Ableism in Coffee

Covid-19 has inadvertently been the massive wake up call to the coffee industry that drastic changes were needed. Many people on all sides have been calling for reform and reinvention, but has largely fallen on the covered ears of the white cis-het level of the coffee world and dismissed as niche issues. Whether it be people like Junior’s Coffee Roasters bringing attention to the coffee price crisis and cost of production, Getchusomegear and GlitterCat calling attention to the lack of equipment and training that people of marginalized communities receive, the prejudice that Michelle Johnson of The Chocolate Barista has been exposing, and the waste within the coffee world that Umeko Motoyoshi literally wrote the book on… Should I go on or do you get my point? The point being that so many issues have been simmering for a while, and then Covid-19 came and exposed the wage disparity, a barista’s dependency on tips, and clear safety concerns that it’s no wonder that everyone is demanding change in every area.

So, I want to talk about a huge problem in the coffee world that I’ve encountered and is rarely talked about: Ableism in Coffee.

On Sprudge’s podcast network, Umeko Motoyoshi interviewed Alice Wong of the Disibility Visibility project and they had a great conversation about the exclusion of people with disabilities when coffee shops make decisions for the “betterment” of their customers and the environment that is a wonderful resource. However, I want to shed light on the issues that baristas behind the bar face from customers, coworkers, and management/ownership.

In America, there is this prevailing view that disabled people are helpless, that they exist outside of the capitalist system and can somehow not work because of their disability but can sustain themselves financially through government assistance or through inherited personal wealth. Well, that is an outright lie. First off, the government assistance that disabled people qualify for (which is a low monetary amount) is dependent on so many factors and contributes to forced poverty. Second, in case you haven’t looked around lately, there’s not much inherited personal wealth to go around.

For many disabled people and/or those with chronic conditions, we have little choice but to work just like most people. So, what does that mean for the coffee world?

It means that you will have passionate employees that want to make great coffee, but have difficulties in certain areas of the job. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits descrimination based on a disability or disabilities that a potential or current employee has, and you will most likely find yourself having a disabled and/or chronically ill person working for you at some point in your business history. 

While descrimination in hiring may be protected, providing an environment where people who have disabilities can thrive just as well as able-bodied people is harder to find. The experience that I’ve had has varied. At one shop, I had the freedom to move to other positions within the shop on chronic pain days because almost everyone was cross trained but wearing my braces at work was looked at with suspicion and worry. At another, I was scolded for not being nicer to a customer who yelled at me before I could even register what had happened and, after saying that certain aspects of my disorder make me freeze, was still met by my boss with an attitude akin to what so many disabled people hear which is, “Well, you just weren’t trying hard enough.”

The hardest thing for a disabled employee is the disbelief that our conditions or even our whole selves are serious or important enough to be supported. It is as though each job tries to make every employee equal, which should be good in theory, but in actuality is often presented in a way that singles out accommodation or need and since it is not for all then it is not in the best interest for the cafe. As though assistance is special treatment and that an owner can’t be seen to be showing favorites to any members of the staff. The fact of the matter is that allowing a person with IBS extra bathroom breaks or a person with PTSD space to deal with the onset of a panic attack doesn’t feel like showing favoritism. 

It is the only way that we can survive.

Or, we survive without it and get worse. For minimum wage. To follow a passion at the expense of our bodies. To work through the discomfort and damage to pay rent.

Customers, too, have come to expect able-bodied people working behind the counter. We must be able to stand for 8+ hours lest we appear lazy or not ready to engage in the work we are doing. 1 in 25 adults will experience a serious mental illness according to this, and, all across the service industry, employees are expected to deal with bad attitudes and outbursts from customers as just another aspect of the job without considering how it might affect those on the receiving end. During Covid, many anti-maskers are left scratching their heads as why baristas urge their patrons to wear masks inside, follow posted directions, and not to try to go around safety partitions without any regard for our health or the fact that those behind the bar could be immunocompromised. 

I think that as we approach a year of Covid-19 in the next few months, many will see the issues that myself and those that I mentioned at the beginning of this article as issues to be dealt with when “all this is over.” Something that isn’t as important right now because there is something else that takes precedence, but here’s the thing: I am not the only voice calling for change, nor have we all suddenly decided that these are new issues. Many of us have been pleading and demanding for a long time. And, even if this were new, it doesn’t mean these issues are not vital to the sustainability of our industry. Reformative change is never convenient but it is always the right thing to do.

How Many Pour Over Cones Can You Stack and Still Make Good Coffee?

If I’m being honest, all the pour overs that quarantine has had me make has resulted in… well, some boredom. I was obsessed with recipe testing over summer but the cold weather has me looking to other interests. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with brewer differences and my thoughts on shop life, but I’ve found my recipes don’t change much.

So, when Cxffeeblack asked on Umeko Motoyoshi’s instagram about how many pour over cones could be stacked and still make good coffee, I was immediately intrigued. I think that this was mostly asked as a humorous question but it got me thinking about playing around with grind sizes and the idea of layered brew beds. I grabbed my coffee gear and took to my kitchen to figure out what I needed to do to make this work.

My main concerns were temperature and extraction. In Umeko’s response video, they discuss the potential problems of the decrease in temperature as as well as the levels of extraction of the coffee. As water runs through in a brewer, it extracts the coffee solids from the beans. The issue with stacked brewers is that water that has extracted these solids (aka coffee) is going to pass into more grounds in the second and third layer which will make it harder to extract more coffee. The other extraction issue is that after the first brewer, I can’t control how the water is distributed among the grounds. While a flat pour over bed isn’t necessary for a good cup of coffee, being able to make sure that all the grounds are saturated is, so that presented an issue.

Reminiscent of some of James Hoffmann’s videos, I’m going to explain what I did and then why I did it.

What you’ll need:
7g of medium-coarse ground coffee
7g of medium-fine ground coffee
7g of fine ground coffee
A v60, standard pour over cone, and a Kalita Wave
A stovetop kettle or electric kettle (I used both)
1 185 filter, v60 filter, and #2 filter
Scale
Vessel to make your coffee in (I used a steaming pitcher)

Measure and grind out your coffee, and trim your 185 and #2 filters by a 1/2 inch so the brewers don’t squish them down while they are stacked. Start heating your water. If you have a stovetop kettle and an electric kettle, you can use the electric kettle for the next step while waiting for your kettle to heat up on the stove. If not, use either extra hot tap water or make sure you kettle has enough water for the pour over and this next step. Pre-wet your filters, making sure to use extra hot water so as to preheat your brewers really well. When your water is heated to 200-205 degrees, place your Kalita on your vessel and add your finely ground coffee. Pour 20g of water (enough to just saturate the grounds). Tare your scale, add your cone, medium-fine ground coffee, and pour another 20g of water. Tare your scale again. Lastly, top with your v60 and coarsely ground coffee then pouring your last 20g of water. Tare one more time. I then poured 3 pulses of water about 105g each until I reached 320g and let drain (it’ll help to remove each brewer once they are done draining so you know when everything is fully drained).

The v60 was fully drained at around 3 minutes, the cone at 4:30, and the Kalita at 5:30 minutes so only about a minute longer than a usual pour over.

Not only was stacking my brewers v60, cone, then Kalita a practical decision based on fit and stability, I chose to stack them in this way based on how easily water dripped through each of them by having ease of flow go from top to bottom. The v60 is a favorite among coffee peeps because of how easily water flows through it. Keeping in mind about the extraction of coffee solids, I did not want to extract as much on the top knowing that it still had two more layers so I ground my coffee coarser. The standard cone had your usual pour over ground coffee which would extract a little more because the coffee was finer but this is where I knew I would start to see the temperature and extraction start to be altered. With the Kalita, which can have issues with choking of the three tiny holes, I used a fine grind to hopefully get a lot of coffee solids even with cooler water. This slurry took the longest to drain, which had me worrying about over-extraction, but this had the highest amount of water/coffee solids and the coolest water which I hoped would even out with my worries.

The result?

A surprisingly decent cup of coffee.

What I had expected to come from this was a weak and bitter cup but I pretty much got the complete opposite of that. This was a strong cup of coffee with a deep color and sweetness at the start and finish. There was a bit of dry flatness in the middle but it wasn’t astringent, almost reminiscent of some anaerobic coffees that I’ve had this year.

Trying this was a mix of good emotions, and, were you in the room with me, you would have heard me saying, “This is absolutely the weirdest thing I’ve ever done” to myself a few times. I’d like to say that I have a super awesome barista explanation of why this is the future of coffee brewing because so much of what I do as a coffee professional is about sharing not only about working in coffee but about coffee itself. However, sometimes, recipe testing isn’t about adding something new to the collective recipe book but helping yourself to grow. It’s can be about following crazy ideas and enjoying the ride. Instead of learning about a new way to brew, I learned about certain elements within each brew and working through certain limitations.

How often do those making coffee get to play around with different bloom times in the same recipe? While I knew that each brewer behaved differently, it was amazing to watch those play out together as opposed to side by side in comparison. Overall, this was a great experiment and I had so much fun basically throwing the coffee rulebook out the window to make something unique.

If you do feel like try this, keep these things in mind:
Be safe!!! As someone who has had many serious hot water burns, please believe me when I tell you that these are no joke. Obviously, brewers are not made to be stacked and can easily tip over. My v60 in particular is not very stable because of the unusual shape of the base so I had to hold it in place the whole time to avoid it tipping. Secondly, this recipe worked largely because my brewers happened to fit together well enough. I half joked to myself about trying to add my Aeropress to this recipe because it was on my counter but that would pose another safety risk because of the force required with an Aeropress. With a Chemex, the brewer is made of glass and could get scratched or, if combined with force like the Aeropress, shatter. Please utilize all sense of caution and practice stacking before adding hot water to make sure it is safe to brew with. I rehearsed how I was going to stack them and the entire recipe before I did it for real to make sure that it would go smoothly.

And, most importantly, have fun.

Happy brewing!

Service Jobs and Post-Abuse Trauma

On September 24th, 2018, I remember walking to work. I lived only about five blocks away from my job at the time, and I was only scheduled for a short closing shift. Most jobs that I have worked in have had the policy of leaving your problems at the door, which is a policy that I often respect.

But not this day. 

My phone buzzed with headlines about trauma survivors coming forward to testify against Brett Kavanaugh and his violent reaction to said claims. I saw the arguments of people poking holes in stories, others minimizing the impact of what had gone on, not to mention those denying that any assault had occurred. I wanted to crawl back into bed, numb and mentally exhausted from weeks of conversations, headlines, and the resurfacing of memories. My entire body felt exposed, I wanted to cry, to hide, to be somewhere safe. And yet, I had to go into work and smile at customers and pretend like all I wanted to do was make people a latte or a sandwich.

Working in coffee is a relational act. Yes, it is working in food service but, if coffee people hold to the idea that we are making a specialty product for a consumer that will appreciate it then the act of crafting specialty and the conversation around that product is a relationship. Anyone who has worked in coffee (and I use the term “work” loosely) can attest to the relationship that you build with your coworkers, customers, and even people online that share your passion for this tiny bean and the journey from cherry to mug. 

So, as with any personal relationship, what happens when the relationship is broken and hurting? First, we have to look at the issues and then how a shop can go about helping to remedy the situation. 

The Employee
A survivor of abuse and/or trauma carries with them chronic stress, as Dean Kilpatrick points out, and every reactionary event becomes reduced down to fight, flight, or freeze. The effects of abuse and trauma are long lasting and unpredictable in how they affect each individual. So, what does this have to do with working in coffee?

Employees are people and no matter the level of professionalism, everyone has their own issues that they will carry with them into work, and coffee shops are not exempt from this. Any customer-facing industry accepts the fact that people from all walks of life could potentially walk through the doors of your business. In a business environment, the owners and managers will request from their employee an attitude and behavior that matches the personality of the shop as well as a certain level of formal dress based on owner/manager preference. 

What is not always considered is that these can be damaging to those who have experienced trauma. Baristas have long brought up the problem of customers interpreting their professional positivity as forward intentions, when, in fact, it is a base component of customer service to be positive to all customers and provide an experience that encourages people to return. Even while working and not directly engaging with customers, there always seems to be customers staring at you while you make their drink or food as well as the constant awareness that customers can see you from anywhere in the shop, and the weight of people’s eyes is something that trauma and abuse survivors know all too well. 

The Cafe
The employee has their own baggage just as every person does, but what about the responsibility of the shop. In the last few years, coffee shops like Four Barrel and Slate have been outed as having toxic ownership and management. The amount of times that I have heard from shop owners that the shop they have created is a safe place or that those who work in the shop are like “family” but also leave their employees worse off than when they started is astounding. Here’s the thing, I hear the cafe owners who are already saying that they are running a business and that they are not trained therapists so what could they do to help with trauma and not get into HR hurdles or overextend past the owner/manager and employee relationships. 

First off, the most obvious way to help your employees is to not be toxic. I shouldn’t need to say in an article to not sexually harass your employees, that you need to pay them fairly and on-time, and that you should respect your employees’ time and personhood but here we are. While you as an owner or manager are not responsible for your employee’s healing from personal trauma, you are 100% responsible for their wellbeing within your business. If your employees leave work or leave your business with trauma because of your actions, then you have failed your employees. 

Next, are you giving your employees space for what they feel? It can be hard to keep that line of professionalism between management and employees, but you can still give your employees the time to hear about issues they face within the shop and outside resources to help them. In your staff meetings, have you discussed the emotional weight of Covid? The deaths and mistreatment of Black lives? If you are on the west coast, the wildfires? 

In the case of post-abuse trauma, that can seem like a harder line to approach and you may not know how to help them without breaching professional roles. First off, are you providing them with everything that is due to them. Are you paying them minimum wage or higher? Are they getting the hours that they have asked for and that you agreed to? Are their paychecks/deposits getting to them when promised? Do you make sure they have what they need to do their job safely and effectively? What is so often overlooked in helping people through trauma is making sure they have a stable environment and making sure that you are doing everything that you are supposed to as an employer is crucial because it allows them to focus on their own internal healing without added stress.

Another way to check in with your staff is to have one-on-one meetings to gage morale but this can be a time to give your staff any help that you can provide. Maybe coming to an agreement of less or more shifts, depending on their situation. There are employee assistance programs that offer resources for employees that are great options to look into, especially for larger shops (that have more employees or have more than one location), and then help can be offered without the employee having to disclose their issues/traumas and can be looked into by the employee anonymously. 

Lastly, does your space help to make your employees feel safe or vulnerable? The counters and bar are functional but they do provide an important distance and distinction between the customer and employee. Is your shop set up in a way that makes sure that your employees feel safe? Do your customers understand that they are not allowed behind the bar? While I don’t personally believe in an employee working alone, have you made it so a one-employee shift set-up has someone available to call should something happen that makes them feel safe (owner or manager’s number, whichever lives the closest, and all emergency numbers available) and everything they need so they are not panicking about inventory or the cash drawer?

The Customer
Finally, let’s discuss the impact of customers in relation to post-abuse trauma and working in coffee. Customers can be the best part of working at a shop, and also the worst. I have customers that have turned to good friends, some long after I have left a shop. Meanwhile, I have also interacted with customers that have sexually harassed fellow coworkers, given unwanted attention, and customers who have talked about triggering topics without any concern for who could hear. 

We have this idea built into our culture that the “customer is always right,” which is rarely ever true. Customers know almost nothing about shop operations and this phrase has given rise to entitled people thinking that their singular experience and opinion gives them some sway over a shop. And some owners and managers have entertained this behavior. 

In situations where the customer is out of line, the management of a shop should protect their team because not addressing the problematic behavior of customers forces silence, internalization, and shame on the part of the employee in that their opinions or experiences are hindering someone or some people’s livelihood. Another way to think about this is when a man’s future is prioritized over his female victim’s future in the case of sexual assault. 

At one shop I worked at, we had an abundance of customers that made us feel unsafe so we came up with coping mechanisms to deal with it such as a code word for when someone could not serve a particular customer, walking to the back room that was hidden away, and reports of crying in the office were seen as something that everyone did. It seemed like a natural thing to have these unofficial policies in place but, looking back on my time, I see that the fact that we needed to have these in place as opposed to management dealing with these regulars put us in danger and aggravated existing traumas. Retreat should not be a regular feature of your employees’ work shift.

Confronting customers can seem daunting especially in the age of Yelp, where one bad review can seem like a direct attack on your business. However, your reputation is not just determined on singular business reviews but also by the reputation you have as a company to work for. Trust me when I tell you, baristas talk to other baristas, and the prevalence of social media has now come to be an asset when highlighting businesses that treat their workers poorly. In recent days, Instagram has become a hub of accounts that highlight union busting among companies such as @augiesunion, calling out toxic work places like @86listpdx, and workers rights groups like my friends over at @coffeeatlarge. 

Where does this leave us?

I could go on about the misfortunes that exist in the world, but I think that would be an understatement at this point. Long before 2020, people who have traumas and suffered abuses still find themselves having to work. Where that leaves us is that those employees must do whatever they can to further their own healing, but that employers must do their part to make their business a safe place to work at for everyone and that involves management taking the time to understand their employees, the responsibilities in maintaining a safe workplace, and prioritizing their employees over inappropriate customers.

Brew Method Testing: The Aeropress

I’ve got to be honest, when I first heard about The Aeropress, I was turned off from it immediately. It seemed messy to flip the brewer, and the idea of brewing coffee and then adding bypass water seemed ridiculous. I wanted my coffee to come out of the brewer ready to drink, rather than an extra step of bypass water. However, I didn’t know much about how it brewed coffee and not many coffee pros around me had one.

Fast forward, The Aeropress has become so popular in my circles and it seemed like a lot of experimental recipes that I came across utilized this little plastic brewer that I felt like I needed to add it to my gear. Plus, I was too intrigued by the espresso that could come out of an Aeropress with a Fellow Attachment. So, after picking one up, all I needed to do was find a recipe to go with it.

Did I go with an easy recipe… no.

When working with a new brewer, I will seek out recipes from people or shops that I know and, in my search, I came across Alexander Mill’s competition recipe. I don’t personally know Alexander but his Instagram is one of my favorite accounts when it comes to coffee and brewing, so the choice was obvious.

The main goal of Alexander’s recipe was to make sure that the cup of coffee he made was not too hot for the judges when he brewed it under the time constraints of a competition. Since I’ve really only ever brewed coffee with water at 195-212 degrees, I thought it would also be fun to brew colder.

Here are the specs:
24.8g of coffee (I used 25g because my scale only shows whole grams)
100g of water at 185 degrees
80g of water at 185 degrees for bypass
20g of water at room temperature

Recipe:
Place your aeropress in the inverted position and dose out your coffee into the brewer. Add 50g of water and agitate for 20 seconds. Once the time has elapsed and your grounds are fully saturated, add 100g more water and then cap your aeropress with the cap and two wetted filters. Take off the scale and press until all the air is removed (not the full press just yet). At 1 minute, flip the aeropress onto your mug and press steadily for 30 seconds. Stop when you hear hissing.

Bypass with the 80g of hot water and 20g of room temperature water, and stir to thorough combine. My total recipe time was 2:50.

First impressions of the process:
Even using a more difficult recipe, the Aeropress is a pretty user friendly brewer and a lot of my preconceived ideas on the Aeropress were dispelled pretty quickly. Even the pressing, which I thought was going to require a bit of strength, was manageable but could be a problem for people with mobility and chronic pain on bad days. My first thought while brewing was a realization that this would not become my daily brewer for that reason because I have issues with my hands and wrists that would make pressing on flair up days hard. Meanwhile, the plastic retained heat well and didn’t notice a huge taste difference from my glass or ceramic brewers. I don’t have a lot of plastic brewing equipment, so that eased some of my worries with The Aeropress as well.

Now, the important part, how did the coffee taste?

I was using the last of my Burundi from Recluse Roasting Project, a coffee that after almost the entire bag and multiple coffee experiments was a coffee that I was pretty familiar with so I could really focus on how the brewer specifically effected the taste. This coffee has a really upfront sweetness and juicy body to it with a nice lime acidity at the end.

The highlight of Alexander’s recipe was the ready-to-drink temperature of the finished coffee and it was nice to go straight from brewing to taste evaluation without waiting for the brew to cool. The anticipation always kills me when I try out a new brew method or recipe.

While the intensity of this coffee was a bit muted compared to pourovers that I’ve made with it, my coffee had a rounder more grapefruit-like acidity that I appreciated. The coffee did become more full-bodied as it cooled, almost returning to the flavor I got with my pour overs.

Final Thoughts:
I am a massive convert to The Aeropress. The ease of use for coffee pros and newbies alike is a huge part of the appeal for me. I can see it being easy to travel with because of the durability and compact nature of it, and the versatility of the coffee that you can make with it (especially with the espresso attachments that you can buy for it) is amazing.

If you’ve been on the fence about the Aeropress, I highly recommend it. Have more questions? Leave them in the comments below.

*** This post was not sponsored and all reviews and thoughts are my own.

Interview with a Milwaukee Barista

It’s been quiet here on The NBB, but that’s mental health issues for you. Thankfully, I’m back on an upswing and am coming at you all with a few new posts that I’ve been working on. 

A couple of weeks ago, I got to interview an awesome barista out of Milwaukee who has wished to remain anonymous. What I really appreciated about them is at the end of our conversation, they asked me what my goal was with these posts and it really got me thinking. I had this idea to interview TGNC baristas because it seemed like a way to engage with what was going on around me, since I couldn’t participate in the protests in person due to health concerns. 

Sophia Roe, recently, did a beautiful talk on Instagram about the difference between reaction and response. My original intention with these interviews was more about what could I offer, which was sharing these stories. This was a reaction. Meanwhile, as I talked with and interviewed more people, the protests evolved and my view on what I was doing with these interviews changed. I’ve learned so much from every interview and I want to share more stories not because it’s something that I’m doing but because these stories and experiences are so much bigger than myself or this blog. I’m not one to care about blog statistics, but these interview posts don’t always do as well with views but I think that making space for these people who are willing to take time out of their day to share their experiences protesting is more important than page views and likes.

***The below interview has been lightly edited for length and some details have been omitted to respect their privacy.

Would you like to introduce yourself?

My name is *name redacted*. I use they/them pronouns. I’m based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

So, you were involved with all the protests. Can you tell me what all you did?

The first thing to know is that Milwaukee is statistically the most segregated city in the US and, as such, we’re fairly accustomed to police brutality and civil unrest here. To the point where when cops shoot people, it doesn’t make the national news. About four years ago, an officer shot an unarmed mentally ill black man steps away from city hall and was shot multiple times and we don’t hear about it. His name was Dontre Hamilton, and that officer never went to prison. He did stand trial, but there were riots here for quite a while. Because of that existing social dynamic, there’s a really strong activist network here. There’s not like one person who is the face. There are several different people. A few weeks before George Floyd was murdered, an officer here in Milwaukee killed a young man named [Lucas J.] Alverado, and that officer is still suspended with pay and is still not charged. So, there were protests here before but when the national outrage over George Floyd’s death got people out to the streets, those protests escalated. A lot of people think of Milwaukee as this white outdoorsy place and, some of the state is, absolutely, but the larger ethnic majority is Black and that definitely is not reflected in representation, business owners, anything. 

So, how did you get involved? Did you go by yourself, connect with any of these activist groups, or meet people along the way? 

I went by myself. At the time, it was really well known here that cops were tracking people and so, if you organized with people about when you were going to meet or anything like that, it was pretty well-known that you were going to be tracked down and arrested. So, I just went. Some of the different activists, activist groups, local community organizers, and politicians were posting about the protests in different places. Here, people were marching 5-10 miles a day so it was really easy to catch up with them at some point during the protests, and march with them. They’re still marching. And so, I brought extra masks and bandanas. I had those on hand. People have been really good about wearing masks at the protests, which is really good. 

Yeah, I kept noticing that and kept hearing from people that weren’t for the protests saying, “Yeah, the protests are the reason that Covid is spiking.” And I kept telling them, “No, literally, in all the protest photos that I see, everyone’s wearing masks.” All the pictures that I would see, it was all the cops that weren’t wearing masks. Like now, they kind of are. They’ve kind of caught on but… it’s kind of hit or miss, but no, it’s the cops who aren’t wearing them.

Yeah, that’s not good. 

We had curfew enacted here and I never stayed out passed curfew for a  lot of different reasons. Despite my whiteness, I am still a person who is more vulnerable to be a target of violence so I still try not to stay out after dark. I have friends who were ticketed and arrested after dark. There were a few instances where the police were getting aggravated, up in people’s faces, and I put my body between the cop and whomever it was because I felt pretty confident that I was right but the cops weren’t going to hurt me because that would be a bad video for them. 

I mean they’ve kind of been showing that they don’t care about bad videos at this point.

Right, well, they’ll think twice. They are less likely to hit a blond white person than anyone else. 

What was your experience out there and how does that compare to how people were writing about the protests and talking about it?

So, I’m very aware that I live in my own socialist bubble. A lot of the content that I saw about the protests were from people that were actively supportive of the protests or actively participating in them but I did see people who were like, “These protests are violent. The 1963 March on Washington, when we got Civil Rights, we got without any violence.” 

I felt like most of the media coverage talked about the violence of the protests as though it was one of those things that was inevitable. That the protests were going to become violent, when in fact I never saw any violence from protestors. Cops were quick to use batons and tear gas, and, even as stories were coming out that disproved these claims about who started it, what prompted it, meanwhile the media was just reporting on it like, “Here’s this fascinating other side to this story. Like wow, the cops could be lying.” 

It’s one of those things where the assertion was made and continues to be made that, despite all this evidence that we have, that it’s the police that are arresting people, tazing them, tear gassing them, and that they were justified. And I think that that comes from our social belief that fundamentally, the police only target people who do bad things and the police don’t arrest bad people. I find it demoralizing that as we get more and more irrefutable evidence that that’s not true, that the conversation and the perception doesn’t seem to be changing genuinely. Like talking about it as though there are a couple of bad apples and not that every time that force is used is bad. There’s no reason for tear gas to ever be used. That is not ever justifiable. 

So, how did things change day-to-day? As the protests evolved, I’m sure so did protestors, the marches, etc. 

The marches, themselves, have scaled down quite a bit. There were a lot of back-to-back ten mile marches going in different directions, going out to the suburbs. At one point, several players from the Bucks joined in, which gave a lot of credibility to the marches but that was fleeting. It also was a great show of solidarity that these professional athletes came out. When curfew was put into effect and the National Guard was brought in, they were flying helicopters overhead, the mood definitely changed here. It became very much a kind of us-versus-them, as though we were under attack from our own government, and I guess we are. And, while the mayor and the governor, both eventually moved the national guard and curfew, things are definitely not back to normal. 

Do you see any similarities between the protests and your work in coffee?

I don’t know if I saw any similarities, but I definitely learned a lot from the protests and the organizers that is applicable to my work in coffee. Like there was a disability friendly march that was done, where they organized  so that people who used wheelchairs were able to participate in the march. That really changed and challenged the way that I think about accessibility, that there really is no reason that everything shouldn’t be accessible. Like, when you work in coffee and especially when you work as a barista in a cafe, you are literally serving your community. 

The weird thing for me was the last cafe that I spent most of my career was in an extremely high end and wealthy neighborhood, where racism was rampant. Early on, when the shop was open, we would have cops come in and ask if we had seen a Black man and that was it. Not, did you see someone that matches this description? It was, “Did you see a Black man walking around down here?” Asserting that Black straight up was a crime in that neighborhood. So, in a lot of ways, the protests were more about serving my community than working in coffee ever has been. I knew a lot of other baristas who were out marching. 

So, what safety measures did you take to protect yourself from Covid? From the police?

Well, I had Covid early on and this was back in the days when it was like, “If you’ve had it, you have immunity.” And, now, it’s like, “Well… maybe not!” 

I’m gonna be honest when I say that I didn’t think that hard when protecting myself from Covid, like I wore a mask and changed masks. Things like that. And I kept masks around for other people. Tried to maintain some level of distance. 

I took goggles with me and used them, wore glasses instead of contacts, just in case I got tear gassed or pepper sprayed. Which did happen, do not recommend. And, I took small bottles of water with me as well. To protect myself from the police, most of the time I had my head covered completely to reduce identifiable characteristics. The fact that we were all wearing masks is a great deterrent. I wore all black to reduce the possibility of being identified. 

So, what’s been your biggest take away from all this?

I mean there’s a couple of things. First, I wish the community valued the people who die in it. Like within this community, they should value them more because it wasn’t until George Floyd was murdered that people really started to hit the streets and you know, we’ve had dozens of children murdered by cops in the last ten years. There was a brief period here where it seemed like we got some traction but the police force and the government here is deeply racist. And, the way this city has dealt with Covid is deeply racist. It is massively and disproportionately affecting the Black community. And I wish that I could say that maybe something has changed but it seems like for the most part that there are some people who have some privilege, who were really excited to protest for a couple weeks and then they just got bored. And there’s still a lot of talk about how “you can’t go to that neighborhood because it’s not safe there.” While protesting police violence is important and that is technically what these protests are about, it is disheartening to see how racism is pervasive. That it has not changed the way in which people are actually thinking about how people are dealing with race.

Yeah, I’ve started noticing kind of like a shift from “Black Lives Matter” and, there’s still a little bit of that, but now it’s police brutality. And like you said, that’s a huge part of the issue but now, and like I’m based in Portland, so now it’s like let’s talk about how the Feds are here and how they are taking people. Let’s talk about how the police are tear gassing everyone. And it’s like that is the point but it’s not the broader point. We’re losing the Black Lives Matter aspect of the protest of police brutality.

Right. There has been so much rhetoric about Fuck the Police, All Cops are Bastards, which is not an inherently bad position but the fact that that’s the rhetoric and people are profiting off of those messages is just furthering the devaluing of Black Lives. 

Yeah, one of my friends shared something that was talking about this idea and it struck me that literally all the conversations that I’ve had with people lately have been about Fuck the Police and not about Black lives. Like I’m guilty of this too. We need to shift the focus back.

Right. We can have both conversations. We should be having both conversations. I have seen, like there was this big push to buy from Black owned businesses for a while and, I got be honest, I don’t remember the last time that I saw somebody post or retweet a list of Black coffee roasters. Or the new Barista Magazine features Black coffee professionals, which is great but that should be normal though. There’s a post on social media that’s been getting retweeted and shared that is, “It’s Black Lives Matter before Fuck the police.” 

A huge thank you to this barista again for their time. If you want to share your story, shoot me an email (that’s in the about page) and we can set it up. And, saying it again, Black Lives Matter!

Brew Method Testing: Kalita Wave w/ Recipe from George Howell

On this website, I have been narrowing my focus to gender and workplace dynamics while usually keeping the coffee talk to Instagram or my coffee notebook. A fun fact about me is that I absolutely love tasting notes and trying different brewers and recipes. Yes, it is a form of practice but it has also been a creative outlet for me during quarantine and working at a job that I’m not passionate about. My favorite part of my weekend or my before-work routine is breaking out my coffee gear and making notes about what I’m drinking. 

Recently, I asked on Instagram if people were interested in my recipe testing and brewer notes to which I received an overwhelmingly positive response. So…

Enter the Kalita Wave.

One of the shops that I worked at used the Kalita as their main pour over brewer, so professionally I’ve made a number of pour overs with it. But, never had a major desire to go out and buy one myself since I have a perfectly good cone that I know and love. A couple months ago, however, someone in a Facebook group was giving away some coffee gear and I decided to jump on the Kalita Wave and do some recipe testing. 

The first try with my go-to pour over recipe ended up tasting flat, muted, and slightly metallic. My grind was medium-fine for a pour over, the water (while not distilled) had never impacted the taste of my coffee before so I figured it was a recipe issue. So, I did what I always do and took to the internet asking for Kalita recipes. I read recipes with slight variances, but then I came across this one from George Howell. I had never seen a pour over recipe like this, and that challenger mindset in me kept screaming, “Do it!”

The premise of this recipe is cycling between rapid small pours and short rests. 

I started with 25g of medium-fine ground Burundi from Recluse Coffee Roasters, and put that into my pre-wetted filter and Kalita wave set up. Heat your water up to 205 degrees and, when you are ready to pour, start the timer. Pour 65g of hot water in 15 seconds, starting in the center and moving outwards, then rest for 15 seconds. Keep pouring in 65g increments in 15 seconds and then resting for 15 second increments. At 2:45, you should be done pouring and you let it drain. 

Overall, the whole process should look something like this:

0:00-0:15 Pour 65g

0:15-0:30 Rest (This is also where the bloom happens)

0:30-0:45 Pour till 130g

0:45-1:00 Rest

1:00-1:15 Pour till 195g 

1:15-1:30 Rest

1:30-1:45 Pour till 260

1:45-2:00 Rest

2:00-2:15 Pour till 325g

2:15-2:30 Rest

2:30-2:45 Pour till 390g

2:45-4:00 Let it drain.

First off, I got so nervous pouring like this. The newness of continuously adding water made me second guess how long water takes to travel from the kettle to the coffee and worrying that I would not get the 65g in fast enough. If you are like me and my anxiety, you have time I promise.

In the review of this recipe over on Prima Coffee Equipment, the reviewer talked about how this particular method brought out a “grapefruit-like acidity” to their coffee and I got the same result, which is slightly problematic. The reviewer, Caleb Spindler, was using a coffee from Honduras while I was using a Burundi. I picked up on that same acidity which caused me to speculate about how this recipe changes the taste of the coffee if I picked up on the same acidity. This Burundi does have an acidity to it, but having made it with other brew methods, the acidity was heightened using this particular recipe. The sweetness of this coffee was not necessarily muted by the stronger acidity but rather overpowered, which I found distracting because this coffee has a bright sweetness that was what drew me to the coffee in the first place. 

Biggest Takeaway: I want to experiment and play around with more recipes, of course, but was not left with an overwhelming urge to abandon my cone for a Kalita. So far, all the recipes I’ve tried have flattened the depth of any coffee I put into it and enhanced the acidity versus the sweetness in the coffees that I’ve tested. What I look for is a balanced (equally pleasant sweetness and acidity) and dynamic (unique tasting notes and good mouthfeel) cup of coffee that the Kalita has so far yet to produce. 

Do you have a good Kalita recipe? Send it my way and I will workshop it.

Interview with Fae

After interviewing Felix, I put out a call on Twitter that I wanted to interview other Trans and Gender Non-Conforming coffee peeps that were protesting and were willing to share about their experience. I got a few people that were willing to give me their time and energy to answering my questions and one of those was Fae. They have requested to remain anonymous (aside from what they’ve given below) since they are still very much involved and I completely respect their privacy.

Tell me a little about yourself. 
Hey, this is Fae and I use they/them pronouns. I have been protesting in the Seattle area and I am a barista here. I am lucky to work for a wonderful company that understands and supports the protests and the BLM movement in general. I am new-ish to the area and come from a small midwestern town so it has been a huge adjustment moving to such a welcoming, inclusive, and accepting city. 

So, you’ve been involved with the protests going on. Can you tell me what you did/are currently doing?
The day that George Floyd’s death was televised I knew that I could no longer be silent on the way our country is run. I had been vocal about supporting BLM in the past and had spoken out about being anti-racist and the changes we, as a country, needed to make but coming from the midwest my voice was often heard as being “radical” and was swept under the rug. Being somewhere with thousands of voices echoing the cries of the marginalized and oppressed made me find the strength to finally do more than simply talk about the issues at hand. I participated in protests every day for the first three weeks. I was usually on the front line and over time had to acquire full riot gear of my own for defensive purposes. Eventually, due to personal chronic illnesses and excessive inhalation of tear gas, I had to stop being on the front lines and started focusing my energies to sharing information and resources online.

How did you get involved? By yourself, with a group, met people along the way, etc.
I had loosely been involved prior to the protests with donations to BLM and open discussions educating people on the history of systemic racism and providing tools for self education on anti-racism but it was not until George Floyd’s death sparked protests across the country that I really got hands-on in my involvement. I made the decision to participate on my own and my partner decided to join me the day of the first protest because they realized that now was not the time to be petrified into silence. We participated in the protests for a few weeks and, when CHOP/CHAZ was born, we divided our time up between protesting, engaging with organizers and speakers, and donating what we could to the activists holding down the precinct.

What was your experience like out there? How does that compare with how people are talking/writing about it on the news and social media?
My experience was…unfortunately, what I had expected. Our country has a long standing history of attempting to silence those that speak out against oppression within our own governing forces. We are indoctrinated from such an early age to believe that this is the greatest country in the world and that we all have the freedom to do whatever we want with our lives and when someone looks past those falsities and promises to recognize the broken shambles of freedom that we are presented with, it becomes problematic to the entire structure of this country.

During the first two weeks of the protests, I was tear gassed, maced, and shot with rubber bullets. Even when I was not on the frontline, my neighborhood was caught in the crossfire and I was gassed in my own home. The police claimed to use de-escalation techniques but they were out there day and night in full riot gear in a vain attempt to intimidate protesters into silencing their voices. Protesters would cry out for the officers to remove their gear, to go home for the night, to join the protests, and to really do anything at all to show that their words were not empty and that they truly did want to protect and serve their community. Their actions spoke so much louder than their words. My fear of the police has not diminished during these protests, instead it has been amplified and joined by anger.

The mainstream media seemed confused as to how it wanted to portray the protests, particularly once Trump started to tweet out to Seattle. On one hand, the media understands that sensationalizing and fear mongering is what often leads to viewership, but on the other hand…most media did not want to appeal to right-wing extremists or be seen as being supportive of Trump. The representation of the protests varies greatly depending on what news source you turn to. One incident can look like 20 different things depending on what angle it was photographed and what article is attached to it. It is disheartening to say the least. 

Social media has proven to be a critical asset to the BLM movement and to protester correspondence. I found that it was easier to find accurate information and first hand experience on social media in contrast to the mainstream media. Even now, when I am primarily participating from the background, social media is one of the main ways I interact and inform myself on the ongoing protests. It has been a wealth of knowledge for me, and hopefully many others, to tap into. 

What is interesting is the differences in perception of the protests. I try to follow trending hashtags and topics online and there appear to be three different types of people in the current political climate: BLM protesters and supporters, right-wing extremist Trump supporters, and those that believe racism is dead by “not seeing color”. It truly seems as if we are not all living in the same reality. 

How have things changed day-to-day?
I have been attempting to keep a log of the progress of the protests, local legislation, and current events. There is so much mixed messages online that it is easy to get lost in the noise. The media has, for the most part, stopped reporting on the protests unless there is property damage so a lot of people seem to think that the anger behind them was unjustified and short lived. It amazes me how many people do not recognize that the protests are still ongoing and that there is evidence of tremendous oppression and systemic racism in our country. 

My day to day has primarily changed in how I interact with people. I no longer find myself willing to accept silence as an option and I have injured many of my familial relationships with my “political” viewpoints on these issues. I find myself noticing things more often in the media I consume and going out of my way to properly educate myself and consume media that better represents the direction I hope that this country takes. I have been trying to support more BIPOC artists, entrepreneurs, advocates, organizations, and etc. 

Do you see any similarities between your work in coffee and protesting? 
The coffee industry is very new to me. Coming from a small midwestern town, there was not a lot of coffee culture in my life. I used to get excited if I saw a Starb*cks. From the few years that I have spent in the craft coffee industry I have noticed that it is a predominantly cis hetero white male industry. I find it odd that so much of the process of making coffee is done by POC and yet those that are in the public eye…are incredibly white. This has become more clear to me during my time protesting because I realized that the changes that need to be made in this country are more than just policing or government changes. Our entire society has been whitewashed and it has become so normalized that many of us are unable or unwilling to recognize it as anything besides standard. 

What safety measures did you take to protect yourself from the police, feds (if applicable), and Covid?
As someone with chronic illnesses, I was already very paranoid due to COVID. I had debated not attending the protests due to quarantine but inevitably realized that systemic change was more pressing and it was something that I was willing to die fighting for. I initially only took small precautions at the protests. I wore a mask due to COVID, I wore all black for anonymity, and I made sure to bring sanitizer and a fresh water bottle. 
As the protests wore on my concerns in protection derailed from COVID into protection from officers, legalities, and the feds. I invested in goggles to help with tear gas and mace. I invested in a gas mask to help with tear gas. I started wearing long sleeves to cover up any identifiable markings. I made sure to take indirect routes from my house. I changed my social media presence. I realized that this was going to be a very long process and that it was likely going to get a lot worse before it got any better. 

Biggest takeaway from what you’ve seen and experienced protesting?
I have a lot more privilege in this country than I had been raised to recognize and being able to admit that is not a fault. It takes time and effort to unlearn indoctrination, especially something that is so ingrained into nearly every asset of our lives. I recognize now that simply not being racist is not enough and that I need to do more with my privilege to listen to, engage with, and help lift the BIPOC voices that are being silenced in our country. I need to educate myself and not be afraid of admitting my privilege and ignorance in the systems of oppression I have benefited from. Silence is not an option when so many people are not allowed to speak. 
I have also learned that it is not my place to say how another person should protest. It is easy to ask for things to remain “peaceful” when you are not the one at the root of the suffering. Historically, being “peaceful” is a great way to be silenced and ignored. I now recognize that “riots”, “looters”, and “arsonists” are all words that are used to discredit the anger at the source of the action. Property should not matter more than people and yet it is only when there is a financial implication that the media and government seem to pay attention. 

I hope that this country, and the citizens within, can push past pride and work towards enlightenment and acceptance of the changes that need to be made in order to rectify the outstanding years of oppression and damages that have been done. We need to listen to the firsthand experiences of those that are being impacted by these systems of oppression and highlight their voices. We need to do better. 

Thank you so much, Fae, for sharing your story and loved every word. If you want to share your experience with me, you can find my email address in the About page above and we can set something up. Stay safe out there, peeps.

Let’s Talk About Tasting Notes

One of my favorite aspects of coffee is also one of the more confusing, so today I want to talk about tasting notes. What they are, the nuances, and how to read tasting notes on the bags of coffee that you buy. I won’t go into cupping or learning how to taste coffee much in this post, but I have another article coming on teaching yourself and others how to taste coffee coming soon.

Tasting Notes: What are they?
Tasting notes are the flavors inherent in coffee. Just like wine, coffee has different tasting notes depending on the country it is grown in, the varietal, and the process by which it goes from coffee cherry to the beans that you grind. Many assume that these are flavors added to the coffee, and it is a completely valid assumption based on the number of flavored coffees that are on grocery store shelves, the number of syrups added to lattes, the placement on the bag itself, and lack of education about coffee. 

Life and Thyme featured a useful map of tasting notes in their coffee issue last year. Depending on where your coffee is from, it will have some definite traits significant to the region and knowing these general tasting notes can help you identify what types of coffees you enjoy. Like a darker cup with a strong flavor? Try a Sumatra. Want a more fruit forward cup that you can enjoy black? Ethiopia’s are great for that. Want to add cream or sugar? Columbia, Brazil, and Guatamala’s will all give you a great cup. Want to try a wild card? I find unexpected tasting notes in coffees from Costa Rica and Rwanda. But, use this map to figure out your preferences and try some coffees from everywhere to see what you like.

Also, I feel like I can’t talk about tasting notes without talking about Q-graders. The Q system is a way of tasting, smelling, and overall evaluating a coffee’s quality through a rigorous test of quality and sensory experience. While Q-graders aren’t necessarily responsible for the tasting notes on your average bag of coffee, Q-graders are an influential bunch and it is a part of the specialty coffee scene worth mentioning.

Tasting Biases
Everyone approaches coffee from their own personal experience. Whether someone’s experience with coffee is exclusively coffee from the grocery store or maybe they only have coffee when they go out to get it from shops or they are a homebrew extraordinaire, their own experience and opinions on the coffee they taste shape how they approach any coffee they come across. When it comes to tasting coffee, the simple fact that tends to get lost is that not everyone will taste the same thing because everyone has different associations with flavors and foods. 

At a cupping table, discussing what is on the table is a vital part to tasting because one person’s conception of sweetness may be more related to cotton candy where another person might say watermelon. These are two different tastes, objectively, but each person may be picking up on the same smoother flavor of sweetness in a coffee and these are the tastes they liken it to in their mind. Neither is wrong, just different approaches. 

Curating Coffee Notes
At one shop I worked at, we had a proprietary blend. When the owners and management were creating that blend, they had a specific flavor profile that they wanted to work towards. Not only did that influence the origins that they chose to go into the blend, but it also influenced the tasting notes that they put on the bag. The process of tasting coffee will be done by people coming from their own personal experience, some notes are consistent based on the regions (refer to Life and Thyme map above), but tasting notes are also in place to set a vibe or experience that the roaster wants to convey. A lot of the time, roasters want to show how a particular coffee will fit in with what you want in your cup of coffee. Featuring tasting notes that convey an experience of smores or apple pie, help to create an approachable cup of coffee, but also show that tasting notes are open to interpretation because they are set by people who want you to have a certain experience with the coffee you have purchased.

Also, if you pay attention to what coffees are in season and follow a lot of roasters, you may begin to notice the same trendy tasting notes as an aspect of the coffee may be similar to something in season that is on the roaster’s mind, like specific berry notes may be common during the summer when berries are in season because it is a more recognizable taste to both roaster and customer.

Brew Methods
Certain brew methods and variables that may be involved in your recipe can also affect how you your coffee tastes and what your customers may pull out of the coffees they try. I can’t confirm this personally, but I’ve heard from a few coffee peeps that a Chemex is great for lighter roast coffees because they are better for getting more of the nuances associated with light roasts. Many prefer darker roasts in cold brew and batch brew. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed that when I do a longer bloom time with my pour overs, I notice that it tends to flatten the taste of more floral coffees but brings out more of the subtler notes in nutty or chocolate dominant coffees. So, playing around with what brewing methods or recipes you are using can also affect the notes in your coffee. 

How I Read Tasting Notes
When I first got into coffee, I wanted to become an expert on tasting notes. The idea that coffee could taste so different was mind-boggling and I wanted to experience it all. Through that obsession, I learned how to decipher what coffees were going to taste like through the bias and preference that goes into the notes on a bag of coffee. This isn’t to say that coffee doesn’t surprise me or I have a clear picture, but I have learned what to expect before I buy.

Any coffee that features the first tasting note as some sort of chocolate is going to be similar to your average cup of diner coffee and will be a smooth drinking experience. Coffee with floral notes are going to be more nuanced and layered, and best as a pour over to fully taste everything that the roaster wanted me to taste. More dominant and uncommon fruit notes, such as kiwi, blackberry, and pineapple,  are going to produce a shockingly good cup of coffee that is full-bodied and a cup to savor. Lastly, if you ever see an off-the-wall tasting note, like marinara, pipe tobacco, or rocky road ice cream (three actual tasting notes I’ve seen before), it will be completely accurate. People will not put tasting notes like that on a bag unless it is a strong comparison. 

And, yes, the marinara coffee I had really did have that sweet and herb-y tomato flavor you would expect and is still one of the most disorienting coffee experiences I’ve ever had.

What has your experience been with tasting notes? And what do you look for in the coffee you buy? I want to know. Leave a comment below, and stay tuned for part 2!

Interview with Felix Tran

Felix Tran
Barista and Digital Artist

While it is in my bio, I don’t tend to talk about it on the blog but I live in Portland, Oregon. As Black Lives Matter protests have erupted all over the country, I struggled with posting on here because I didn’t know how to discuss what was going on in our country without writing whole articles just on that even though it didn’t necessarily relate to being non-binary or working in coffee. 

[[[Important note: Black Lives Matter, police brutality, and racism is deeply engrained in the US, and the world, and affects every part of life, including the coffee industry. It does relate to the coffee industry, as it does every other industry because so many systems of modern society are plagued by institutional racism and systemic violence against BIPOC people. What I mean in the above statement is that I, as a queer, white coffee blogger did not know how to write about these topics in a way that did not feel forced or like I was trying to talk over those who were already calling out these issues in the coffee world. While I did not write about it, I was actively searching for ways to call attention to these issues that was helpful and not performative.]]]

But, as it always does, the coffee world and the baristas I love continue to surprise me. I saw and talked to friends protesting in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Portland, and more. Including some who were utilizing both their voice and coffee skills by serving coffee to protesters. 

Enter one of my favorite people, Felix Tran. 

I got to sit down with him virtually and talk about his experience protesting and serving coffee during the protests in Seattle, Washington recently. 

Hello! So, want to start off by introducing yourself?

Yes, I am Felix Tran. I use he/they pronouns. I’m based in Seattle and, right now, I do freelance barista work and freelance digital work like illustrations and graphic design.

Cool. So, you were involved with the protests going on. Can you tell me what you did with all that?

Yeah, for sure. Luckily, I have a platform, called CoffeeAtLarge, and a follower reached out and wanted to support the Seattle protest scene around the time that people were protesting daily and they were staying overnight. We wanted to figure out a way to provide food, water, and caffeine to folks who were protesting so that we could fuel protestors all day, every day. That was the goal, to keep protestors out every single day until demands were met. To keep the momentum going. So, we reached out to local Seattle coffee shops and coffee companies, asked for donations, got a bunch of cups, and we got a bunch of coffee. We were able to provide water, food, and drinks and because we were literally on 11th and Pine where the protests were happening, we were able to see what was going on on the ground. Gather information, on ops, on movement, on what was going on that was shady. That was our involvement.

What did the day-to-day look like? As far as your personal life, protesting, and everything else going on?

I am a person of a lot of privilege. I am light-skinned, I come from a middle-class family, I also grew up in NorCal/Central California, and I just come from a lot of privilege so when I’m pretty sure Black folks have experienced this trauma and are still grieving which is not fair. For me, seeing how many Black folks were getting killed by the cops every single week was taking a toll. And we all sort of erupted, like, “fuck this shit,” and saying that we were upset about it. So, I abandoned my personal life and I think most Seattle protestors did because it’s like, “Fuck this, I’ve been complicit in this. How can I use my emotional capacity to make a change because Black folks can’t step away from the death of other Black folks?” They like literally see it and are retraumatized over it every day. So, for me, a person of color who has a lot of privilege, I can step away if I need. If I wanted to, I could remove myself and emotionally separate. So, me and a lot of others decided to abandon our emotional capacity and our personal lives to dedicate ourselves to keeping the momentum going. 

It’s easy to read about it but, zooming out, what was your experience like? Like what did you see, how did you feel about all of it?

It’s so interesting to see when the cops left the place that we were protesting in. It was called CHOP, but there were a lot of different names for it. There was CHAZ, CHOP, and then like some other names but it was interesting seeing folks comment on CHOP and news articles writing about what our experience was. Like most of them were wrong. Most of the people did not have a good understanding of what was going on in Seattle. A lot of people had opinions about that space. Folks were getting killed in drive-by shootings and a lot of people on Twitter, who were white supremacists, were saying that folks deserved to die. These are people, you know? It was very upsetting to see people comment on our experience and most of the time it wasn’t true. It was really weird, seeing that.

So, the first day that protests happened, it started in Westlake and that’s where all the really intense photos were from like the cars burning. And we were just trying to march, and eventually, we tried pushing forward and then we were tear-gassed. We were pepper-sprayed and flashbangs were everywhere, and it was horrible. And honestly, that was my first protest so that was emotionally overwhelming but as you continue to go, that shit happens all the time. Like you get used to it. Well, you don’t get used to it but learn how to wear appropriate gear and handle pepper spray and tear gas.

How did things change during the days you were out there? Like messaging, morale, or like the organization of everything?

Oh my gosh, every day was so different! So, some days, the cops were just standing there and other days, like on the weekends, they would tear gas and push forward. The night before the cops left, they deployed so many flashbangs and destroyed stuff. So, it was honestly day-to-day, but protestors got better at organizing. The community leaders organized groups via Signal, Telegram, and we got better at keeping our identities anonymous because folks were getting arrested. 

I remember seeing you post about the difficulties transporting coffee and brewing large batches of coffee. Can you go into more depth about the hurdles and difficulties with giving out coffee at the protests?

I am fortunate that the company that I work for let me use the space whenever I wanted. I could brew coffee any time of the day, and, although people let us borrow their airpots that were much bigger, the thing is that every single day I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if my equipment is going to get destroyed, because our tables and tents had gotten destroyed before so I can’t put someone else’s stuff at risk because some of the folks wanted it back. And we were all volunteers. I was doing my best to organize, communicate, and keep track of everyone else’s stuff. 

I had twelve airpots and I would have to brew coffee every single morning and that took like three hours. I would then go to the protest area, find parking in that hell hole (which is Capital Hill), transport those twelve airpots to the table from my car, and then transport all that back to the car, and into the cafe, brew it all again, put it back in my car, bring it back to the protest area, and bring all the coffee back. 

It was just so much time for it all and I had to do it twice. So, I would hang around a little bit and then I would go home, but then once I was home, folks needed coffee again so I would have to drive back and do it all over again. And in the evenings, it would be even busier. The total time of me brewing coffee was probably 8 hours. The hardest part was just doing it every day and then brewing coffee and then lugging it all. Luckily, towards the end, I was able to get help. 

What was the response you got? Was it generally positive? Any resistance?

Mostly positive. In the beginning, it was really positive. It was great because I was out until like 2am every night protesting. Our goals and intentions were to fuel protestors but once the cops left, the area became very farmers market-y. A lot of people of privilege, so like white people, were out without masks treating it like a farmers market and hanging out. That was when we were like, “Okay, we aren’t here to serve these people coffee.” 

Rather than seeing a difference in reactions, it was more like a difference in people who were joining them. These were people who were here to see CHAZ, and “Oh my God, this is the autonomous zone.” 

Like being apart of the movement after the movement has kind of run its course.

Yeah.

How is handing out coffee at protests different from shop life? Like obviously it’s different but how?

Handing out coffee is different because we’re exposed to big groups of people. All of us are protesting because we all care about Black lives and, at the same time, we all don’t want to get Covid. The fear of getting Covid is so much higher, and people are careless and they’ve never worked in customer service so you are managing that and managing the system. When you work at a cafe, the people you work with know those systems and you have the right to refuse (which sucks and that’s a whole other problem). It’s hard because you are protesting but you are also trying to keep up with the changes and you are also trying to keep people safe in the middle of a pandemic. 

What were some of the protections you used to keep yourself safe during our not-so-lovely pandemic?

All of us wore masks. Like, you had to wear a mask and luckily, people donated masks so we gave out masks too. All the protestors were very down for that. You could tell who were protestors and who were not because protestors were like, “Yes, keep me safe.” We gave out free hand sanitizer, and before interacting with anyone you had to wear a mask, you have to accept this pump of hand sanitizer, and, if not, we won’t serve you. 

And, for us, we had hand sanitizer. Some people wanted to wear gloves, but I don’t believe in gloves because you aren’t sanitizing the gloves therefor when you touch a surface and then other things, you are spreading it. So, it’s better to just sanitize your hands. We had wipes too, so we could wipe down surfaces. It was a table, you know, so it was gross, but it was the best we could do. 

So, the last question, what is your biggest takeaway from this? How has your perspective changed before and after?

Before, I don’t think I felt empowered to protest and, now, I do. 

And, if anyone is scared of protesting, go with a person that knows how to and ask questions. You are not dumb for asking questions. Do research, and also find your community leaders and follow them. The best resources are on Twitter and Instagram. Honestly, don’t look it up on google. Find your community leaders on Twitter and Instagram. 

Stay educated and stop being dumb, a lot of people were being dumb. Like they were following ops and doing marches around, but you have to question the leaders. Whoever is leading the march, question who they are. Find out who they are and if they are a nobody, why are you following them? Be smarter, that’s what I’ve learned. Surround yourself with people you can trust and, if you are scared, at the end of the day it’s not about us it’s about Black lives. 

We had stopped the coffee tent because CHAZ was no longer there, and someone asked me if I was going to continue doing the table. I said, “No, we can go to a march or so many other proactive things you could do.” They said, “Oh, I just wanted to use my skillset for the movement” but it’s like, “Bitch, get out of here.” Their excuse was social anxiety and large crowds, and I get that, it’s valid, but also like imagine what a Black person feels. Like not to invalidate that person’s anxiety and pain, but maybe find a way to handle that and find something proactive. 

Also, like the march and the big protest in Seattle may be over now but like Portland’s still going on and it’s not that far of a drive. Come down here. Or there are plenty of other ways to help. 

Yeah, folks can donate their time. There are so many things folks can do!

Felix and I had a great talk about our individual cities, but, with the end of the interview, I did want to share some resources if you want to get involved (You really should. This is not a solo or even a tiny group effort.) You can sign petitions, donate, and, also, reach out to organizations to find out what they need while on the ground. Some of those links are to Portland specifically, but research groups in your area. 

Are you a coffee professional that has been out there making your voice heard and demanding change? I would love to share your story. Head over to my about page and drop me an email or Instagram message. I’ll be in touch with you soon!

*** This interview has been edited for grammar and length.

Interview with Patricia (They/Them)

Unfortunately, I’ve been sitting on this interview for way too long. Patricia reached out to me awhile back when I wanted to do a whole series of interviews and a larger article with other Non-Binary baristas and still would love to, but major life events and Covid have put that on pause for now. However, I still think that what they have to say is so important and didn’t want it to sit in my drafts any longer. 

Patricia (they/them)
@pandemic_atthe_disco

How long have you worked in coffee? 

I’ve been in coffee on and off for 5 years.

Oh wow, awesome! What has your experience been in relation to your identity? Have/do your coworkers/employers know? If so, how have they supported you? Or not?

It’s only been recently that I have settled into my identity as genderqueer and using my pronouns. In that year of settling, I don’t think any of my coworkers have asked. I have had one employer ask but I think it was prompted by a conversation he had with another. I don’t hide my identity but it’s not something that is engaged unless I insert myself which often I’m too tired to.

I totally relate to that. At a lot of my jobs, I was the only genderqueer person on staff so I felt like I didn’t want to bring it up unless someone else did because of how much mental energy it took. How has being in a job that is highly public in nature played a part or effected how you present yourself?

I’m very masculine-presenting or, at least, I feel that way. I feel most comfortable in a button-down, a dad hat, and pants with nice pockets. Lol, yet that hasn’t stopped customers from calling me ma’am, girl, lady, miss, etc.

What would you want customers to know?

Lol, I’m not ma’am.

Haha, truth.

I get called girl but I never hear customers call my cis male coworker, “boy.” I think men get the luxury of having gender-neutral terms used towards them but society wants me to know “I’m a girl.”

I remembered this older woman’s order and name the other day and it made her so happy, then she proceeded to say, “Wow, what a smart girl!” Like thanks, but not a girl and not going to make a big deal about this because I don’t have the energy.

It sours the whole interaction. I could have a great moment of connection with a customer and as soon as they call me girl, I get depleted. I want to be like Janet from The Good Place and just interject “not a girl” or “not a ma’am” or “they” after every misgendering. Also, I’m 31 and, even if I identified with my assigned gender, I would still feel I’m not a girl, fam. I’m grown.

Great point! Platforms like Instagram have helped me connect with baristas from all over, and, in talking with so many, I’ve grown hopeful at the future of coffee being more diverse and inclusive. Do you feel the same? (Obviously, feel free to disagree with me.) Where do you think the industry needs to grow?

I think when it is no longer associated with straight-size white cis males with a tattoo sleeve and starts being associated with its origin which is Ethiopia then maybe. But it will take those same white cis males to move out of the way and give up their space for Black Baristas, roosters, etc to thrive.

There is an organization here in Memphis, called Cxffee Black, and it’s this Black man who is introducing Ethiopian coffee back to ppl especially Black ppl, and if more coffee shops sell his stuff and promote his brand and invest in him the better. Like someone should be like, “Hey, let us give you a coffee shop.”

I’ve heard of Cxffee Black and the great work they’ve been doing!

Love them!

Something else I’ve been seeing is this growing gap between old world coffee (the white cis male with tattoo sleeves coffee) and these newer coffee people like Cxffee Black, Glitter Cat, the Chocolate Barista, and the discussions around paying more for coffee to support the areas it comes from and the people that grow it.

Plus, I think the ppl who run the shops need to create an environment where their non-binary folx knew if they inserted their gender with a customer, the bosses would have their back. But, I don’t know if that’s the case. Like I don’t really know if I corrected a customer when they call me girl. Like it’s about the beans and representing the brand and I don’t know if this genderqueer babe with they/them pronouns standing up for themselves against misgendering is on brand. At least, not at my shop because that tone hasn’t been set.

Very true. Not only does it take mental energy, there’s a vulnerability about it because pronouns are so personal. If a customer doesn’t take to that correction and goes to the manager/owner, then it becomes a matter of standing by your employee or by the customer.

Right. So I wrestle with does it really matter. I don’t know this person but it’s never just the one time person. There are regulars who are kind and like me and are happy to see me, but constantly misgender me. So, I have to try and be a duck but I’m not a duck. I’m a cat, and I don’t want to be in the water.

Exactly. So, those are all the questions that I have. Is there anything else that you would like to add/talk about? I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.

I think I just wished there was a way customers knew coming in or before ordering my pronouns and how to address me so that I don’t have to internally cringe through their order. Like a sign outside saying, “You are being served by Patricia (they/them). They are excited to meet your coffee needs, enjoy. -management”

That would be awesome. I’ve tried wearing pronoun pin, but they have limited success because most misgendering happens from people that aren’t paying much attention. Like, I’ll hand them their coffee and they’ll say as they are leaving, “Thanks ma’am.” Or “Hey girl, where’s the bathroom? Over there?”

I had another thought.

I also have the fear of asserting my gender because I’m Black. I’m the only Black barista on staff (there was once two of us), and the only visible POC at the company. At my location, I service upper crust white womxn and mxn so there is that fear that maybe even without my knowledge of being seen by them as the angry Black (in their misgendering of me) woman.

That is a totally valid fear, and a layer I hadn’t considered. That is definitely a huge concern.

A huge thanks to Patricia for their insight and time. If you want talk about about your experience as a Non-Binary Barista, let me know! I’d love to hear your story.