Vr. 09 - Zon. 11 Maart 2018 | Westergasfabriek

Who’s winning: is coffee a masculine industry?

By Stijn Braas

On February 22, at the end of a long series of qualification rounds for the United States Barista Championship, Nicholas Cho, owner of Wrecking Ball Coffee, longtime coffee podcaster at Portafiler Podcast and all-round coffee celebrity sent out a tweet. It would have been easily missed, amidst the flurry of Twitter excitement caused by the announcement of the finalists.

But this one had a distinctive, different feel to it:


"If only the #USBaristaChampionship didn't require quite so much upper body strength.”

Readers of this blog might not be familiar enough with the intrinsic culture of the barista competitions to put this into proper perspective. But a look into the finalists of the USBC this year gave a clue what Mr. Cho was aiming at: all six of them were men. This might seem odd - why would male baristas perform better in a competition like the USBC?

This year’s USBC was not the odd one out. The coffee world has not seen a female World Barista Champion yet and the last female WBC finalist was three years ago. The US Brewers Cup winner this year was cheered on by the sounds of Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady. Barista competitions do not rely as much on physical strength as some other competitions and do not require skills that women do not naturally possess. Something’s up.

The speciality coffee scene is a predominantly male world, and has been since its inception. Sure, there are great women working in and defining speciality coffee, but for the most part, they have been an exception. Mr. Cho is not the only one noticing the absence of women in competitions - 2009 World Barista Champion Gwilym Davies has also remarked on this.

It’s a great thing that influential people in the coffee industry keep raising the fact that female baristas seem to be absent in the top competitions. The thing is: it might not be a problem per se. Many industries lack women for many reasons. Some lack minorities, or have minorities ‘over represented’ and many times it’s not a major issue. But it could be, and it would be if the cause of this symptom is us (knowingly or not) exluding women to make a career in coffee.

Speciality coffee is by the very definition an including concept: it wants to improve lives all over by elevating the quality, from farmer to consumer and everyone in between. Even more then that: we simply don’t have the luxury to keep half of the world’s population out because it fits a certain image we may have of our industry. We need to stay focused on letting in people of all parts of society who value the experience of great coffee.

Picture by Intelligentsia Coffee
The coffee world has not yet seen a female World Barista Champion and the last female WBC finalist was three years ago.

Barista competitions do not require skills that women do not naturally possess. Something’s up.
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