Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling women roasters in specialty coffee. Check back for more in the coming weeks.
Meet Jennifer Swanson, CEO of Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Coffea Roasterie. A long-time coffee professional and human rights advocate, Swanson is a charismatic figure who speaks with authority and poetry about coffee and its inevitable effect, something she describes as “a catalyst for people to be more relational.” Says Swanson, “Instead of having computers between you, you have coffee.”
Swanson’s background in the coffee business goes back a long way, to her start in Minneapolis, where she managed a shop between colleges. After a shop-hop to South Dakota, she began working with a nonprofit organization in Thailand that started a coffee shop to help Kathoeys (a.k.a. “lady boys”) break free from the sex industry. “Coffee was the tool for freedom,” she says, adding that it was “ethically sourced, helping people with relationships and rebuilding a new restorative community.”
After working around that intense industry for so many years, Swanson needed to move back to a safer environment. She returned to South Dakota where, working 4 jobs to support her mission to speak around the world and raise awareness for victims of the sex industry, she was astonished to receive an unsolicited donation from the man who funded Coffea Roasterie. That donation changed her life. She started working for Coffea as an accountant and soon after immersed herself in each aspect of the company — from barista to roaster, and eventually CEO.
“I’d never encountered such a well-run coffee shop,” Swanson. “I love how we treat people. No pretentiousness, just genuine care.” Under Swanson’s watch, Coffea just opened a second location in downtown Sioux Falls.
Swanson’s current favorite coffee is a Panama Geisha that will be hitting the shelves soon. “There are no words to describe how awesome it is” she says. “After working in coffee for so many years, it’s really exciting to be in the place to be the only roaster in North America to have this coffee.” The Filla del Pando from the 90+ Geisha Estate in Volcan, Panama, tastes like a “freshly bloomed water lily,” says Swanson, “really delicate on the palate but with a range like an extreme high-noted chord.”
This is the first in a series of stories profiling women roasters in specialty coffee. Check back for more in the coming weeks.
Emily McIntyre is a freelance coffee culture writer and member of the team at The LAB. The LAB’s Women Roasters Series highlights the 13% of roasters that are female, distributing their coffees through 3 membership programs and presenting their stories to the world. For more info, visit www.lab5702.com. McIntyre also writes a travel/beverage blog at www.softexplosions.com and tweets witty tweets @mcintyrewrites