In our first issue we are talking with Caryn Nelson of Women Investing in Northwest Coffee Champs –or WINCC for short– out of Portland, Oregon. Relatively new to the industry, Caryn has a background in non-profits mostly working with women’s rights organisations and creating economic opportunities for women. Caryn, along with other co-founder Becky Reeves, joined forces in November 2016 to tackle the issue of low participation and representation of female competitors in the coffee industry. Through sponsorships, donations, and fundraisers, they were able to set up a library of equipment and create a scholarship to help women get to the competition arena. Our hats go off to Caryn and Becky for having open conversation, seeing an issue, and taking action!
Below we have featured highlights of our interview with Caryn...Enjoy!
Ash: So tell me a bit about your background and how WINCC came to fruition?
Caryn: My background in non-profits was very much involved with women’s rights organisations and creating economic opportunities for women. So, for me, when entering into the coffee industry, it was important to be represented and see equality within my industry. When I moved back to Portland with my husband and roaster, Mike, we started a business with two other friends who wanted a coffee shop. And before the cafe opened I met Becky Reeves, who at the time was a barista working at Barista in Portland, and had competed in Nationals for the Barista Championship. So we met and started to talk about why there are not more women competing. She laid it out for me and said that most of the barriers that exist are related to the cost, and I thought, 'well is there anything we can do to help people?'
So, one of the costs affiliated with competing is the smallwares and equipment because most people, you know, maybe they have a few things that they’ve won at throw downs or maybe they’ve met a sponsor, but most likely they don’t have all of the equipment that they are going to need to compete. So we thought that we could reach out to sponsors, we could reach out to past competitors, we could put in the work and create an equipment library mainly through donations. So that was exciting! We started the library with a $1500 donation from Pacific (a barista series alternative milk company based outside of Portland). Something else that we saw as an opportunity to get more competitors involved, was by helping with the other costs affiliated with competing; the travel, accommodations, and registration fees. So we started a scholarship fund within the library.
Ash: What have been some challenges?
Caryn: A challenge for us has been outreach and finding people that want to use the library. Folks that, number one, are competing and, number two, know that the resources exist. It’s been a lot of word of mouth. We try to use social media, but one thing that we’ve learned is that the pipeline of competitors is scattered. There is a concentration of roasters and baristas in Portland, but we are just one little blimp in Oregon, there are so many more places in the state where coffee is happening. So, we have to ask ourselves, do baristas outside of Portland know about these events and our resources? Another thing we’ve done is given gas gift cards to people that need to travel from their small town to the bigger city. So, in this way, we have taken a couple of steps back in the process to merely think about ways of getting women interested in the idea of competing.
Another thing that’s happened this year, which I am sure you are aware of, is the SCA’s decision to host in Dubai and their deferred candidate policy. After much deliberation, we decided that our support lies with the competitors –if they don’t want to continue after nationals, we will support them, and if they want to continue to compete and go to Dubai, we will support them– our support is directly linked to the competitors. But I feel like we have been kind of quiet in terms of talking about SCA. We’ve done a couple of other interviews where folks have asked, ‘are you just supporting SCA competitions or are you open to everything?’ And the answer is ‘absolutely we are open’. If it’s Coffee Masters, if it’s your local throw down, we want to make the library available to every competition. Our idea is that by taking the spotlight off of SCA for a moment, it will give them time to sort out their issues.
Ash: But what I think is really good about building your own things is that it pushes a bigger organisation to think about what they are doing.
Caryn: Exactly. I agree that it is kind of two-fold; I think we should continue to build our own things outside of SCA, while they should also be doing the work internally to address some of their core issues.
But I think our original goal –what we still hope to happen– is to see a female World Barista Champion, that goal remains the same for WINCC.