Starbucks Reserve Baristas Connect with IWCA

Written by Kaitlin Higgins, IWCA Research Alliance Volunteer

Starbucks recently introduced its newest venture touting increased quality and “the rarest, most extraordinary coffees Starbucks has to offer” through its Reserve roasteries and coffee bars. At the Starbucks Reserve bar in Wrigleyville (Chicago), Ill., baristas have taken a special interest in learning more about where their favorite coffee comes from.

According to Shawn Gancarz, the store’s manager, the team of baristas have done significant research on the important roles that women play in the production of coffee. Their internet searches brought them to the website of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance (IWCA), and the Research Alliance page specifically, so Shawn got in touch with IWCA Global Board member and Research Alliance chair Ruth Ann Church. As president of Artisan Coffee Imports, Church happened to know that Starbucks Reserve serves a Rwandan coffee from the Abakundekawa Cooperative in the Gakenke region, and that cooperative is represented by Misozi Coffee, the same marketing group from which Artisan sources Rwandan women-grown coffee. Thanks to Gancarz’s email to Church in support of his baristas’ thirst for knowledge, the Starbucks Reserve staff got more than they expected in terms of connection with producers, stories to tell about coffee, women in coffee, and the challenges faced by farmers in Rwanda.

While in Kigali at the end of August, Church hosted a Skype discussion between some of the staff of the Wrigleyville Reserve Bar and Kevin Nkunzimana, Managing Director of Misozi Coffee, who represents Abakundekawa and other cooperatives, including the cooperative from which Artisan sources.

Out of their curiosity came new perspectives for the Starbucks staff to consider, from climate change to the economics of coffee. During the trans-Atlantic call, Gancarz, along with Ash Kolodziej (education, leadership, and training) and baristas Kate, Brian, and Tray, learned from Kevin that unexpected rainfall or droughts caused by climate change are a major challenge, as is engaging young people in coffee farming and finding ways to make it a marketable and desirable career.

Just about a month after this initial connection, on Sept. 24, Church and three of her IWCA Global Board colleagues visited the Wrigleyville store in person, thanks to serendipitous timing with their in-person board meeting taking place in Chicago. During a 9 PM tasting of Starbucks’ decaffeinated Costa Rican roast, Church, along with IWCA president Kellem Emanuele, co-Vice President and Treasurer Sharon Riechers, and chapter relations board member Maria Elena Botto, finally met Gancarz in person, and spoke with shift supervisor Carina and barista Alex, and several others.

Expanding on some of the information Nkunzimana had previously divulged, Maria Botto, who is also the President of the IWCA El Salvador Chapter, explained some of the challenges that she faces as a coffee producer in El Salvador. She explained how the “roya” or coffee leaf rust, is a pest that gets into the roots of the coffee trees, causing all the leaves to fall. Her farm was devastated in 2012 and left with only 10% of their pre-roya production level. Now, six years later, they are back to 25% of their earlier production levels. “The road to recovery is hard and long,” was basically Botto’s message.

Carina and Alex expressed that the opportunity to share with IWCA leaders and volunteers was particularly inspiring for them because of their educational background in women’s studies. Between their dedication to empowering coffee producers--particularly women--and the knowledge that has come from their own research and new connections, the Starbucks staff is energized to continue collaborating, and already have a few ideas brewing.

Nkunzimana had told the staff on the Skype call about Hingekawa, a group of women within the Abakundekawa cooperative, and given the success of the Abakundekawa coffee at Starbucks, there may be opportunity to encourage Starbucks buyers to support these women coffee producers in Rwanda, as well. Gancarz also suggested that he would like to see if there is interest at the Starbucks headquarters in Chicago to host another Skype call with producers at origin, this time including more staff at various levels.

Hoping to leverage the time and interest they have already invested in understanding and supporting women in coffee, some of the Wrigleyville staff see volunteering with IWCA as a natural next step. The baristas noted that, to involve more cafe staff and consumers, they could consider hosting a latte art throw down in support of IWCA, considering how popular those events are for Starbucks Reserve bars across the country.

If nothing else, this small but continuing encounter is a beautiful demonstration that baristas really do care about people and sharing the story behind the taste. Emanuele, Riechers, Botto and Church can attest to the amazing care they put into brewing their Costa Rica Hacienda Alsacia coffee using two different brew methods, and pairing it with fresh orange slices.

To use the baristas’ words, they will continue to “translate the work that IWCA does with female producers into a story that can be shared with consumers.”

As Mr. Nkunzimana had emphasized to the staff on that first Skype call with Rwanda, “you are our ambassadors. Thank you!”

Anapaula Pérez Castillo:
Woman of Coffee Excellence

Interview by Monserrat Abad, Coffee Trader and IWCA Volunteer

Among all the chaos and sadness the explosion of El Volcán de Fuego caused, the 14th Guatemala Cup of Excellence International Auction was carried out in June 7, 2018 to bring some light and happiness to the coffee producers in the country.

Down to 34 samples above 86 points selected to participate in the auction and scored by 13 international cuppers who served as judges, the farm La Reforma y Anexos won the first place. Scoring 90.73 made it worthy of ‘The presidential award’. This lot comes from the Huehuetenango region, where the farm of around 74 hectares is located and a region well known for the beautiful coffees produced. This 15 quintals parchment lot was carefully selected from the coffee trees and processed in order to release the full potential resulting in a complex, juicy, sweet, and bright cup, offering  fruity (stone fruit, apricot, melon, orange) and floral (jasmin) Aromas and flavors, rounding it with a silky, creamy, long lasting after taste…Sounds like I want to taste that coffee now!!

Anapaula Pérez Castillo, a member of IWCA Guatemala (Mujeres en Café Guatemala) has a lot to do with this winning lot. She has been working on her father’s farm pursuing excellence.

Anapaula is the fifth generation of coffee growers in her family. Her great grandfather, Mr. Manuel Pérez was the one who acquired the farm “La Reforma y el Anexo” back in 1904. At that time, this farm use to be dedicated to tobacco, corn and bean production, until 1930 when production was switched to coffee, that was picked, processed and carried for days in mules, to Huehuetenango to be sold (nowadays Huehuetenango is just 3 hours away). They did not come back to the farm until the coffee was sold.

Since that time, coffee has been the main product at the farm, involving in its production to the whole family. Currently, Anapaula’s father is the owner of the farm, but she, her mother, husband and brother are deeply involved in the day to day activities at the farm, participating and helping in different areas of the business.

Anapaula has a college degree in Food Engineering. After college she decided to work in the industry, so she could get experience and practice what she had studied, but it was in 2016 when she decided to go back to the family business: coffee production.

M: Tell us about this lot.

Anapaula: This lot is a Washed Process Gesha. Four years ago, the seeds were given to us, before that we did not know the variety. We can say that from that moment we start exploring and working into the so-called “specialty coffee segment” which also led us two years ago to start cupping and knowing our coffee better, with the help and guidance of other family members who also are coffee people. This allowed us to realize that our coffee was really good and has potential to be sold in the international markets. It was this way in 2017, when we sold 3 quintals of a great coffee at $22 USD/Pound. This was the moment when we saw an opportunity to participate in the Guatemala National Cup of Excellence.

We believe, no, we are sure, that coffee quality comes from the tree, so we are very focused on providing our plantations with all the nutrition and care needed. We take particular care also during the cherry picking: the pickers were clearly instructed to pick only red ripe cherry for this special lot to be delivered for processing.

The manager of the farm was always very very vigilant of the wet process before continuing to one of the critical stages, the drying, that was carefully performed at a temperature not higher than 40 degrees ideally for a slow, homogeneous drying of the parchment. Finally, we cupped the lot before enrolling it into the competition. A very strict quality control was carried out.

M: What was so special about it?

Anapaula: As you see, nothing about this lot was a fortuity. From the very beginning, we worked hard to make it a winning lot for Cup of Excellence. Honestly, we were not expecting the first place, we wanted to be among the top lots, that would be significant for us, so when it actually got the first place it was a great surprise and we are very happy!

M: What does coffee make you feel?

Anapaula: Besides being a legacy and a heritage passed from generations, it is our livelihood. It has provided us the economic resources not only for the basic needs, but also to have an education and a better life. Every time I get more involved in coffee, I fall in love even more with it.

I love all the different steps it goes through to get the final product. It is a rewarding work, and the farm is located in a region with spectacular weather and ideal soil to grow quality coffee, so we expect to continue producing it for many years.

M: What would you tell to the new generations in coffee?

Anapaula: Like my father says: “We are standing on a diamond that we haven’t taken advantage of.  Guate has Spectacular coffees!!!” And because of that I tell all the generations, not only youth, but to all, get into coffee, get your children involved in coffee, the more you get to be in touch with the steps and stages of the coffee production and they participate in them, they will fall in love with coffee.

The coffee world has changed so much that now there is opportunity for all, it is not limited anymore for the producer’s children to stay only “at the fields”. There is a need of different types of “knowledge” we can apply along the chain, you have the harvest, the processing, the commercialization, quality control, chemistry, cupping, a lot of science can be applied in the coffee business… There is plenty of room, it is so wide, that we need to change the idea coffee has only to do with the agricultural part.

M: As women in coffee, what would you say to the other women in coffee out there?

Anapaula: It is true that coffee is still strongly led by men, however, every time a woman gets involved in anything (activity, job, company…) it is a plus, as we start participating and contributing more actively everywhere.

Personally, I have witnessed men recognizing the value of women’s work and that in some cases we can even perform better at some activities, and not because we are “better” per se, but whatever we propose and commit to we are very capable of doing it. And I really believe there are certain activities we can do pretty well, for example cupping…. brewing, like the recent US barista champion, a woman! The first one! 

It is naturally in us, we can make coffee great!

M: What are the plans for Anapaula and for the farm?

Anapula: Keep working hard, of course. I want us (my family) to implement improvements at the farm such as ferti-riego, new varieties, more quality controls, better processes and yields, all these in order to produce better quality, so our coffee can have soon access to international markets. Our challenge is to maintain or improve our quality, which also will allows us to continue participating in Cup of excellence.

Congratulations, Anapaula, to you and your family for accomplishments!

To reach Anapaula, and other women leading excellence in Guatemala, please visit IWCA Guatemala’s website:


IWCA Chapter Member Coffees Now Available

Strong Women = Strong Coffee. Economic strength includes market visibility. To support the market visibility of IWCA Chapter members' coffees, the International Women's Coffee Alliance (IWCA) collects and publishes a list of coffees available from IWCA Chapter members. In July 2018, this list includes 26 coffees submitted by 21 IWCA Chapter members from 9 countries.

We anticipate publishing a new IWCA Chapter Member Coffee Availability list in November 2018 and again in February 2019, and as new information becomes available. For questions about the IWCA Chapter Members Coffee Availability List, please contact Ms. Blanca Castro, IWCA Chapter Manager. For inquiries about specific coffees, please contact the IWCA Chapter member listed with that coffee.

Click here to access the most recent list of coffees available from IWCA Chapter Members.

IWCA Uganda Chapter Sets a Transformative Agenda

New IWCA Uganda Chapter Board Tables Transformative Agenda for Women Involvement in Coffee Value Chains

Kampala, 28 June 2018—For the Uganda Chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance, the year 2018 has seen, and continues to see, numerous transitions and transformations—all towards empowering women in the coffee sector to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives, and encouraging and recognizing their participation in coffee value chain in Uganda.

During the Stakeholders Meeting and General Assembly that was held on Friday 1st June 2018 at Hotel Africa in Kampala, Uganda, the IWCA Uganda elected a new nine-member Board of Governors, comprising eight women and one man. Chaired by former Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Victoria Sekitooleko, the new board comprises renowned personalities with a range of experience and expertise in the different coffee value chains. who have individually, over the years participated in several activities within the coffee value chain in and out of Uganda.

The Chapter has tabled and maintains an ambitious to-to list, prioritizing lobbying and advocacy for women to stimulate meaningful, sustainable and women-led economic growth in Uganda’s coffee sector as well as to unrestricted participation of women throughout the coffee value chain in Uganda and beyond.

The membership of the IWCA Uganda Chapter did not only unanimously resolve to adapt the IWCA global mission of ‘empowering women in the international coffee community to achieve meaningful and sustainable lives; and to encourage and recognize the participation of women in all aspects of the coffee industry’, but also resolved adopt the core values.

A key milestone reached was the review and adaption of the Chapter Constitutional. This is a strategically important milestone for the IWCA Uganda Chapter as it paves way for the long-awaited strategic guidance for the review and implementation of the Chapter’s five-year Strategic Plan, toward a shared mission for women in the coffee value chain.

“We would like to convey our sincere gratitude and special appreciation to all of our valued partners for the invaluable support and relationships that the IWCA Uganda Chapter continues to enjoy”, said Hon. Dr. Victoria Sekitooleko, the incoming President of the Chapter.

The IWCA Uganda Chapter was formed in 2010 and attained its legal status in 2012. Despite structural and socio-cultural impediments to women access to essential factors of production (including land, labor and loans and credit), women representation and capacity development do present significant challenges for active and meaningful involvement of women in the coffee value chains. The women want to be recognized for their participation and they feel they can contribute a lot to the coffee agenda.

In creating a shared value, the Chapter, under the stewardship of the new board is embracing a a theory of change, qualitatively describing the priority interventions essential to achieve the Chapter’s objectives over the next five years.

IWCA Research Alliance Updates

Heeding the Call for More Research on Women in Coffee

by Ruth Ann Church, IWCA Global Board of Directors, Research & Impact Assessment

In 2008 - 2009, the International Trade Center (ITC) of the United Nations, set up a bold effort with its partner, the East African Fine Coffee Association, (now called the Africa Fine Coffee Association or AFCA), to try to put a "statistical" stake in the ground on women in the coffee sector. Jointly, they decided to find out what was already known or could be estimated easily about three key indicators:

  1. women's participation in growing and harvesting coffee, and
  2. women's ownership of the land where they work
  3. women's participation in the work of selling coffee on domestic or international markets.

One of the key results of the study was a confirmation of the need for more research to understand the role of women in coffee.

"There is very little information and next to no hard data available on the role of women in the coffee sector in coffee producing countries." (ITC & EAFCA, 2009, pg1)

In other words, shockingly little was known about the role of women in coffee, even in countries with decades long histories of trading the valuable commodity. The interviews with 25 people (mostly women) from 15 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America could only verify that there is no easy way to summarize women’s contributions.

"women's role in the workforce varies significantly, from one country to another or even within the same country." (ITC, 2008, pg33)

The above two quotes, in this author's opinion, are the most important findings of the research. They constitute a rallying cry to the coffee industry, which is searching for ways to battle climate change, leaf rust and an aging farmer population. Shifting coffee onto a more sustainable track for the future will require revisions to industry structures to provide for this vitally important stakeholder group - the women.

IWCA Research Alliance Heeds The Call

The IWCA, a partner mentioned often by the ITC back in 2008 and since, has made some small steps towards gathering and encouraging research suggested by the report. The Research Alliance, is a network of women in research in coffee producing countries that comes together to support each other, and support projects to eliminate the gender data gap. The Alliance has two main achievements to date. Both relate directly to the ITC's charge to gather statistics and publish more studies on the role of women in coffee. A project to collect estimates of the population of female coffee producers in each of the 20 producing countries that have IWCA chapters has so far collected and published estimates from seven countries:

Table 1: Estimates from the IWCA Research Alliance of Female Coffee Producers by Country

Sources: See detail below.

Sources: See detail below.

The second achievement of the Research Alliance is the publication of an e-book by the IWCA chapter in Brazil, the group's largest chapter. The chapter leaders and members in Brazil were shocked and disappointed by reports and articles, including the ITC report discussed here, that state, "there is a very low percentage of women in fieldwork and harvest in Brazil, farming there is highly mechanized." The women of Brazil's coffee industry were galvanized by this statement to share the important contributions of Brazil's women to its coffee sector. They have achieved this by organizing to publish an e-book on women in coffee in Brazil, published December 2017, by an impressive effort of over 40 researchers from 11 institutions from across the country.

Read about both of these achievements in a July 2017 blogpost of the National Coffee Alliance (NCA).

At the IWCA's August 2017 convention in Puebla, Mexico, the work of the Research Alliance was presented, as well as excerpts from Brazil's e-book, alongside research from 2016 from Rwanda (and the Feed the Future Africa Great Lakes Coffee Support Program) and recent learnings from the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros in Colombia.

Also, this March 2018 report, written by Tanya Newton for the Perfect Daily Grind, mentions both ITC's work and IWCA’s efforts, and then an appropriate comment about the need for more credible data to guide the coffee industry.

Ten year's down the road, we can safely say that the ITC's 2008 report was a watershed moment bringing attention to the issues of women in coffee, and the lack of credible data on women’s roles in producing countries. The core message of the report is as dire and needed today as it was 10 years ago. Also, this quote from the ITC's Patricia Francis, Executive Director in 2008, remains true:


"without women, trade generates dollars, but not balanced development." (ITC, International Trade Forum, Issue 3&4, pg. 3)


Sources for IWCA Research Alliance Table 1 above: 2013 estimates from Instituto del Cafe de Costa Rica (ICAFE) in Costa Rica; 2013 estimates from the Consejo in El Salvador; 2016/2017 estimates from Anacafe (Guatemala); 2013 report from the Instituto Hondurevo del Café (ICAFE) Registro Nacional de Productores; Recensement General des Cafeiers Edition 2006-2007, from Institute de Statistiques Et D’Etudes Economiques du Burundi, (ISTEEBU); 2015 Coffee Census published by Rwanda's National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), released May 2016; Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia (FNC).


  • International Trade Commission and East Africa Coffee Association, 2009, "Women in the Coffee Sector", report.
  • International Trade Commission, 2008, International Trade Forum, Issue 3 & 4.