Sightseer Sets Their Sights on Sustainability

Local queer women-owned coffee roaster brings new ideas to the classic coffee system


Sightseer Coffee co-founders Sara Gibson (l) and Kimberly Zash at their roasting facility. Get a better look at where and how Sightseer roasts their beans at austinchronicle.com/photos. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Producers, farmers, and roasters represent a long-running ecosystem of how coffee gets in your cup, but it's an ecosystem in need of an overhaul. Sightseer Coffee founders Kimberly Zash and Sara Gibson consider themselves just the queer folks for the job.

Sightseer's origin as an online coffee roaster came from both Zash's and Gibson's experiences as they navigated Austin's coffee community. Zash's budding sobriety led her to work for My Name Is Joe, a since-closed food-and-coffee truck that hired people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. There she discovered the complexity of coffee – its subjectivity of taste, the science behind it, and the origins of its beans. "You can go down all these different little paths and just keep learning more information [about coffee]," Zash recalls. "That kept me engaged and present in those early days of sobriety, when everything was kind of crazy and chaotic." However, her desire to move up and gain more responsibility in her coffee career butted up against a lack of offered opportunity by My Name Is Joe. She moved on from Joe to other coffee companies around town, where her knowledge grew but her workplace positions remained underpowered. "Man, one day I want to start my own coffee thing," Zash remembers thinking. "It's gonna be super feminist and supportive of people that don't look like what ownership and management typically looks like."

A similar thought simmered in Gibson's head. She and Zash met at Greater Goods Roasting. During Gibson's stint as head roaster at GG, she found herself questioning why the women picking the coffee beans or the queer folks working at cafes weren't represented in the coffee world ownership spectrum. A lack of diversity in leadership "stifles a lot of true sustainability, especially social sustainability and a lot of creativity," Gibson said. By starting Sightseer with Zash, the two could put their beans where their beliefs were. "What we would like coffee to look like," she says, "is that the people who are on the lower rungs of the totem pole [are] really able to make more decisions and have more power within the system."

But how does that sustainability happen? Zash and Gibson make a point to only source their coffee beans from women at origin (aka farmers and producers of unroasted coffee beans). That means often paying over fair trade rates to ensure the people they buy from can work more comfortably. Most consumers balk at a higher price for their java, but to Gibson, the return on investment is a more humane coffee production system. "I like to say that we as Americans, we love our coffee, but we don't value it," she explains. "When you pay more money for your coffee, you give breathing room to those people at origin to build sustainability for themselves."

Sightseer focuses their roasts mainly on approachable coffees, with a new blend out now that benefits local queer youth nonprofit Out Youth. El Prisma has a berry-forward flavor with orange and chocolate notes: a fruity profile Zash said helped coin the blend's name. "Actually, if you look at the word," she says, "we really liked that the pronoun throws you off. El Prisma. Not La Prisma. It's a nonbinary bag of coffee, basically." Nab El Prisma, a custom blend, or any of their eight other coffee blends on sightseercoffee.co, or check their Instagram, @sightseercoffee, for upcoming pop-up dates.

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