Lisa Lawson - Dear Green Coffee Roaster

Photo: Jess Shurte
Next woman in coffee >>

Owner and founder of Dear Green Coffee Roaster and powerhouse behind the Glasgow Coffee Festival which takes place this year on 19-20 May - Glasgow

What got you into coffee?

Lisa’s introduction to speciality coffee started in Australia in around 2000 - while she was on a working holiday. She’d been a chef prior to travelling and got a job at a deli in Sydney, along with a bunch of other women who were mostly backpacking.

One day the owner said someone had to leave because she had too many people. Lisa remembers that “she asked if any of us could drive or work a computer because her son was starting up his business and needed some help. Her son turned out to be Toby, who set up Toby’s Estate, and I was his first employee in his mum’s garage, with a 5kg roaster. I was packing beans, organising and coordinating and Toby taught me to roast to keep the business going, so he could go to origin to source coffee. When I left Australia there was a team of over 20 staff at Toby’s Estate.”

At that time what we now know as speciality coffee was in its early days in Australia so there weren’t many speciality roasters around. Lisa was one of only two female roasters in the country and she remembers there was only one female barista winner in a male-dominated scene. Aussie immigration rules being what they are, Lisa wasn’t allowed to stay, which turns out to be to Scotland’s benefit! (And I’m sure her mum would have been happy to have her home too).

When Lisa got back to Scotland she wanted to set up something here. “No-one was really doing anything valuable in speciality coffee at that time. There was no real coffee scene, let alone women in coffee!

I was frustrated about the lack of good coffee and knowledge. The industry was male-dominated and sales oriented. There wasn’t any real integrity about the quality of coffee - it wasn’t the main focus.

I didn’t want to always be struggling by on a minimum wage in hospitality. I was in horrible employment situation and took a risk by buying a roaster on my credit card. Being under-paid and under-valued drove me to start my own business! But because I’d roasted at Toby’s, I knew it was possible, and that I could do it. And I had voices of encouragement - people who believed in me.” Lisa’s mum and a good friend invested in her company to help her get it started.

What do you love about being in speciality coffee? 

“I love being in coffee because I love flavour and process. I adore the industry and the passionate people I get to hang out with and call my friends. I also like being self-employed and being able to make a difference through sourcing ethically and by paying staff the Real Living Wage.”

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

“Follow your passion and work hard. Start at entry level as a barista and learn. I’m very driven and can be a bit of a workaholic which isn’t for everyone, but surround yourself with people who encourage you.”

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

When Lisa talks about women in coffee she goes straight to talking about the women on the coffee farms. Lisa has visited a sourced coffee from Ethiopia, Kenya, Central and South America and showed me some of the footage she’s filmed on her iPad. Men singing while they agitate the beans at washing stations. Women picking out defects by hand. “Nobody thinks about these women and all the work they do. If they didn’t have this attention to detail we wouldn’t pay the prices we do for the great coffee and they wouldn’t be able to support themselves.”

But unlike the photos of smiling coffee growers we see on our speciality coffee websites, Lisa’s also seen the bare feet, the threadbare clothes, the kids wearing the same clothes every day, the people waiting at the gates to see if there’s any work available that day. “When you’ve witnessed this, it puts everything else into perspective and it’s why the Glasgow Coffee Festival has raised money for the Girls Gotta Run charity.” (This year it is World Coffee Research and Glasgow City Mission) 

It was this conversation with Lisa that propelled me to write recently about what we can all do to support women in coffee growing countries by buying gender inclusive coffee

I also asked Lisa about what it’s like being a woman in the coffee industry closer to home? “In Scotland coffee is a male-dominated industry - isn’t everything male dominated! I know the frustration of being bullied by men on the job. I wouldn’t have said it the first few years of running my business, but now feel I’m safe and established enough to say it as it was.

I can remember my first job at 14 in hospitality. I was intimidated by the old men on Burns Night getting drunk on whisky and getting out of hand. There seems to be a new wave of respect now - I hope. There seems to be more women coming into coffee which is great to see.”

“In my business I’ve always liked having a gender balance. And we pay a real living wage to all from day one!”

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