Marin coffee company makes global impact


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At Equator Estates Coffees and Teas in San Rafael, it is all about the beans -- their scent, taste and their quality.

"When you're selling to Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Tracy DesJardin at Jardineire's, it's very important that you have a finger on quality," said Equator Estate Coffees and Teas CEO Helen Russell.

For Russell and company co-founder Brooke McDonnell, it starts in Central America and Africa with a relationship with the growers.

"We've done micro credit loans in Nicaragua, we built a cupping station in Guatemala, we've done an irrigation project in Ecuador and all this things are very important to assure quality for our customers," said Russell.

Cupping is coffee's version of wine tasting. You sip, swish and sort through the flavors.

Equator Coffee sells its organic, fair trade certified, rain forest alliance coffee beans to 200 wholesale customers, mostly in Northern California.

And the company helps people grow as well, such as Chido Govero in Zimbabwe, who at 13, lost her mother to AIDS.

"And what she has learned to do is grow mushrooms and now she's teaching others to grow mushrooms. Because without the security that food brings, these girls are absolutely at risk," said Russell.

Equator won best tasting coffee at this year's Roaster's National Convention.

Russell took home the Trail Blazers Award from the National Association of Women Business Owners for sustaining a profit for 10 consecutive years in good times and bad.

Something else that reflects well on the company, it's their environmentally-friendly coffee bean roaster built right up the road in Petaluma.

"It's called the Kestnell Roaster and it's using 80 percent less natural gas than the others, so with the $800 we save per month we buy a bio diesel truck and pay extra amount for the gas we use," said Russell.

So what are these women going to do for an encore -- find world peace? Actually, because of what they're part of in Rwanda, they are contributing to that.

"The genocide took place 15 years ago. By buying coffee from Rwanda, we are keeping the tensions in the community, all the roasters who are importing are keeping tensions down because when you have an economic product that is viable, people are going to be working and tensions lowered," said Russell. "You cannot be in specialty coffee and not be transformed. It's about relationships and a journey from crop to cup."

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