Sightseer Coffee is working to produce great coffee from great people.
By Haley Noble, Photos by Jasmin Porter
What began as a shared dream between Sara Gibson and Kimberly Zash has evolved into Austin’s sole women-owned and -operated coffee roasting business. Sightseer Coffee emerged from the minds of Gibson and Zash after they did research on women’s roles in the roasting world. After traveling to coffee farms and roasters all over the country, they noticed a common theme: the lack of women in leadership.
“Almost all the manual laborers you see are women, but when you go to meet the manager or the owner or director, they’re all men,” Gibson reveals. “You can see it’s a problem there, and also here with cafes. You have all these different people working and serving in the cafe, but when you drill it down to who owns it, it’s a white man.”
Seeing the opportunity to give women a new place in the coffee industry, Gibson and Zash began to form the idea for Sightseer.
“We talked about things we wanted to see in roasting companies,” Gibson explains. “We both had this dream to see a woman-oriented company that puts gender equity up front. We thought it would be great if there was a roastery that only sourced from women producers.”
Sightseer now does just that. In terms of the product, they strive to create coffee that is both interesting and well-researched yet approachable for all coffee drinkers. Within their community, they have created an inclusive space and hold the values of the company to the utmost standard. Not only does the coffee taste great, but sourcing solely from women has its own advantages.
“When women have more financial power over their land and their product, you can see these shifts in terms of social sustainability, environmental sustainability and community building,” Gibson emphasizes. “All by just giving women a little more say.”
Taking on their roles at Sightseer, Gibson works on the creative side of things and does copywriting, while Zash roasts the coffee and handles the majority of the finances. Both women work together to taste and come up with flavor profiles for each unique roast. A typical day consists of roasting and packing the quickly growing number of orders they receive.
The success of Sightseer has not been without struggle, from starting out with little financial means to creating a completely restructured system. They have persisted in creating inclusivity for those of all backgrounds through their own coffee business, an idea that struck Zash while she was having a hard time finding work years ago.
After previously struggling with addiction, Zash got sober in December 2016.
“Coming out of all the chaos and starting over was really difficult,” she explains. “I had no car, no job and so many legal problems. I had dug myself such a large hole that getting out of it seemed impossible.”
While looking for a job, her frustration grew as employers continued to turn her down because of her past. She was eventually hired at a coffee truck, where she was able to train as a barista, and her journey with coffee began. From there, a fire of passion for coffee struck, and Zash continued on to new realms within the coffee industry.
“I found different ways that I could continue in coffee without being stagnant,” she says. “That led to roasting. My feeling and need to help others led to my own business.”
The idea of connection that surrounds coffee keeps Zash inspired to create new products and ideas to evolve with the world of coffee.
“Getting into a field where the main point is to connect is really meaningful to me,” she admits. “The main ‘thing’ is to hang out and drink coffee. That really helped [alleviate]my feelings of isolation and being alone.”
Now having Sightseer and looking back, Zash’s journey has not been an easy one, but has pushed her to new heights.
“I got into coffee when I had basically nothing,” she says. “It was a way for me to be present and focus on something outside of myself. I found that it was a passion for me, and I felt that this could be something for me for a while. I was able to explore the different aspects of coffee, which I found to be amazing. For that, I’m so grateful.”
Sara and Kimberly’s Current Favorite Roasts
Sara’s Pick: El Prisma
“You get this beautiful
chocolate base, but super
fruity notes. It’s the perfect
circle of flavor. $3 from every
bag sold goes to Out Youth.”
Kimberly’s Pick: Space Cowboy
“This natural-process Ethiopian coffee is
so delicious, it makes me smile. It’s
creamy, with strawberry notes, and
is so complex.”