Exploradora empowers women through coffee

Words by Erin Austen Abbott

Coffee drinkers have revered the art of coffee making for many years, from the perfect pour-over to the creative designs in latte art. But let's go further and get to know the farmers who grew the beans, much as we get to know the growers in the food industry. First, let us travel to visit the farms where the beans are grown by way of a well-blended, perfectly roasted cup of coffee. Then, let’s get to know the women who bring java to your morning routine. 

Exploradora Coffee, the first coffee brand to support women-only coffee growers, is run by mother Alison Anderson and daughter Wade Johnson. Anderson, whose husband Dave logged 25 years in the coffee business, shared: "I ruminated on the concept of a women-focused coffee business for a couple of years after several trips to coffee country with my husband and seeing the incredible work women, often overlooked, were doing in the coffee industry. When COVID hit, the slower pace allowed the space for creativity and determination to bring Exploradora and our focus on women in coffee to life. We were surprised we didn't find any other companies that were exclusively promoting women coffee growers. Wade was on board with the idea, and together we run Exploradora today.” 

If the pandemic taught us anything, it's that you can work together without sharing the same space. One working from Mississippi and the other from Arizona, Anderson and Johnson are tackling the coffee business from different angles, changing the conversation around it, and giving back in the process.

Most of the world's coffee comes from countries dominated by men, so the Exploradora duo wanted to give the hardworking women working in coffee a platform to shine. "We only offer coffee grown by women. We pay a premium rate for coffee to help put dollars back into the communities where the coffee is grown. Our purchases are helping fund schools, water systems, training, and economic development for our women farmers," said Anderson.

Giving back is what led Exploradora to the next stage of giving by becoming involved with the nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities. "Our intention from the start was to use this company as a way to give and to empower people. That meant celebrating women coffee producers but also bringing that idea back home. I found Springboard to Opportunities when I was researching nonprofits that were created by women and was immediately struck by Springboard's mission to provide guaranteed income for low-income African American mothers," explained Johnson. Their involvement with Springboard to Opportunities became even more meaningful when they discovered the organization is based in Mississippi, their home state. "We believe that at the core of empowerment is meeting folks where they are, asking what they need, and supporting them in making their own decisions to reach their goals how they see fit," added Johnson. Springboard embodies this mission in a genuinely effective way. Their Magnolia Mother's Trust, a program that provides $1,000 a month every month for 12 months, has proven the efficacy of its model. In March 2021, it became the longest-running guaranteed income program since the 1960s. 

Finding all-women coffee bean farmers might seem trickier than it is. Import partners such as Sustainable Harvest helped Exploradora identify and provide introductions to its starting crop of women growers. Since then, Anderson and Johnson have expanded to offer additional coffees through the support of importers Royal Coffee and Mighty Peace Brewing Co. "Forging relationships through these wonderful importers has enabled us to offer coffees from Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo. We hope to continue to expand our reach to more women co-ops," remarked Anderson. 

Coffee has been trading at historically low levels. It's not sustainable for families to stay in the industry. Exploradora has seen many farmers convert their coffee farms to other more profitable crops—avocados, plantains, and palm oil. This is not good for the specialty coffee industry and for maintaining production of great coffees. As a way to help keep farmers cultivating coffee, Exploradora started its Coffee Club subscription service. When you sign up, you receive two 12-ounce bags of premium women-grown coffees. Their roaster selects alternating bags each month. Then, one dollar from every bag goes to Springboard to Opportunities, carrying on Exploradora’s vision. 

When asked where they see Exploradora in five to 10 years, Anderson said: "We want to grow our coffee offerings and reach more customers both online and through wholesale and grocery channels. Bring more attention to women in coffee. Bring more funds and exposure to Springboard's initiatives. We want to travel more, make more direct contacts, hear from the women directly on what they need from us and how we can help them." 

Let's help Exploradora Coffee change the conversation around coffee, and let's get to know the women farmers who work the ground to give you the grounds, one cup at a time.