worked in a roastery in Vermont and had always dreamt of owning her own roastery. Fi had a background in the creative industry and cafe ownership. It seemed serendipitous that we should meet.
We just had to start a business together. There was really no choice in the matter!
I love that you’re from opposite corners of the globe, yet you met in Somerset and had this alignment. Is the coffee industry historically male-dominated?
Fi O’Brien and Casey LaLonde: Yes! All along the value chain, from grower to barista, men are making the money and calling the shots. There are plenty of women involved along the way but historically they haven’t been given decision-making roles or financial responsibility on the growing side. This is due to gender inequity. Women simply haven’t had the same access to education and opportunities that men have. The roasting community can still feel very much like a boys’ club. If you’re a man, you’re greeted with open arms. As women, we have to prove ourselves.
As women, we had felt a little pushed out of an industry we had loved so much and had so much to give to. Rather than simply complain about it, we thought we would make the change we wanted to see!
Where does your passion for coffee stem from?
Casey LaLonde: Coffee was always a big part of my life growing up. All the adults around me drank it and I came to love the different rituals everyone had for their morning brew. When I went to university I became interested in the producing side of coffee, how to make things more equitable and profitable, for producers in particular. I was also introduced to the sensory side of coffee and have never looked back. There are so many aspects to this industry and I’m constantly learning!
Fi O’Brien: My relationship with coffee runs deep. It’s brought so much to my life, and for that I am grateful. It has become a part of me. It has helped me through some tough times, it’s been there through conversations with friends and family, it wakes me up each morning, keeps me going to get things done throughout each day and now it has become the catalyst for change and that is what I am proudest of.
You have a close-knit team. How do make sure that all is running smoothly, be in positions of authority and still have a good time with your crew?
Fi O’Brien and Casey LaLonde: It’s been a real learning process. We are a small team so it’s important to have good communication and keep the mood light. Tunes are always on in the background and inevitably our conversations end up about food, our second love after coffee!
Tell us about your coffee. What sets it apart? What is your customer buying into apart from great flavour?
Fi O’Brien and Casey LaLonde: We source 100% of our coffees from female producers. When people buy our coffee, they are contributing to the incomes of the amazing businesswomen who grow delicious coffees, run and manage farms, export and sell their coffees. We also give 10% of our profits from retail coffee directly back to the producer through our Cheek to Cheek program. This is to further compensate women for the value they add to the coffees, through the use of the stories they entrust us with.
Your female empowerment message is strong. I am really moved by it. When did your interest in the women pickers, sorters, labourers and as you say 70% of the coffee workforce that people never get to hear about, become so important to you?
Casey LaLonde: I studied Women’s Studies at university and have had an interest in gender equality for a while. When Fi and I got talking about setting up the business, it was a no-brainer for us to focus on breaking down barriers that hold women back in this industry.
The more I learned about the injustices women face in this industry, the more we realised the importance of not only buying from women but shouting about the work they do and creating conversations surrounding gender inequity in coffee.
Fi O’Brien: Before meeting Casey I just knew that I wanted to do something for strong women doing amazing things. I’m always so inspired by their stories! Oddly I had already the name Girls Who Grind Coffee ready to go, so when Casey and I got talking about opening a roastery together it all came together very serendipitously!
And last but not least, where can we get the ‘Girls & Coffee & Fuck the Patriarchy’ t-shirt?
Fi O’Brien and Casey LaLonde: Haha! That’s most definitely one of our best sellers and available from our Girls Who Grind Coffee website.
Follow the Girls Who Grind Coffee team on Instagram at @girlswhogrindcoffee for regular updates.