This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the positive impact women have in our team and in the wider coffee community.
At Chimney Fire Coffee we are proud to have an even split of men and women in our team. Row, Elizabeth, and Neroli are responsible for all our operations including roasting, quality control, sourcing our Discovery Coffees, and fulfilment. Their commitment to detail is the reason we can be sure that every single bag of our coffee tastes great and leaves our roastery bang on time!
For the past two years, we have worked with up-and-coming superstar coffee producer Ana Luiza Pellicer, of Fazenda Mió in Brazil. We sat down with her to discuss the role women play in producing high quality speciality coffee from their farm in Monte Santo de Minas, 200 miles north of São Paulo.
Life on Fazenda Mió
CFC: Please tell us a bit about yourself!
ANA: My name is Ana Luiza Pellicer, I am 31 years old. I am Brazilian and I am the fourth generation of coffee producers. Coffee was my father’s and grandfather’s business, and when I finished school I went to study design and museology, and worked in management of contemporary art exhibitions in São Paulo. After 10 years I was living in London looking for work, and my father asked me to do some research for him, so for six months my job was to travel the UK and interview coffee professionals about the speciality coffee industry.
I recognised the important work my family has been doing for generations and I realised how much coffee influenced my life. I decided I wanted to be part of it once again, now as a professional. I studied everything about coffee and we opened Mió in the UK in October 2020, ready to export our first ever bag of coffee after 100 years farming it.
CFC: Growing up on Fazenda Mió in Brazil, how much did you know about where your coffee ends up?
ANA: When I was little, my dad and grandad used to sell our coffee to the local cooperative. It was blended with hundreds of other coffees from other farms and purchased by weight and bean size, so from the second it left the farm we didn’t know where it would go.
When I was older, we started to sell directly to companies within Brazil, we still didn’t know the final consumers or even the roasters most of the time, but we decided on the buyer. The first was Illy Brazil, but we still knew that our coffee was going to get blended with other coffees before anyone could drink it.
CFC: How has the rise of the speciality coffee industry across the world affected the way your family does business and cares for your crops?
ANA: In 2003 my grandma was one of the final coffees in the Brazilian Cup of Excellence, so we have always aimed to produce quality and the best coffee we could achieve. Now, it is more and more about research and applying science to day-to-day activities - we know how much we can achieve, and we can do even better if guided by research.
How can coffee be more technological and scientific? For me, that is speciality coffee. It is our concern for the environment, for the people behind it, and for the technology to be able to make all of that happen in the best way. It is difficult not to achieve a good cup quality when doing that.
Women in Coffee Production
CFC: What roles do women traditionally take on coffee farms in Brazil, and are those roles changing?
ANA: Women and farming go hand in hand because farming is a family activity in general, but normally our roles are left behind the camera and our names are rarely spoken. In our family, my grandma was always hand in hand with my grandpa, he would take care of the workers and the field operation, and she would take care of the post-harvest operation. We always said that her coffee was a finalist at the Cup of Excellence because she was the one caring for it once it left the harvest fields.
We still see a lot of difficulties in many places. Even when recognised at work women are still responsible for the children and the house, so they are regularly overworked and underpaid. There are jobs in farms that most men don’t think women should do, like driving tractors or operating heavy machinery.
A lot of people still think that women are mostly good at picking cherries because they are more delicate. The main picker at the farm is a lady called Valquíria, she is a natural leader and she is the best picker we have. But we also have an office full of women and half the workers at the farm are women. Both our COOs are women, and my mother shares ownership of the farm with my dad. It is a good thing that this is happening, but it certainly wasn’t my grandma’s reality and even less anyone before her. But we are far from done and the world is not a reflection of us as well.
I have to add that, although I see improvements for women in farms, I see very little change in the LGBTQIA+ communities at farms, including at Mió. It is still a difficult and delicate subject that we must focus on much more, starting yesterday.
Daily Life on the Farm
ANA: There are three pillars of sustainability: environmental, social and economic.
Machine harvesting is definitely better socially. The conditions of pickers in farms are known to be bad everywhere - low salaries, difficult terrain, sun exposure, heavy weights, and bad infrastructure are some of the many challenges. In Brazil, every year we have fewer and fewer people willing to manually harvest coffee. This shows us that fewer people feel like this is their only option, which is ideal – in a perfect world, no one would accept poor working conditions.
We do have some areas of the farm that are still manually harvested, due to the terrain. I have picked coffee myself and it is incredibly hard on your body. So, socially, machine harvest is better: you need fewer people working, which means you can pay people better salaries. You can close off your tractors, so the driver has air-conditioner and comfort. Today, you can utilise technology installing software on the tractors to assist with scheduling and efficiency… I could go on.
Machine harvest is also better economically. You can harvest a larger volume while maintaining quality (modern machines are quite gentle, so they pick far fewer unripe cherries), and you can reduce costs as you require fewer people. The quality remains high, so you will still get a good price for your product.
Machine harvest is not bad for the environment. We will soon complete our carbon footprint study, and we are carbon positive by far. We have 500 hectares of deep protected rainforest, and we have very sustainable farming practices - circular farming, compost application, beehives, and solar power that covers all our energy necessities.
Aside from the fact that they use diesel, there is little bad in using machines. They don’t use too much fuel, as they go at 2mph. There is an old belief that they damage the coffee plants, but today they damage it far less than hand picking.
CFC: Fazenda Mió's commitment to cup quality and research is impressive. What are you doing to ensure your crops remain resilient to climate change?
ANA: Project Sombra is a five year project that will consist of the creation of an agroforestry coffee-growing model in a pilot farm area. It will integrate different plant species focusing on sustainable, high-performance cultivars and options for shading the coffee bushes. We hope this model will produce coffees with a high-quality standard and ecological improvements in a given cultivation area.
Agroecological systems aim to integrate species in a more sustainable and balanced way.
Better agroecological management is needed, helping to keep soils alive with greater biodiversity, improving water retention in the soil, and providing a more stable microclimate. Agricultural management promoting the increase of beneficial microorganisms tends to favour plant development and productivity.
Our experiments will be carried out with four different coffee varieties (Arara, Acauã, Catucai 2sl 24137, Catucai 785/15) in an area of 15 hectares, with the randomised plots composed of agroforestry systems. These will contain Macadamia, Cedar, and Guapuruvu trees, and the coffee will be processed using both natural and honey methods.
There will be a total of 96 experimental plots, where physical, sensory and chemical classification of materials will be considered.
Our goal is to find a way to at least partially mechanise a shaded system coffee crop, and to prove that with the correct management you can have similar yields from a full sun system. We also aim to find the best coffee variety for a partially shaded system and the best second crop for Mió’s area in Brazil.
If we are successful, we want to share this method with other farms, changing the way we produce coffee in Brazil.
Social and economical sustainability are as important as environmental sustainability. The only way this is going to work is by involving everyone in the coffee supply chain, and that is what we are trying to do here. We are joining forces between producer, exporter/importer, academic researchers, and roasters & coffee shops.
So, what we are suggesting with this is that the entirety of the coffee supply chain join hands. Producers by themselves will not have enough money to make this investment. It costs a lot of money to plant coffee, as it is an expensive and labour-intensive crop. Partially shaded systems are even more demanding.
We need to do this together.
CFC: It's wonderful for us to have a representative of a coffee farm living in London, so we can meet in person and learn from you. What does your average day look like now you're in the UK?
ANA: I live in London, in Wandsworth with my husband Alex (who is a designer) and my Cocker Spaniel Laszlo. We live upstairs and the office is downstairs, so when you visit the office, you are visiting our home, just as when you visit the farm, you are visiting our home too.
My work is pretty much in front of the computer and over the phone. The UK part of Mió is a small business, so my day to day is like any small business owner, between spreadsheets, paying bills, talking to clients and suppliers, controlling stock, and planning.
But then there is the fun bit, which is every time coffee is actually involved! I visit clients for cuppings, and go to events to do talks and meet up with contacts from the industry. I prepare samples quite often, which is much harder than it sounds, and takes a lot of time.
Then of course there is my relationship with the farm – making sure I work hand in hand with Cris Gerbasi, the COO. I have to keep up with what is going on with the crop, what next year is looking like, keep our research moving forward, and be a part of major decisions for the future of the company as a whole. I am very lucky to work with my family, my father and my mother are my bosses, my husband is our Communications Director, and Cris is my partner in crime since childhood. So in general, it is a lovely day-to-day life!
CFC: How do you think British coffee roasters can take steps to become more sustainable in how they source their coffee?
ANA: It’s the most basic things. Where does the coffee you are buying come from, and what do you know about it? Do you know where the farm is, and the farmer’s name? Do you know who picked the coffee, and how and when? Have you only seen pictures, or have you had conversations with that producer - by email, or a call, or a message, directly or through an importer?
I think it should be more about the humanity of what we do. It is not always easy to reach the producer, but this should never be an excuse not to know more. If coffee can come from a place, so can information.
We all need to understand that more than 70 countries produce coffee. Their realities are all different, so don’t assume you know - ask and talk. We should all talk more, much more.
CFC: What led you towards diversifying into exporting your own coffee rather than using a separate company?
ANA: We dreamed of making the term direct trade actually mean something to our farm, and everyone involved in the process. We want to be producers who are in charge of all decisions regarding the supply chain, taking control of our traceability all the way to the roaster's door. What is the point of all the traceability work we do at the farm level if we don't know exactly what happens to our coffee afterwards?
At Mió we believe that there is a home for all coffee, so all coffee is treated as speciality coffee right from the beginning. All our coffee is 100% traceable and respected. Each coffee has a market, and should be enjoyed and treated as great coffee. We just knew it would be difficult to find an exporter that would see things that way.
We know how lucky we are to be able to do what we are doing. If I wasn’t in London it would be much harder, for sure.
CFC: What's your favourite part of being back on the farm in Brazil, and what's your favourite part of being here in London?
ANA: On the farm it’s eating coffee cherries from the trees, going inside the forest, and being with my family and friends in the pool. And all the beautiful smells!
In London it’s the city itself, my house, my dog and being lazy. I love how global the food is.
CFC: If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
ANA: I don’t know if I know how to answer this, I talk a lot so I kind of want to do a list! But in general, I think it would be “Don’t worry about getting other people's approval, the only approval that matters is your own”. Maybe this is too deep!
CFC: What's your favourite way to brew coffee?
ANA: Nowadays it’s the Orea. I love how delicate the coffee is and I think it highlights every coffee every time. It is also gorgeous and smells delicious while you brew it! But I never say no to a latte with regular milk, especially take away to drink as I go about town 😊
Additional information about Fazenda Mió and their sustainability commitments can be found at https://mio.cafe. To learn more about the role of women in coffee producing regions, including the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and Café Feminino, check out our article on gender equality in farming.