Women in Coffee -Mica Villasenor

In celebration of International Womens Day on March 8th we’ve interviewed two women and asked them to talk about their views and experiences of being a woman in the coffee industry. Our first interview is with our very own coffee roaster Mica Villasenor.


Q: How long have you been in the coffee industry?

A: Since High School really…so 15 years! Oh my.  I started working as a Barista at a local drive thru. We actually served Caravan Coffee.

Q: What is it that drew (or draws) you to coffee?

A: I think initially, as a teenager I just wanted a job. (I may have also had a crush on the guy that got me the job.) 🙂 Once I started, I found myself fascinated by everything about coffee. I really gravitated to the agricultural side of coffee, because I grew up on a plant nursery and my family had a side business of ornamental tree/shrub propagation.  I find coffee plants are beautiful and distinct.  I’ve also been one to seek or learn new things, and in the coffee world there is no limit to what you can learn.

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Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?

A : Understanding my supervisor and his accent…I‘m kidding. I think the most challenging part is staying on top of the education and technology that enhances/simplifies the roasting process.

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Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A: Honestly what I find most rewarding is knowing that when I roast coffee, I’m helping a farmer’s child go to school or get medical care, or a habitat for a species of plant/animal is being protected.  I respect and admire the activism aspect within the coffee world.  The Specialty Coffee realm, specifically, focuses on maintaining higher ethical, humane, and ecological standards as compared to your run of the mill coffee producers. Although conditions of most coffee farms around the world often fail to meet the level I would like to see,  

I’m impressed by the progress the Specialty Coffee Association of America has elicited and continues to improve upon. I’m very grateful that my job and the company I work for focuses on these matters when sourcing coffee.  Compared to even ten years ago, working conditions and environmental stewardship has improved, and that eases my soul a bit. There is also some appreciation for my work when I get to observe happy customers sipping on a freshly poured cup, smiling when they are being educated about the coffee, or when children (or grown children) peer in the window with a look of intrigue as I roast. There is a direct view from the roasters to the tasting room at Caravan, and I get to see this almost everyday.

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Q: If you could visit one coffee growing region which would it be and why?

A: Oooh…that’s a hard one. Perhaps Peru. We (Caravan Coffee) source some coffee through a Women run cooperative, Cafe Femenino, which is all over Latin America.  We specifically use Peruvian coffee, which happens to be one of my favorite to roast.  I would love to see how the ladies work together and the impact they have made in their local growing region.

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Q: What is your favorite single origin coffee?

A:  I tend to fancy most Ethiopian Coffees…and although we do not carry it at the moment, I enjoy Ethiopian Harrar.

Q: How well do you feel women are represented in your field?

A:  I am aware of the existence of other lady roasters. While at conferences I have met many, though the acknowledgement of Lady Roasters is a bit scant.

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Q: What is the  importance of women in the coffee industry?

A: It’s huge, because women currently make up about 85% of the workforce in coffee production.

Q: If you could change one thing in the coffee industry today what would it be?

A: The industrialized agriculture of coffee.  What does that mean? Any industrialized mono-culture creates havoc on the land and environment.  In regards to the coffee growing regions; the biodiversity of both plants, animals, as well as the natural resources are compromised, ensuing complications with the health and welfare of the local population.

Plus, good coffee is best grown in areas of high biodiversity, which contributes various nutrients from other plants that enhance the complexity and flavor of the coffee. More biodiversity also protects coffee plants and reduces the use of pesticides. Since it takes a full coffee tree to produce a pound of coffee, you can imagine the acres/hectares of land that is destroyed.

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Your bread and butter – The importance of a clean machine

For those of us who have ever worked in or owned a coffee shop, we are all probably very aware of the expense of an espresso machine. To get a good quality machine that will be used a lot in a coffee shop or restaurant, these can range from $10,000-$25,000 depending on the specs you need for your establishment. When I first started working in the coffee industry as a barista years ago, I was amazed by this cost!

That being said, with the amount of money we invest into this piece of equipment which essentially is our means of bringing in customers and making a profit, we should recognize the importance of keeping a clean and healthy machine.  

Long story short, there are two key ingredients to consider when keeping up with machine maintenance. Firstly, coffee beans have oils. These can be both a blessing and a curse for coffee lovers. The oils in coffee can produce the wonderful flavors that coffee lovers cherish, but they can also be the reason for a drink to have an awful taste.

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These oils will cling to most anything they can in your espresso machine and coffee grinder, they will get old and start to bring strange flavors to your coffee. It is so important to clean your machine at least once a day by backflushing with an espresso machine cleaning agent of your choosing; it’s even better when this can be done twice in a day’s service. Your espresso grinder also needs to be cleaned daily by washing the hopper, vacuuming out the grinds from that day’s use, and brushing down the accessible interior and exterior parts with a soft-bristled grinder brush. We also recommend running a product such as Grindz™ through your grinders every one to four weeks, depending on usage. This natural product helps soak up the oils in your grinder, preventing build-up and extending the life of the burrs.

The second thing to think about to prolong the life of your machine is to have a good water filtration system in your line before plumbing into your espresso machine. In a lot of areas in the USA hard water is prevalent in the water system and this can play havoc with your machine. By having a good water filtration system you can prevent the buildup of limescale in the boilers and pipes which in some cases can lead to having to send the machine away to a specialist to go through an acid bath to remove this limescale. This can be costly in terms of service and you are unable to open the shop if you don’t have your espresso machine.

 

Take care of your espresso machine and other equipment; they are your bread and butter.

El Salvador Las Isabellas: A love affair with coffee

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Almost 15 years ago, a young man in his early 20’s came into my store-front with some green coffee and a big smile. He told me his name was Francisco Valdivieso and that this coffee was from his family farm back in El Salvador. It wasn’t every day that I met someone like this in Newberg, Oregon, so I was intrigued to say the least.   

He told me about his family history and how, as a young boy during the peak of a civil war, his father moved their family from El Salvador to Oregon to start a new life. Meanwhile his father’s brother, Uncle Ricardo, stayed in El Salvador to manage the family business.

Their coffee farm is located in the western region of El Salvador and has been in Francisco’s family for over 120 years. Hiding among the farm’s shade-grown coffee plants are numerous Mayan ruins. Archeologists have dated some of these sites at over 3,500 years old.

Fascinated by this story and this young man, I took his sample of green coffee with the promise to “cup” it and let him know what I thought. Maybe it was the bias I had developed toward Central American coffees after my first trip to Costa Rica, or maybe it was the excitement of being a part of such a long lineage of coffee farmers. I don’t fully remember. What I do remember is feeling that we needed to offer this coffee to our customers.

I was compelled to acquire this coffee even though, at the time, we already carried a good selection of Central American coffees. I knew the importance of being passionate about the coffees we offered and working with growers who share in that passion. This was one of those coffees and the beginning of our love affair with it.12301711_1272294759462571_6385008008557665071_n

In 2006, my wife Krista and I were invited to take a trip down to the farm in El Salvador to meet the family that had stewarded this coffee farm for the past 120 years. It was a journey of a lifetime that left a mark on me as a person and instilled in me a commitment to seek out and partner with the amazing, vibrant people who grow coffee all around the world.

11219641_1281180785240635_7301883589676014227_nFour years after we first started offering this coffee, we were told that it would no longer be available to purchase. We were heartbroken, but this is not an uncommon situation in the specialty coffee world. It is easy to forget that coffee is an agricultural product subject to growing seasons and fluctuating markets.10170805_1286824291342951_7325454862719768089_n   

A few months ago, I learned that a local restaurant chain had purchased a container of this green coffee and that there would be a possibility of snagging a few bags “off the back of the truck” I was ecstatic! I had a chance to reunite our customers with a unique piece of Caravan history.

It has been seven years since Caravan has offered El Salvador Las Isabellas and I am happy to announce that it is available once again! With its smoky fragrance up front and rose petal and cinnamon finish, this coffee will not disappoint. 

It is available online and in our tasting room. (BUY ONLINE)

Countdown To Ethiopia: Day One

 

Back in February, we sent our Roast Master Paul Allen on an amazing adventure to the farm where our Ethiopia Kochere Biloya is grown. While he was over there he discovered two amazing new coffees and knew that he had to bring them back to Caravan Coffee.

Now, through the month of October, we are counting down the days until they are released.

Stay tuned for exciting deals and information on this coffee!