The Barista League Conversations: Unfiltered with Aleida Stone

Photo by  Ashley Tomlinson  (Aleida Stone, Alex Williams, Cill Fisher, Bear Ranasinghe, Hong Dai from left to right)

Photo by Ashley Tomlinson (Aleida Stone, Alex Williams, Cill Fisher, Bear Ranasinghe, Hong Dai from left to right)

In my last conversation with Ashley Tomlinson of The Little Black Coffee Cup, we got an inside look at how things played out at the Beanstock Coffee Festival in Toronto. One event that stood out was Unfiltered, a latte art throwdown & panel discussion on diversity and inclusion in the coffee industry. This was the inaugural event of Unfiltered, and after hearing a little bit from Ashley about the turnout, I knew I had to reach out to Aleida Stone: a coffee value chain researcher and founder of the event, Unfiltered. I asked her the ever so standard question of “So how did you begin your work in coffee?”, and then from there we dug deeper into what Unfiltered sought out to achieve and why uncomfortable conversations are important/necessary/rewarding to have in the industry. 

Take a look below and read more :) 

Ash: Age old question, how did you begin your career in coffee?

Aleida: As it seems is the case with most people in the industry, in no way did I anticipate working in coffee professionally. What felt like an easy paycheque post-undergrad until I found a job in international development, the small roaster I started working for showed me that specialty coffee could be that job.

Since then I have worked as barista, roaster, trainer and wholesale account manager. Then in 2015 I return to university as a Master's student in Development Studies. My thesis research led me to Rwanda where I studied the relationship between women coffee producers' empowerment and washing station owners.

Since completing this degree I have continued to pursue research along the coffee value chain as a project consultant, working to link stakeholders at each end of the chain as valued and sustainable business partners.

Ash: Currently, what is your most rewarding pursuit?

Though my interests tend to be abroad, the response by my community to Unfiltered has energized me more than I could have imagined. Clearly a platform for discussing social issues within our local coffee community has been sorely missing. I am really looking forward to the next event!

This was the first annual Unfiltered event, how did it come about? Who was and what was the driving force behind creating a discussion and event like this?

Indeed, May 24 marked the first of many Unfiltered events! As the inaugural event, I was honoured that SCA Canada and Beanstock welcomed Unfiltered with open arms as a component of their big weekend of coffee festivities in Toronto. Moving forward the aim will be to host at least three Unfiltered events a year.

It was from my international experiences that Unfiltered stemmed. Working with coffee producers it quickly becomes clear that our industry has a marginalizing nature. And once I began looking at my local coffee community with the same critical lens I could not ignore the deep-seated social challenges we too face. Unfiltered works to bring together the coffee community to challenge the status quo through open and honest discussions about inclusivity and diversity.

Ash: Tell me a bit more about how the night went.

Aleida: The evening was a hit! The enthusiasm around the event and the support for the initiative in general was beyond anything I could have anticipated. Not only was it great fun to connect with old and new friends as we cheered on the latte art competitors, but it was a refreshing opportunity to acknowledge issues, challenges and promising potential which have not been so openly and publicly done in Toronto before.

Photo by  Ashley Tomlinson  (Hong Dai, Bear Ranasinghe, Cill Fisher from left to right)

Photo by Ashley Tomlinson (Hong Dai, Bear Ranasinghe, Cill Fisher from left to right)

As the inaugural event, I wanted to provide a platform through which several points of view would be highlighted. Alex Williams, Bear Ranasinghe, Cill Fisher and Hong Dai each shared their unique stories as coffee professionals and brought important issues to our consciousness. Above all the panel discussion was an important reminder, if not a wake-up call, that though it is important to find our commonalities it is crucial to acknowledge and value that we are all unique and therefore experience the world differently. There were indeed uncomfortable topics covered, but everyone seemed to agree that without this discomfort we would not grow as a community, or more broadly, an industry as a whole.

Ash: What were some of the key points on diversity and inclusion that stood out during the discussion?

Aleida: There were two reoccurring themes: the need to be outwardly intentional in the acknowledgment and support of marginalized groups, and the crucial role of allies. That is, it is not enough for a company to be open to hiring a member of the LGBTQA community, a visible minority or a woman. Being open is not inherently an invitation, especially for groups who have traditionally not been welcome in many spaces. Rather, it is important for companies to explicitly encourage marginalized groups to apply for jobs, to contribute their ideas and opinions, and to be leaders. Furthermore, more privileged groups should leverage their power in an effort to support and empower those with less.

Ash: What other projects are you working on right now?

Photo by  Ashley Tomlinson

Aleida: In my consulting work I am currently working with a Canadian coffee roaster to develop research-based premium projects with communities in Guatemala, Colombia and Rwanda. I am also conducting research for a paper commissioned by a Canadian foundation to better understand the role that cooperative membership models may play in gender relations. And of course, planning the next Unfiltered event!