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