Women and Coffee: A long and rich history

Coffee makes the world go round, and it powers us through our busy days, as well as being something to enjoy, learn about, and perfect. While women drink slightly less coffee than men, we indeed take it seriously. From selecting the perfect bean, choosing the right equipment to brew it, and sitting back to drink it from our favourite cup. There have also been several key female figures in the history of coffee, without whom we may not enjoy our cuppa in the same way today.

Woman Coffee Rituals

In honour of International Coffee Day on 1 October, and Breast Cancer Awareness month which lasts from 1-31 October, Vicky Coffee decided to combine the two to bring you a history of women and coffee, intertwined.



Coffee rituals are methods of making coffee either daily or for guests in a way that is steeped in history, culture, tradition, and even spirituality.

Many cultures around the world have coffee rituals including Mexico, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Ireland and Vietnam, but only a couple centre women.


The coffee ceremony in Ethiopia is much more formal and spiritual than in Albania. An important part of Ethiopian culture, it is typically performed by the youngest woman of the house, two to three times a day, each time taking around two hours. Women will also perform the same ceremony when guests come to the house and whenever there is cause for celebration. 

First, the woman will sprinkle herbs and flowers around her and burn incense to keep away evil spirits. Then, she fills a coffee pot (jebena) with water and places it over the fire. She takes a handful of coffee beans and cleans them in a special pan which is also held over coals. Once clearer, the beans are slowly roasted in the pan, shaking the beans throughout to ensure the roasting is even. 

Once they are medium brown and the intoxicating scent is released, they are considered ready. Then, the woman proceeds to grind them in the Ethiopian equivalent of a mortar and pestle as the water in the jebena comes to a boil. 

She then adds the coarse ground coffee to the coffee pot with the water and brings it to the boil once again. Once ready to be served, she prepares a tray of small cups without  handles and pours the coffee in a single stream from around one foot in the air. 

Milk is not usually offered, but sugar is made available and the drink is served to the oldest guest first. Typically, guests will drink three cups in total, with the third, the weakest of the three but considered a blessing.


So what about the women that changed the face of the coffee world? There are many to mention- from those who tend the coffee beans, to the pickers, roasters, and baristas who get the raw product to our cup. Here are some of the women who left their mark on the history of coffee.



Amalie Auguste Melitta Bentz was a German entrepreneur, born in the 1870s who invented paper coffee filters and founded a company which still produces coffee products today. After growing frustrated with percolators that she found over-brewed coffee and the tiresome nature of linen coffee filters, she sought a solution. 

She experimented with various different materials before settling on blotting paper and a brass pot with a small hole in it. When her coffee, brewed using her unique method was received well, she decided to go into business. Her patent was granted in June 19087 and by December of the same year, her business was up and running. 

Demand for her products was high and they expanded soon, with Melitta continuing to improve her design. The company remains active today and is in the hands of her great grandchildren. It has more than 3,400 employees in 50 countries.



Alice Foote MacDougall was an American coffee magnate who began a coffee roasting business in 1907 and established multiple roasteries around New York City. Her father was a member of the gentry and was also a successful business man, travelling often to Europe and taking Alice with him. 

Her husband was a coffee wholesaler but their marriage was unhappy and his business ultimately failed before he died at age 40. Widowed with three young children and little money to her name, she set up a business under a false name due to society disapproving of women in business, and her own public views on women not voting or aspiring to be anything other than a wife or mother. 

Despite this, a few years later, she put her own name to the brand and set up the Little Coffee Shop in Grand Central Station which sold coffee products and served as a cafe. She went on to write several books, including The Autobiography of a Business Woman, open more roasteries, and multiple other coffee houses throughout the city. 


You may not have heard the name Erna Knutsen, but you have likely heard the term ‘speciality coffee’. Erna Knutset was born in 1921 and over the course of her life, she became known by various monikers such as The Queen of Speciality Coffee, The Grand Dame, and The Godmother of Speciality Coffee. 

Hailing from Norway, she moved with her family to New York in 1926 and living in Brooklyn and Queens amongst many Italians, she began to adore the smell of coffee. She worked for 30 years as a secretary and ended up working at a coffee brokerage which triggered a reealisation that there was an opportunity to sell coffee on a smaller scale, not just to big wholesalers. Erna began working with smaller roasters and soon became known as a proficient coffee copper. She first used the phrase “speciality coffees” to refer to the coffee she sourced, in a 1974 interview, and the term took off from there. 

She is remembered for her work with the small trade, appreciating different kinds of coffees, and supporting the founding of a new association of specialist coffee roasters.

La Leona Pink October Coffee

Our Pink October Initiative is available throughout the month of October in-store at Victoria Central in Gozo and online focusing all around our La Leona coffee from Columbia.

This single estate specialty coffee amazes with notes of milk chocolate, caramel and a nice citric acidity. 

The La Leona Estate is a private coffee farm situated in Tolima, Colombia. More precisely the area where the farm is situated is known as the land of Planadas. The 25-hectare plantation has been family run for over 30 years. In 2019 the reins of the estate were entrusted to Laura Enciso with the aim of reinvigorate the plantation and transition to organic farming.



In a country where still too few women are at the head of farms, La Leona Estate has been recently entrusted into the good hands of Laura Enciso. Women have a vital role on the La Leona Estate. Women represent more than 70% of the work force on the estate, in the fields, the harvest, and the sorting of the grains.

Considering the vital role of women to the coffee sector, only 10% of females are the actual entrepreneurs and only 20% are landowners (including co-ownership with their spouses). Celebrating the role of women in coffee production is vital to increase their income as producers. This leads to a direct and positive impact on the education of their children and their living standards.