Gabi Kavanaugh female coffee roaster
By Martha Summerlin. This post on female coffee roasters contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

If you and I were to sit down to coffee, the first question I’d ask would be:

“What’s your relationship with coffee like?”

And that’s because coffee — for many — is an experience.

I found that true for the female coffee roasters highlighted below, two of whom I featured on my blog Define Your Travels, in a recent post about supporting local businesses.

For these women, coffee isn’t just something to douse with sugar and gulp. Rather, it’s about things like love, building community, social justice, and creating safe spaces.

These women coffee roasters are breaking down stereotypes in a space traditionally for white males.

They are showing that even the smallest decisions can have a huge impact.

And, perhaps most importantly, they are using their passion to create space for people to come and feel welcomed.

Not only that, but also to care for our earth, and to remind us of the positive side of humanity.

Inspiring Female Coffee Roasters You Must Meet

1) Gabriela Kavanaugh: Caballo Rojo Coffee (North Carolina)

female coffee roasters Gabi Kavanaugh
Gabi Kavanaugh. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Anne Photography

Ever a straight shooter, Gabriela Kavanaugh — known as Gabi — admits the journey to where she is today as a female coffee roaster hasn’t always been easy.

“Honestly, this has been super intimidating and I have struggled with comparing my coffee business with… [amazing coffee professionals].

With time I have come to see that we are all starting with no experience and we all have opportunities to grow,” Kavanaugh stated in a 2018 interview with manmakecoffee.

women coffee roasters Gabi Kavanaugh
Gabi Kavanaugh. Photo courtesy of Caballo Rojo Coffee

In spite of that trepidation, and spurred on by the memory of her grandfather — a coffee roaster in his own right — Gabi has stuck with it in creating and growing her own roasting company.

Most of us aren’t specialty coffee experts, so we don’t usually know what we’re missing out on. Gabi knows that we don’t know, and has a passion for changing that.

Success to Gabi means bringing life to people. In the context of Caballo Rojo, bringing us life means giving us great coffee.

I suppose you could say coffee is in Gabi’s genes, and surely that had an impact; but in all honesty, Gabi’s actual coffee beginnings were simple. She started in college roasting on a Behmor home roasting machine.

This experience, paired with international studies classes and living abroad, led her to realize coffee’s impact on us as well as the impact of humans on the coffee production process.

female roasters
Caballo Rojo Coffee. Photo courtesy of Caballo Rojo Coffee

To Gabi, coffee isn’t just something we slog down to get through the day.

Instead, it’s a product that brings people together. It helps people connect and bond.

People want coffee.

And so, since it’ll take a lot to separate people from their beloved beans, it’s also the perfect way to make a difference both in local communities and abroad.

By choosing to partner with importers committed to being fair to farmers, Gabi isn’t just helping you to not fall asleep during your next 8am conference call.

She’s also giving you a simple way to make a difference in the lives of people you’ll probably never even meet.

2) Areli Barrera de Grodski: Little Waves Coffee (North Carolina)

Areli Barrera de Grodski women owned coffee roasting business
Areli Barrera de Grodski. Photo Courtesy of Lissa Gotwals and Our State Magazine.

Like Gabi Kavanaugh, Areli Barrera de Grodski seeks to use coffee to make the world a better place.

Her coffee roasting company is called Little Waves because, she says, “It’s the little actions we take that can great greater change.”

In other words, just as little waves make up the ocean, little actions people take can do big things.

So even just from its name Little Waves sets itself apart. It makes itself known as a company that seeks to do what it can to have a positive impact.

What else sets Little Wave apart?

The space Areli has managed to create in each Cocoa Cinnamon location.

Cocoa Cinnamon, the name of the coffee shops associated with Little Waves, is almost a synonym for comfort.

From their lengthy single origin and specialty coffee menu — they have everything from cold brew to espresso to a creative latte menu — to the homey yet Insta-worthy atmosphere, it’s a place you could easily spend all day.

Creating space for community is one of Areli’s gifts, she believes, and her relationship with coffee really grew out of that.

female roasters coffee business
Little Waves coffees. Photo Courtesy of Little Waves Coffee.

And so, Little Waves and Cocoa Cinnamon support people coming together to create community, but they also support communities in other parts of the world.

Little Waves is proud to serve only the best specialty coffee, Areli says, even if it’s not the most popular.

This often means making bold decisions about which farmers to buy from — in this case, buying coffee beans from Africa, even though many people find these beans too bitter and acidic.

As an entrepreneur, Areli sees not only the struggles of farmers, but also the devastating effects the coffee industry can have on our planet, and by taking conscionable steps and using sustainable practices, Little Waves hopes to undo that.

female production roaster
Little Waves Ethiopian Blend. Photo Courtesy of Cocoa Cinnamon.

And so, it’s no surprise that in the midst of COVID-19 and all the fear and shutdowns it’s brought us, Areli and her team have stepped up.

They’ve come out to show the beautiful side of humanity. They could have easily let their workers go. Instead, they made a determined choice to do what they could to keep paying them.

They’ve continued their mission of enriching others’ lives through offering brand new coffee classes and a coffee subscription, creating a “virtual tip jar” for their employees who can’t work in the shops for the time being, and even creating a healthcare worker contribution fund to reach outside their own doors.

women owned coffee shop
Melissa Villanueva. Photo Courtesy of The Independent Newspapers.

3) Melissa Villanueva, Brewpoint Coffee (Illinois)

Like Gabi and Areli, Melissa isn’t someone who always knew she wanted to own her own coffee shop.

Instead, her story is perhaps the most accidental of all:

One day, cruising Craigslist for an espresso machine, Melissa ended up instead buying a coffeeshop.

Six years later, she’s now the CEO of Brewpoint Coffee, the author of a guide on how to start and run a coffeeshop, and an all-around inspiring advocate for the power of coffee in creating community.

As noted on her website, Melissa believes that a coffee shop is a “symbolic space for connection and creativity.”

It’s a place that gives communities the space and ability to rest from the rat race. To just breathe.

Coffee, in Melissa’s eyes, isn’t just a drink to down to get through your day, but an experience and an opportunity to connect.

And not just connect, but serve.

Together with her husband Angelo, Melissa seeks to better the world through Brewpoint.

For her, owning 100% of her company means she gets full control of making decisions such as hiring and empowering minorities. This is something she has in common with Little Waves, where all the employees are female and non-binary.

Additionally, having full control allows Melissa to be a visionary, creating positive change through her current initiatives such as providing coffee to frontline workers and the option to “Buy One Gift One” where for every bag of coffee purchased, a bag is given to a worker on the frontlines.

If you enjoy supporting female roasters and women- owned coffee shops, you won’t want to miss Brewpoint.

Melissa Villanueva female coffee roaster
Melissa Villanueva. Photo Courtesy of Brewpoint Coffee.

Brewpoint’s efforts to help people get through the pandemic are also consistent with their general interest in taking care of our planet.

This means taking care of both people and Earth’s resources.

Brewpoint is a company dedicated to transparency, where they seek to be upfront with customers if they have to up prices in order to live up to their mission and values.

Like Caballo Rojo and Little Waves, every step in the process from farm to table is taken with great care.

This is because each company feels a great responsibility to do good in the world.

Female Coffee Roasters & Their Impact

If there’s one thing we’ve realized during these current challenging times, it’s how much we love and need coffee.

And some of us have certainly had the time to learn about coffee.

Perhaps we’ve also had time even to appreciate it a bit more.

brewing passion little waves coffee
Little Waves Latte. Photo Courtesy of La Marzocco.

It’s in times like these we need positive role models like Gabi, Areli, and Melissa; however, their work was going on before and will keep going on once things get back to normal.

In a world traditionally dominated by white males, these female coffee roasters are having an incredible impact, particularly in the ethical coffee space.

They are showing us how important it is to care about the world around us. And how we can do so even with something as small as buying a cup (or bag!) of coffee.

Not only that, but community — as envisioned by these three incredible female coffee roasters — is exactly what we need right now.

It’ll do us all good as we look to eventually rebuild and return to normalcy. And as we look to see what we can possibly do better.

Shoutout your favorite female coffee roasters in the comments below!

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You Need To Know These Groundbreaking Female Brewers & Industry Leaders

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Martha Summerlin

Martha Summerlin is an intrepid solo female traveler, coffee addict, street art junkie, and the creator of the Define Your Travels blog Define Your Travels.

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  1. It is so good to see other women roasting coffee and have the same passion I have to build community through coffee. I am a black women in northern California who just open a coffee roasting business with my husband. My story is very similar to Melissa’s. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Awww thanks Staci! It warmed my heart to read your comment. Congrats on opening your roastery! I’d love to chat with you sometime to learn more about your story. Let me know if you’d ever be interested.

      Thanks again!!

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