Joanna Alm is a well-known name in the coffee world.
She's an award-winning roaster, managing director and green coffee buyer for the internationally-recognized and respected Drop Coffee of Sweden. Her accomplishments are impressive on their own, but they're made even better by the fact that she's such a pioneer and force for women in the coffee world.
On a sunny morning during our trip to Stockholm last August, we took the train out to Drop's roaster and headquarters to have a coffee with Joanna. She gave us a tour of their bright, sunny space and made us a Kalita Wave.
Hearing her story and the story of Drop, we were really inspired by her excitement and passion for coffee. For years, Joanna's been forming personal relationships with the farmers whose beans she roasts. Her stories definitely inspired us to want to build the same kind of connections.
Ally + Casey: Tell us about your morning rituals? How do you drink your coffee?
Joanna Alm: At home, I mainly brew Kalita when I’m on my own. If I go out in nature or travelling I bring an Aeropress. When I have friends over for fika I love serving Kokkaffe (traditional Swedish steeped coffee) using a Tia's kettle.
I wake up early and normally have my most structured hours before the office hours are starting. As soon as I wake up, I turn on my Bouna Vita kettle and brew and grind my coffee on an electrical Wilfa and brewing it on Kalita. Whilst drinking this I check my inbox, do some planning for the day and things that need structure. After half an hour or so I have some breakfast. I used to cook oat porridge with blackcurrant jam every morning, but lately, it’s been a lot of boiled eggs (3 minutes) with Swedish Kaviar (mainly made of salted cod roe, sugar, canola oil and spices) and a spinach-lime-ginger-green apple-smoothie. During the weekends I love having oven baked pink grapefruit with cumin or cacao nibs.
As soon as I come into the roastery at 8 am I have another coffee with the team. At the café, I always have an espresso and a filter coffee—love tasting the same coffees on different brewing methods to see how it presents.
A+C: How did you end up in the coffee world? What drew you in?
J: I started working with speciality coffee at a cafe in Oslo. I can recall the day I took a sip of a great Kenyan coffee for the first time, and how, since that, the flavour of coffee is what it's all been about. Coffee has this magnet that drags you in, and you just want to learn more and more. Same happened when visiting origin for the first time. I visited Panama and Costa Rica and it just brought, even more, thirst to all I wanted to know. This thirst and curiosity that coffee holds are still today what motivates me the most in my daily work.
A+C: You’ve won multiple roasting championships (1st in Sweden for consecutive years, 2nd and 3rd at the World Coffee Roasting Championship). What’s your roasting philosophy?
J: I believe in roasting for the origin and not for a certain roast style. It’s the unique flavors we have bought the coffee for that I would like to present in the final cup. I aim for a clear cup without any pre-set roast notes. I also dig acidity a lot, and tend to focus a lot on that in buying and roasting.
A+C: You’re not only the head roaster for Drop Coffee, you’re also the green coffee buyer and have real relationships with coffee growers. How did you start making those relationships?
J: I have a lot to thank all the origin trips I have done with our green coffee source in Africa, Nordic Approach. You get heaps of knowledge and understanding from travelling with skilled people. When Stephen Leighton came in as my business partner, the deal was that he was going to make sure we got some coffee from Bolivia, and since that it’s been one of my favourite origins to visit every year. El Salvador is easier, with many farms in the size of what Drop can buy exclusively. Year after year of building those partnerships, you become more reliant on each other in the business relation.
A+C: How often do you visit coffee-growing countries, and what is a typical visit like for you?
J: All origins we are buying from I try to visit every year. I believe the relationship is about showing up and working as a team. Every harvest is a chance of improving the relationship and/or quality.
All origins are extremely different to visit. I do like to cup together with the producers but besides that, I prefer to spend more time at the farms than cupping at origin, that I can do at home, haha.
A+C: You are very much a pioneer as a woman in coffee. Do you feel coffee has been a male-dominated industry?
J: There are plenty of good females in coffee, they just may not be seen as much, but it’s getting a lot better. I’m looking forward to the day we have a female World Barista Championship (Go Niki Suzuki!) and more female competitors in the World Coffee Roasting Championship. All the three years I have competed in the worlds, I’ve been the only woman competing. These things are consistently being better, from a daily cafe business level to speakers presenting at coffee forums.
In the cafes in Scandinavia, I think it is a good spread of gender on the baristas. Still, coffee roasting is generally seen as a more male job. We are now working on a #shestheroaster hashtag and forum to present to more ladies that they can become roasters.
A+C: Do you think it’s important for more women to be involved in coffee?
J: None should ever be privileged to anything because of gender. In the coffee industry, everyone is equally needed no matter the sex. I think women are very involved to a high percentage, they are just not being seen as much as men. Often at origin coffee is a family business, yet the man in the family is the one getting the attention in coffee roasters marketing as he is (generally) more on the farm level and being the outspoken ”expert”. Rwanda is a cool example of a producing country that is more or less run by women.
A+C: What would a perfect day in Sweden look like to you?
J: Sweden is a lot about being out in nature. I love to just bring my thermos and go out skating on the lake by my apartment, or go into the forest to pick chanterelles or go out in the archipelago on a sunny day. Ideally in the early evening, I meet up with some friends at a wine bar at Södermalm having great natural wines and then head further to a restaurant. Stockholm has so many good people in food and beverage for a small capital city, from fancy-pancy to snug.
A+C: Who would you love to have a coffee with (can be anyone, dead or alive)?
Beyonce. I just really want to meet her. We would probably end up with a cocktail though.