Cath Franks - Steampunk Coffee Roasters

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

Owner and founder of Steampunk Coffee - pictured left with Kirsty Stewart - North Berwick

What got you into coffee?

Cath got into coffee accidentally and describes herself as “an accidental coffee-business-person.”

“I started a baking business, then a café, and then got into the coffee, initially setting up a roaster in my garage in North Berwick before moving into our warehouse building.”

Cath had always loved coffee and remembers when the first Starbucks started opening in her neighbourhood in the States offering single origin coffee. “It was really exciting because before that is was the bottomless mug of diner coffee. When I first came to Scotland in the early 90’s it was a similar thing, everyone drinking Gold Blend. I used to bring bags of Ethiopian coffee from Starbucks back to Scotland.”

What do you love about being in speciality coffee?

Cath talks first about her love of being able to explore speciality coffee and that it’s sustainable, right through the production chain. “Sadly, I have not had too much chance to travel to countries of origin but we work with Nordic Approach and Falcon Coffees who do. I try to reflect those values at this end - strengthening our local economy and working with other local businesses to do things together.”

 “I love being my own boss and being able to run a business based on my values. I really like to be able to show that we can do something different, something not expected. I’m not a fan of mainstream ‘business values’ which tend to be selfish, cut-throat and competitive. Just because you’re running a business doesn’t mean you need to run it in a way that is harmful to others, that is not the way to build long term relationships. I believe strongly that businesses have a responsibility to their communities and the people on their team. It is possible to build a thriving business while maintaining your values. This is what gives me the motivation.”

North Berwick, the home of Steampunk, suit’s Cath’s preferences because it’s small enough to have a great sense of community. She cites her diverse customer base and loves “bringing good coffee to new people. We’ve always been conscious of creating new speciality markets with our wholesale partners too. I don’t approach cafes who already serve speciality coffee from a local roaster, I prefer to seek out partnerships with businesses just getting into coffee. I love working with people who have a passion in another area like vegan food, baking, craft beer. They want to offer coffee that matches the quality of the rest of what they do and so they are willing to work hard to become great at coffee too. I like the challenge of bringing our coffee to new people, being friendly and non-intimidating. We’re keen to help people learn and to not be frightened by speciality coffee.”

What Cath likes most about working in coffee is the hospitality side of things, “that coffee brings people together - the producers, communities, ways of life. I love that we have a diverse set of people who come into our shop and make connections with each other.”

What would tell someone who was considering a career in coffee?

“I think that people need to be strong in their ideas and persevere because their path won’t necessarily be easy or straightforward. Be true to yourself, you don’t have to fit a type. I certainly don’t fit the picture of ‘speciality coffee’ many folk have in their heads. 

You do have to be willing to work hard - I did 80 hours a week easy in the early days, which is not uncommon in hospitality, and even five years later I average between 40-50 hours a week. This isn’t easy as a single parent but you get good at juggling. 

Of course, there will be plenty of people out there trying to knock you down or who won’t like how you do things so you will have to develop a pretty thick skin. Just know that you are not alone and seek out a supportive network of true friends and like-minded people. That will keep you going through the tough times. “

What’s it like being a woman in the coffee industry?

“Although there are some amazing and inspirational women working in Speciality coffee, I think it’s fair to say the industry is mainly populated by young men. Although many young women think they are on an even playing field when they start out in coffee, I think they find out pretty early on that the same difficulties exist in this industry - as in others. Confidence and the ability to push yourself forward is always rewarded, traits which are less usual in women. The unsociable hours and travelling to coffee events to network are things that are much harder for women with family commitments. The tough businessman persona is seen as more acceptable in men than women, ‘that you can treat people badly because hey, it’s just business’. Women are expected to be tough but more readily criticised if they stand up for themselves.

“We’ve had a few female roasters. I like to think that in our business if someone is good at their job they’re given the freedom to run with it. I think in some other coffee organisations this doesn’t happen and quieter more introverted people are more likely to be overlooked. And competitions attract men more too. You’re judged on being full of confidence and able to do the chat while you’re doing something else – which is not unique to coffee!” 

Cath has attended the Roasters Retreat that Fiona Grant from Glen Lyon organises and applauds the event. “It’s non-judgemental, open and friendly. Fiona and Lisa Lawson from Dear Green are amazing inspirational women in coffee. I think articles like this are really important. It’s great for young women to see other women doing well in coffee, in their own ways.”

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

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