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Equator Coffees and Teas Named California Small Business of the Year

Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell of Equator Coffees & Teas.

Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell of Equator Coffees & Teas.

Of the more than 3 million small businesses in California, the Bay Area’s Equator Coffees and Teas has been named the state’s 2016 Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Association.

In an announcement this week, the SBA praised the company — incidentally, a 2012 Roast magazine Roaster of the Year — not only for its dedication to quality and to sustainability locally and in its commitment to coffee supply partners, but also to social responsibility.

“An LGBT-owned business founded twenty years ago by Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell, Equator Coffees and Teas is involved with their product at every step of the lifecycle from farming to roasting, and from wholesale to retail,” the SBA San Francisco District Office said in an announcement of the award, which will be presented during a Washington D.C. ceremony May 1-2.

“It is such an incredible honor to be recognized by the Small Business Administration as Small Business of the Year for the State of California,” Russell said in the announcement. “As an entrepreneur, women-owned business, and LGBT certified business, I am proud to say that the SBA has been there for Equator at all stages of our growth over the last 21 years. The SBA knows that it’s small businesses like Equator that are creating quality jobs and driving our economy. The SBA has had our back at important milestones in our evolution. We celebrate this achievement with our employees, our partners and our collective communities.”

From their roasting beginnings in a Marin County garage in 1995, Russell and McDonnell have grown into something akin to Bay Area coffee royalty over the years, most recently expanding the company’s public profile with multiple new retail cafés, the first of which opened in 2013.

Equator became a certified B Corp in December 2011, and the company has been widely recognized as a trailblazer in what might be called the modern direct trade movement, maintaining relationships with numerous producers based on shared equity and economic, social and environmental sustainability. Equator routinely pays quality incentives to farmer partners, supports community initiatives at origin, and provides micro-loan credits to farmer partners.

Russell and McDonnell are also partners in a Panamanian, all-Gesha-varietal farm called Finca Sophia, the fruits of which first came to market this past December.

(note: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Equator Coffees and Teas became the coffee’s industry’s first certified B Corp in 2011. Importer Sustainable Harvest and earned certification in 2008, while roaster One Village Coffee earned certification in November 2007.)