Alexandra McClean Egan

Coffee is all about connections.

We have taken the occasion of International Women’s Day to talk to interesting and strong women in the coffee industry. The coffee business is still very much a male dominated industry worldwide. These coffee ladies skilfully prove to us: enjoying coffee is very much a woman’s business. And inspire us with their stories of solidarity and indulgence.

Alexandra McClean Egan is a coffee roaster from San José, Kalifornien, USA.

Hi Alexandra, please introduce yourself to our readers.

I have been in the coffee industry for a little over 6 years. I have worked as everything from a barista to a store manager. Currently I am a wholesale trainer and roaster for a specialty coffee shop called Chromatic Coffee in San Jose, California.

What has changed in your life since you entered the coffee industry?
I found that I have become much more aware of how important relationships are. Whether they are in your local community, the coffee community world wide, or at origin itself. The relationships that I have established over the past six years have changed my life forever.

What would you do differently if you could start your career over?
I do not think I would do anything differently.

How is the men/women ratio in your field? Have there been changes in that ratio since you started working in the coffee industry? And if so: How would you describe those changes?
The ratio of men to women in the coffee industry has always been a bit skewed. Though more importantly I believe that the ratio of men in coffee that hold a position of power is much higher than women in the industry who hold a position of power. I have not seen a dramatic change in this ratio in the six years that I have been in the industry.

What advice can you give to our readers as to succeeding in a male dominated work environment? Which of your qualities would you consider as your key to success?
I would consider my personal key to success to be my hunger to learn. I am constantly reading about coffee, watching videos, and attending events to try and soak up as much as I can learn.

What could be, in your opinion, a first step towards further increasing sustainability in connection with coffee consumption?
The first step towards coffee sustainability on all platforms is to pay more for coffee! On the green coffee buying level, in the cafe level. Pay more! The more money flowing through the system the better resources coffee professionals on all levels will have access to which will lead to a more sustainable industry.

What is your favorite thing about coffee?
You will meet people from all over the world who automatically have something in common, a love of coffee.

When and where did you drink your first coffee? Was it love at first sip?
The first time I remember being truly wowed by coffee was my first day at Starbucks in 2013. My trainer had me try a fresh cup of coffee from Kenya. It tasted like grapefruit! I had no idea coffee could taste like that. It was definitely love at first sip.

What defines great coffee for you?
Great coffee for me has a wonderful balance of sweetness, acidity, and body.

How do you prefer your coffee? Which coffee specialty is currently your favorite? Can you recommend a certain speciality that our readers should try?
I prefer my coffee with nothing in it. Currently my favorite brewing method is the Kalita Wave 185. With three holes at the bottom of the pour over and the rims around the side, water flows evenly through the grounds to produce the perfect cup of coffee.

How important is coffee for your culture and for your family?
I remember growing up my parents would make a pot of coffee every morning. It was the first thing that I smelled every morning and it’s one of my fondest memories.

Tell us a little something about you and coffee.
In Seattle during the SCA Specialty Coffee Expo of 2017, I met a young female farmer from Guatemala. She told me about the struggles of being a farmer, particularly a young female farmer. She liked to come to these events to gather ideas from other farmers and was saddened to have not met any other female farmers yet. I left the conversation with a better understanding of what being a farmer means to the over all coffee industry. As well as an appreciation for how valuable a diverse farming community is.

What can you tell our readers in order for them to make better coffee at home?
There are four key elements to brewing coffee. Water, temperature, grind, and freshnesses. Make sure your water is filtered and around 92-93C, the grind should be the correct grind for your chosen brewing method. I recommend getting a burr grinder which are specifically made for coffee grinding. And make sure your coffee is fresh! Within 2 weeks of the roast date is the best, and grind your coffee just before you brew. Last quick note is to get a gooseneck kettle to allow for a more even pour over your grounds.

Where is your favorite coffee place outside your home/your workplace?
I love visiting cafés around the Bay Area in California (where I live) one of my favorite places to go is a shop called Cat and Cloud Coffee. Their coffee is delicious, the decorations are perfect, and the vibe is very comfortable.

What do you enjoy best with your coffee?
My favorite thing to do with coffee is sit on the porch in a cabin in the forrest first thing in the morning. It’s so crisp and cold, and the coffee is so comfy and cozy. It is the perfect pair.

How should one proceed if they want to become a great professional roaster?
Reach out to your local roasteries! Maybe someone is hiring or offering classes. In the mean time you can read books, watch videos, and talk to people about roasting. One of my favorite books is written by Scott Rao called “The Coffee Roaster’s Companion” which really goes in to detail about all things involved in roasting.

Where do you see roasting in 5 to 10 years?
I hope to move up in the company I am in now. I want to continue roasting but also move in to the Green Coffee Buying field. In 5-10 years I believe I will have achieved that goal.

Dear Alexandra, thank you for sharing valuable insights with us!

If you want to know more about Alexandra McClean Egan, follow her on Instagram @aje.coffee, twitter@ajecoffee or on her website https://aje.coffee.