Interview: Girls Who Grind Coffee

Equality in the coffee industry is an often-overlooked subject. Across the globe the subject is a hot topic – from the comments heard almost daily by a certain POTUS, to the #MeToo campaign that is helping to expose abuse and open up debate surrounding harassment, to the continual pay-gap between sexes – and it is high time for the debate to take its place amongst coffee drinkers worldwide.

It is seen in the fields, where women are estimated to make up 60-80% of the workers on coffee farms, yet are more often than not excluded from training and more senior positions. It is seen in the ownership of these businesses and lands where, in some of the most severe cases, women are limited by law to what they can own. It is seen in the US, where there’s a pay gap of 13.6%, and it is seen closer to home where women regularly outnumber men as baristas, yet men still remain over twice as likely to reach the highest positions in this field.

In order to find out more about the issues the industry faces and how we can help push for equality in the coffee business, we decided to talk to Fi O’Brien, co-founder of Girls Who Grind Coffee (GWGC), an all-female roastery based in Wiltshere. Run in partnership with expert coffee roaster Casey Lalonde, GWGC focusses on supporting females in coffee, while roasting great tasting beans.

Hi Fi, how’s your day going so far?
Hello! Day has been good, busy, but good! Packing lots of wholesale orders can only mean two things, lots of coffee and music – obviously then followed by wine!

So, tell me about yourselves first, how did you and Casey meet and how did you realise you both had a passion for coffee?
Casey and I had moved to Frome, Somerset at different times and met through our kids at baby yoga, as you do, ha! Both coming from coffee-centric countries previously (Melbourne and New York) we got chatting about things we missed from back home and how we would like to recreate a business here in the UK, with those same vibes and ideals.

Tell me about Girls Who Grind Coffee. How did it start and what was the reason?
Basically Girls Who Grind Coffee was a name that I had come up with a couple of years ago and I knew I wanted to do something with it for women in the coffee industry, so when Casey got talking about her plan for owning a roastery we felt as though it was the perfect opportunity to bring our two ideas together. With our business being owned and run by women, it was the ultimate set-up for Girls Who Grind to come to life – offering that support and celebration of other women in the coffee industry who we felt had been underrepresented.

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As you know, the coffee industry is very male-dominated. Why do you think this is and how can we change it?
I feel as though it has a little bit to do with the whole Hipster-Barista culture thing going on over the past few years – hipsters, beards and coffee seem to go hand-in-hand in mainstream culture for some reason. Personally, I think it’s because men in coffee generally like to geek out about ratios and machinery, so for some women it can feel a little intimidating – NOT saying that women don’t also enjoy those things but it’s played out to us a ‘boys and their toys’ kind of scene. Then when it comes to roasting – we’re talking about even bigger bits of kit, heavy machinery etc so women are generally not expected to be “suited” for the job – but we’re here along with many other women to PROVE THEM WRONG. I think by simply creating a more level playing field in all areas of coffee will make it more of the norm. Also, it’s really important for women to have the confidence in themselves – belief and understanding that they have their own set of skills to bring to the table.

With a focus on supporting females in the coffee industry, how do you think Girls Who Grind helps celebrate those women and inspire others to get involved?
By supporting female producers, sharing their stories and putting them front and centre of our packing and design, means that you can’t help but notice them – read their stories, appreciate the incredible things they are achieving! Also, we’d hope that other women who want to get into the coffee industry will feel empowered by what we are doing, seeing us do this gives them the confidence and motivation that, they too, can do this.

What’s the atmosphere like at your roastery compared to other mixed-sex environments you’ve worked in previously?
I suppose the main difference is that we are both really supportive of what we are trying to achieve individually. No intimidation tactics, with the one focus to empower ourselves and other women-alike. We haven’t set out for the roastery to be a ‘women only’ environment, it just happens that at the moment it is simply the two of us within the business, hence the all-female roastery. It is not to say that we wouldn’t employ men in the future, but anyone who joins the team will certainly have to appreciate and want to work towards gender equality.

So, tell us about the roasting side of Girls Who Grind. How do you create the ideal roast for yourselves?
Casey is the Head Of Coffee within our team, she has an amazing understanding of coffee and how to gently bring out the best of the coffee from each region. We like it to really represent the origin from which it comes. We receive lots of samples from various female producers, which Casey then sample roasts on our Ikawa, and then we always cup together – having an understanding of what our customers are looking for and what we feel passionate about, we then select. Also, the story behind the coffee is incredibly important – ensuring that it adheres to our strict buying policies. Basically we just want to do the female producers proud!

What are your passions outside of coffee? And if you can, how do you incorporate them in the business?
My personal passions outside of GWGC are design and cafe culture, I feel really blessed that I can bring my design skills to the table with GWGC. Being Head Of Brand means that I can create a brand that excites me. My background prior to GWGC is as a Creative Strategist, and I also owned a cafe back in Melbourne, so GWGC is the ultimate mash-up of my two favourite things! Casey loves being outside in nature, hiking and exploring our local countryside gives her inspiration for the business. She is also learning to play the fiddle and is planing to serenade us while we work – haha!

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Your branding is so visual and definitive, how important was it to get it right when you started out?
Thank you! As I mentioned, my background is as a Creative Strategist, so I work together with my husband Ben who creates all of the illustrations of the women on the pack for me and I do the brand work and social media. It’s incredibly important that the design is 100% right – each illustration/pack represents the spirit behind the coffee – capturing the essence of the female producers and the tasting notes combined – it’s how we tell their story.

We’re fascinated by what you’re doing at Girls Who Grind, are there other businesses doing similar great work to yourselves?
Yes, I feel like the last 12 months has been incredible for the female empowerment movement, there is still obviously so much that still needs changing, but I feel like finally our voices are being heard. We are in awe of the work Tate Roastery is doing with their Gender Equality Project and the incredible women of the Luminary Bakery, an all-female social enterprise based in East London; providing training, community and employment opportunities to empower women who have experienced poverty, homelessness, violence or criminal activity.

We’ve seen shops in Brighton serving Girls Who Grind, are there any plans to guest roast for other Brighton coffee shops?
Not at the very moment, but we are always up for working with any like-minded cafes and businesses.

What does the future hold?
Our plan for the year ahead is to develop our sourcing policies, creating tighter criteria to ensure empowerment and equality, and later in 2019 we plan to open our first GWGC cafe – which we are very excited about!

Where can people find you?
They can find us at various cafes around the country and online at, on Instagram and Twitter.