Mollie Moisan, coffee expert
Working with Pachamama Coffee Cooperative, Mollie Moisan talks with SN&R on coffee and equality
Like many raised in Seattle, Mollie Moisan grew up on coffee. Her habit started forming at age 12; her first job was pouring cappuccinos. But she actually came to Sacramento's Pachamama Coffee Cooperative from a food co-op background—it's a funny story she'll share later—and says “the only reason I'm working in coffee is because it's a cooperative.” Pachamama is basically a co-op of co-ops in Peru, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and Ethiopia. Why does that matter? The hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers who grow Pachamama's coffee actually own the company—and the company's growing fast. It started in 2001, entered the market via Davis Food Co-op in 2006, launched its Midtown headquarters in 2012 and opened a cafe in Davis in 2014. We sat down with Moisan to talk gender equality and tasting notes.
Looking around at Sacramento’s major coffee players, they’re pretty much all men, right?
It's all men, and that's not unusual. Coffee in general is all men. It's kind of an old boys' club sort of thing; the men would do the traveling. I'm the Director of Outreach at Pachamama, so I'm No. 2. On the retail side of it, there's Edie Baker [of Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters] who has been buying direct from several farmers, and they've been putting out some amazing products. There's also Rina Paguaga: she's from Nicaragua, she has a farm, her brother has a farm, her nephew is a roaster in Miami. She sells coffee to Insight and Old Soul. And there's Mery Santos working for Boyd Coffee based out of Portland, and she's the vice president of the International Women's Coffee Alliance. That's four women doing totally different things in the coffee industry, and they're not baristas. I think women in coffee are often relegated to baristas or cafe managers and there are some women in town doing big things to further the knowledge of specialty coffee.
Why do you think coffee is so male-dominated?
I think coffee is somewhat aggressive. It's the second-highest commodity traded besides oil. I think it's just historically been that way. There's this glass ceiling for women, not just with coffee but large businesses in general. It's really intimidating. I think it takes a certain kind of woman to be able to take that on. Sometimes you get emotional about something—you have things going on at home, someone says something offensive—but you can't cry at work. You can't. You gotta be able to man up in some respects. I think that's why I'm so excited to see women in coffee in Sacramento. We're getting this great coffee scene—it's cool to be part of it now and I think it's still young—but it's also exciting to see women in bigger positions. And we're better at it, to be honest. We're nicer. I have really great relationships with the other women in coffee. I watch a lot of other coffee companies—they're male-dominated, they're highly competitive, aggressive—and I don't think that [behavior] is necessary.
How did you wind up at Pachamama?
I've worked on a lot of co-op boards. I'm just really committed to cooperation, and I guess socialism [laughs]. At the food co-op, we had a series of coffee buyers in the bulk department who didn't drink coffee, and that drove me crazy. Finally someone was leaving and I was like, “I'm doing coffee”… That was when Pachamama had first started selling coffee, so they had a sales guy come in. It was really funny. I told my boss, “if that guy had come in and talked to anyone else at the store, they would have shooed him away.” He was a suit and we had a pretty activist co-op. Anyway, we started carrying Pachamama and the coffee was excellent, owned by coffee farmers—everything about it spoke to me. I tell this story because—no joke, it was one of those universal intention sort of things—I'm standing there talking to the guy and I'm thinking in the back of my head, “I'd like this guy's job. It's coffee and co-ops.” Four years later, I'm moving to Sacramento.
What do you look for in a cup of coffee?
Something that has a full mouthfeel, that has several layers of flavors. I’m not a dark roast person, but I don’t particularly like something super light-roasted either. I don’t want tea, I want coffee. I’m a taster, and what I like in my coffee is what I like in my wine: depth and a variety of flavors. One of my favorite coffees is an Ethiopian because I like the fruit flavors that come through. I like it hot, I like it cold, I like it lukewarm. When we bring in new coffees, we’re smelling beans, we’re chewing the beans, we’re brewing it hot, having it tepid—I try it every way.
Always black. Except for an occasional cappuccino.
What do you find annoying about current coffee trends?
I'm annoyed by hype marketing. Not just in Sacramento, but coffee in general tells a lot of stories that aren't necessarily true. I don't like that, I don't like brainwashing … I'm annoyed by how much people make off coffee, because it's a lot. And it's not like it's not valuable, but the finances are maldistributed. To be honest, even grocery stores make a killing. Think about how much the farmer is getting, then the exporter is getting some money off of that, the warehouse in Oakland is getting some money off of that, then you're going to buy it. If you're a roaster, you're going to roast it and then you're going to make a lot of money off it. Then if you send it to a distributor—they're going to put 25 percent on top of that. Then the grocery store is going to mark it up 35 to 40 percent just to put it on the shelves. The grocery store is making like $4 or $5 per pound just for selling it. If somebody along the chain stopped what they were doing, things would stumble forward.