The Barista League Conversations: Elle Jensen

I connected with Elle Jensen, owner/barista at Amethyst Coffee Co. in Denver, Colorado and creator of Cherry Roast; a competition for baristas who are women, transgender, or gender nonconforming (GNC) that embraces the same sentiment of competitor accessibility/cold beers/warm competition vibes that we also love at The Barista League. For Elle and Cherry Roast it was important to give a voice to those who have felt alienated or intimidated in the coffee competition world. 

We hope to see some of the past or future competitors of Cherry Roast at The Barista League: USA Tour this summer!


'A competition for baristas who deserve the stage but don't always feel that way or don't always get seen by their companies. It is meant to instill confidence and a sense of community and I think so far it does that!'

 Pictured from left to right; Kristyn Wade, Elle Jensen, Breezy Sanchez

Pictured from left to right; Kristyn Wade, Elle Jensen, Breezy Sanchez

Ash: Tell me a little bit more about how Cherry Roast came to fruition? 

Elle: It stemmed from talking to women at competitions and having them come up to me and say 'I'd never have the courage to compete', or something along those lines, and it made me sad! I know so many phenomenal women baristas who feel like they can't participate in our cis white male dominated industry. I wanted to give them a gateway into competing so that they felt safer and more comfortable. After the first 2 years it became apparent that in my attempt to create a space for women that I further alienated trans and GNC folks, which was the opposite of what Cherry Roast was meant to do. Cherry Roast is meant to make competing accessible for folks who go unseen and unheard in our industry.  The third year we made Cherry Roast more inclusive, and ultimately better for the community, by opening the competition up to transgender folks, GNC folks, and women. This was a step toward Cherry Roast being what it was always meant to be; a competition for baristas who deserve the stage but don't always feel that way or don't always get seen by their companies. It is meant to instil confidence and a sense of community and I think so far it does that!

Ash: With this competition, what do you hope to achieve?

Elle: My initial goal with Cherry Roast was to give the baristas who competed in Cherry Roast the confidence to compete in SCA sponsored coffee competitions, but as the competition grows it seems like it's taking on a different identity. I would love to see Cherry Roast inspire other competitions like it. The goal is to have a packet that we can send to anyone who wishes to host a Cherry Roast and have it all in there for them to make it easy, but throwing an event like this is A LOT. I really hope that Cherry Roast inspires companies to be more inclusive and more thoughtful in who they promote, put on stage, and hire. I hope that Cherry Roast gives confidence to those who lack it but are amazing baristas. I hope that Cherry Roast provides a safe space and a resource for those who don't feel like they have a voice in the coffee industry.

Ash: What has been the general feedback by the competitors, attendees, and community ? 

Elle: Overall, everyone says they have a blast. Cherry Roast was always meant to be half party and half competition, and we've always delivered on the party. This year, it was maybe too much party. We're working on finding the right balance! I think that people feel excited to support their coworkers and fellow baristas, and I think for the most part the Denver coffee community looks forward to Cherry Roast and is excited to have a way to celebrate these folks in our community. We've had some push back from people who've said Cherry Roast is a 'step back' for gender equality, and that it should just be open to everyone, but through conversation we've helped people understand why Cherry Roast is important the way it is. We've also had a lot of people express interest in volunteering and making it better and more manageable, which is so exciting!, and makes me really excited for the future.

Ash: What do you hope for the future of Cherry Roast? And what do you hope for your personal future in the coffee industry? 

Elle: I hope that the future of Cherry Roast is whatever the community needs it to be. Like I said, it's kind of taking on it's own identity and I'm just trying to figure out how to steer the ship. Most days I just hope that I can keep up with it! As far as my personal future in the coffee industry, I just hope that I get to keep working bar shifts with my best friends. I love my job, my coworkers, my community, and the coffee industry. If I can contribute to making coffee more inclusive and safer for more people than you best believe that's going to be a part of my coffee future.

 Cherry Roast 2016 Event Crowd

Cherry Roast 2016 Event Crowd

*Original answers from Elle included women & folks spelt as follows: transgender folx, GNC folx, and womxn. 

Why we play the way we play

I have often said that the competition part of The Barista League is just an excuse to get a bunch of cool coffee people in a room together.  While i still think this is true, anyone who knows me knows that deep down i am a competition nerd and i spend a lot of time thinking about how to make the competitions more fun, fair and relatable to what baristas actually do.

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An afternoon coffee with Mikaela Gervard

This month, I sat down with 2nd place World Brewer’s Cup 2016 winner, barista extraordinaire, The Coffee Collective HR Coordinator, and all around lovely human Mikaela Gervard to discuss her work with Barista Connect and about their upcoming event in Melbourne! 

We are continually impressed with the amount of truly spectacular events and people there are around the world that are trying to change, discuss, or learn from the current industry landscape. 



Ash: First, tell me about how your involvement with Barista Connect came about: 

Mikaela: Sonja Zweidick started the whole event in 2015 because she felt that in Aarhus (Denmark) there were very few women in the competition scene and that, very often, she was the only woman behind the bar as well. So with that sentiment in mind, she created Barista Connect in 2015.  Being in Copenhagen, and having competed myself in 2015, Sonja messaged me about the event and asked if I wanted to come and listen or even join in. That year there were 12 of us, and I remember going to Aarhus thinking, I’m not sure what this is going to give me, or what this is going to be like, or who’s going to be there. But it ended up being super intense because we were such a small group of women so all the discussions were very thorough and open. Since there weren’t too many people then everyone could get in a word and contribute to the dialogue.
After the first event was so well-received, we thought that we offered something valuable, and turns out, so did some others! The next year we created an event alongside the same time as the London Coffee Festival which had a much bigger interest and grew to around 60 people. And after one more in Vienna, Sonja ask me if I wanted to be more involved in the planning stage and content of the event with booking speakers and things like that for an event in Melbourne... and of course, I said YES!

Ash: Is it the same type of structure in Melbourne or are you going to try something different or? 

Mikaela: A lot of it is going to be similar because we received amazing feedback on the format we’ve been doing. The balance of speeches –learning from others and their experiences– with the sensory portion –putting together variety of cuppings and other sentry challenges– is quite rewarding for attendees. It is important to share knowledge at the workshops with other industry professionals and create different panel discussions where we can talk about what they  are doing and how they got there. So a lot of similar content but within Australian specialty coffee landscape. So, not so much what we can learn from Australians, but what they can all learn from each other. 

Ash: What does it mean, personally, to be apart of Barista Connect? 

Mikaela: I think, personally, it is important to promote the group that I fall into. I am a woman working in coffee, so I think it is natural to take part in, show up for, and learn from other women who are doing cool stuff in multiple corners of the industry. I feel humble to be continuously learning and I think that is important for us all to develop. It sounds a bit cliché, but it is always so motivating to hear about achievements of others in the industry and how they were able to get there and what kind of struggles were needed; how many disappointments were hit, but also how they were able to continue on and create an amazing career for themselves. So, for me, I’ve gained a lot of industry knowledge and practical skills, but also I’ve gain so many contacts in the industry around Europe, and I am hoping now to create some in Australia. 

Ash: Do you feel that outreach is hard? Or do you think a good majority of women know about Barista Connect? 

Mikaela: It is quite hard to reach the audience we are trying to, so that they know something like this is out there. I think newsletters like this are an amazing way to share something with a bigger audience or different audience than just our own social media. But I think it is hard to reach the women, or anybody in the industry really, who is feeling a bit alienated or unmotivated, because they already feel like the ‘lonely ranger’ who is not valued. So, how does one then find these events that would show them that they are not alone? And that they are capable of empowerment through connecting with a group of amazing professionals they belong to?
I am not sure if we are good enough at using social media to promote ourselves and this is definitely something that we are trying to do. But, in having such a small organisation, that is also volunteer-based, it is quite hard to have all the resources in order to achieve it all. But I think through word of mouth, the locals will talk about the event that is coming and I think that is vital in creating outreach. However, we are so grateful from the support of newsletters, articles in Barista Magazine, Sprudge, and all the positive words and experiences from past participants.   

Click here for more info on Barista Connect and their Melbourne event.

A few words from creator Sonja Zweidick:
From our very first event we have had participants from many different countries, which I see as one of Barista Connect’s best qualities. To keep the diversity, I had the idea to bring the events to the women in our industry in different parts of Europe and to make it more accessible and affordable. When Barista Connect - London was happening I received many encouraging messages of interest from over the world, especially from Australia. We are truly excited to bring Barista Connect outside Europe for the first time with the local Melbourne coffee network.