(Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews featuring women taking part in the inaugural Women in Coffee Project panel discussion next month in New York City. The interviews have been conducted in English and in Spanish by professional coffee roaster Women in Coffee Project Founder Amaris Gutierrez-Ray. For more on Gutierrez-Ray, the WICP and its upcoming events, see the original post in the series, featuring Eleane Mierisch. Click here for an interview with Melanie Herrera. The following interview with Haisell Beteta has been translated from Spanish. Read the original here.)
Amaris Gutierrez-Ray: Hola Haisell! What’s your title? How long have you worked in your role? And how did you get into coffee? (This is like a mini mini bio!)
Haisell Beteta: My name is Haisell Beteta. I was born in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. I graduated from university with a degree in accounting. I live in one of the most important coffee regions in the country, and I started my career in coffee working for Fincas Mierisch, a well-known company dedicated to production, processing, and commercialization of specialty coffees. I acted as an assistant to the accounting department, where I believed I had found my place because it related to everything I learned in university. But I found my real passion when I was promoted to manager of the Dry Mill Beneficio Don Esteban. There were a lot of challenges in front of me: The first was because of a lack of experience; and second was because I was a woman leading a huge work team. Throughout the five years working I have acquired valuable experience, and I have overcome the challenges that at first I thought wouldn’t be possible to overcome. To live close and be involved in the process of transformation of coffee is something that captures me completely. Coffee really unifies us in all aspects, and never stops surprising us. The world of coffee is really incredible.
AGR: What are your personal goals for yourself in your career? What about just the immediate goals for the next year now that harvest in Nicaragua is dying down? What about 10 years from now?
HB: To strengthen my general knowledge related to the commerce of coffee on the international level, and in the next 10 years my dream is to lead a project that supports the growth and sustainability of the company.
AGR: Tell us about some women who have given you inspiration in your work and your life.
HB: In the first place, my mother, who is the highest example of strength and fight. Without a doubt she is my best inspiration. Being a single mother she never submitted to anything, and she pushed the family forward singlehandedly. She showed me that we don’t need more than trust in each other to be able to accomplish our dreams.
The second person who inspired me is my leader Eleane Mierisch, who has been my mentor. I have learned so much from her. She supports and inspires me to pursue professional growth, and she has given me the opportunity to grow. She is the person that has shown me courage to solve life’s problems. I can’t thank her enough for the opportunity she’s given me to be a part of this.
AGR: Have you encountered any obstacles in your work with anyone because of your gender? Did you come up with any personal solutions in those instances, if any? Or, knowing you, did you find a way to speak about them candidly?
HB: Realistically I’ve been very fortunate that in our work environment there exists an equality of opportunities. They have provided me with a confidence, and that has helped me feel empowered to enjoy my work. The prejudices that go against the performance of women don’t exist here, and that benefit in itself creates an inclusive labor environment where the ideas of everyone are taken into account. And that has been our path to success: to eliminate prejudice in general, where everyone is able to support ideas that better the company and all of its collaborators.
AGR: If someone were to ask you “Why should we talk about women in coffee?” what would you say?
HB: We women are performing a very important role in the whole of the value chain of coffee. In the field, women are the ones who work the best in the actual harvest of the coffee. In the dry mill the women are the ones who are the most careful with every bean in the process of drying. We are the ones who influence our society from within our families, and the ones who often face a dual workload because we also have work in the home. The theme of women in coffee is important in order to offer ammunition to empower women who perform any activity related to the industry of coffee, where considering education is a foundation to create free minds. A woman prepared is a woman empowered and able to be a leader with an attitude to challenge social norms and cultural relations with equity in general.
AGR: Since we are looking to build new systems to talk about supporting women in coffee, and you have spent a lot of time what advice would you give us? If we wanted to do something totally new, should we pay attention to how to do that respectfully? Should we focus on giving help or priority toward education here? What are ways to empower women, or to give them more power in their lives and work?
HB: I think you have to look at how this is treated as a cultural prejudice, something that you encounter ingrained in a person, and that is where you have to fight. We have to change the way in which women are valued, which is to say they have to take into account their personal priorities, passions, etc. One of the ways to encourage motivation and talks of empowerment to create awareness, confidence, and self esteem, is to show them that knowledge is power and that they can accomplish any of their proposed ideals. This requires an integral and consistent plan to empower women and it needs to participate and take fully into account the economics of the life of women, in all its sectors, especially in coffee.
AGR: If you could go tomorrow to another coffee-producing country to see something, what country would it be and why?
HB: Mexico, for its coffee, culture, and history.
AGR: We know you have spent a considerable amount of time and energy on building a strong team. Could you tell us more about that work? How do you all work together and how do you give them support? How do you function as an organization of people, both within and apart from the harvest times?
HB: Every harvest is different, but they all start with meetings to organize ourselves and prepare ourselves to receive the harvest. Each one of us on the team has specific responsibilities to perform their job, where we take into account ideas for improvement of gear in all areas such as:
- Reception (where we receive the coffee)
- Warehouse (administration)
- Process of milling-selection- packing (quality control)
In each of these areas there are leaders — of whom a majority are women — and each of them are responsible for managing their own staff. The team of Quality Control is in charge of offering trainings and talks on quality, and making sure the staff understands that it is important for the coffees to pass through phases, and it also important when working with quality to take care in the treatment of specialty coffee.
The area of reception of wet parchment manages parameters of quality to separate those lots that have a higher grade of imperfection than those with less imperfections. The area of drying goes hand in hand with control of moisture content. There they also work with parameters of moisture content where they take into account the climate. The area of the bodega receives all the lots that leave the patio fully dried, and they organize the warehouse by quality and origin. For that they need a report from quality control with the cupping results and every lot that has passed through reception. After the coffee has been rested and the buyer sends instruction for its shipment, it’s prepared for the process of milling, selection, and packing. In each of these there is quality control to ensure that the coffees fall within the parameters of the contract with the buyer.
The area of exportation and commercialization pays attention to the pre-order of clients, contracts, and logistics of exportation. They also link with the warehouse and the team that runs the process of milling, etc.
In the middle of all these activities, we also drive our team to learn about how to cup coffee. And this opens their minds more to understand what happens with coffee when good work has been done for its quality. That dynamic has helped us a lot to believe in an awareness of our work, and we can be confident in the people who are in charge of each area of the organization.
Once the process of harvest and exportation of the coffee has finished, we spend time on the certifications of the farms (Rainforest Alliance, UTZ) that offer talks on different themes like traceability of coffee and quality. We also manage to support institutions that dedicate approaches to themes like this in general. We also value talks about issues like sex education and talk about these issues with the staff of the farm and the dry mill. In this way we contribute and create small changes in our environment.
AGR: What’s the first thing you want to eat when you get to New York? Bagels? Pizza? European cheese?
HB: It’s my first time in NYC, maybe I’ll try everything and afterward I’ll discover what’s my favorite!
Amaris Gutierrez-Ray is the Roasting Operations Manager for Joe Coffee Company in New York City. She is also the founder of the Northeast Roaster Forum and the Women in Coffee Project. A lover of stories and the people that tell them, she has always been interested primarily in the culture and communities of this world in coffee.