Barista Connect: Women In Coffee (Written for SCAE)



Régine Léonie Guion-Firmin, SCAE AST, reports from the recent Barista Connect event in London and leaves us with three commandments to follow after this inspiring event!

Day 1 – Thou should compete! 

baristaconnect_06Women are lacking in the coffee competition circuit.

Apart from women who compete, it seems as if no one has previously considered this phenomenon.

Well, thanks to Sonja Zweidick and all her guests, we had a 3-day think-tank on the subject!

However, this subject opened a Pandora’s Box about the representation of women in the coffee world, which we wrongly thought was less gender specific.

Well that doesn’t seem to be the case! 

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baristaconnect_09The first speaker, Anne Lunnel, Swedish Barista and Brewers Cup Champion, noticed that women lack Training support from their peers, connections and sponsorship.

As a result, they very often end up competing with no support whatsoever, which can extremely expensive and mentally draining.

Anne ran a survey in order to understand what motivates men and women to enrol in a competition despite these large obstacles, and the results tell us a great deal about our behaviour.

Men like winning and they hate losing. Women like sharing their passion and knowledge on stage, and they hate stress.

Anne then asked her candidates who were their role models.

They were all males, apart from one woman who had a women as role model. It looks like women have trouble finding female role models. 

Maybe it is time for us to open our eyes and see the women sitting next to us at Barista Connect as role models – that would be a good start. 

We women have a lot to share and a lot to show. Unfortunately we get blinded by the high profiles of the likes of Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood or James Hoffman and it’s easy to overlook Charlotte Malaval, or Anne Lunnell, or Sonja Zweidick’s knowledge, presence and their out-of-the-box thinking.

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baristaconnect_13The next speaker was Cerianne Bury, Q Grader and Head of Quality at Trabocca in Amsterdam.

She made the whole audience do a short voice workshop, as in competition it is very important to be understood by the judges.

She ran a survey called Women in Competition, asking who helped them on competition day, and the composition on their team.

She talked about her own competition experience and how the competition network improved her career development.

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She also gave us three interesting questions to think about during the weekend to be answered by Sunday.

  •  Why would women not enter competitions?
  • What is an ideal competition team consisting of?
  • Should strategy differ for men and women competing? 

You will discover the answers and thoughts of the audience later in this article.

 After Questions and Answers – and a nice coffee break – three workshops took place: 

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  1. Firstly, a Brewing workshop with Mikaela Wallgreen, World Brewers Cup 2016 #2 Champion, where, using her competition coffee, we learned her Kalita brewing technique. 
  2. The next workshop, a Roasting workshop with Jess Godwin, office manager at Ikawa, where she had us roasting our own beans to show us how easy it is to use Ikawa sample roasters. 
  3.  The last workshop was with Annemarie Tiemes, SCAE’s education field manager, who introduced us to the secular art of the Ibrik, and yes, you can make delightful coffee with an Ibrik. 

Later we were all invited to Prufrock for networking, bubbly and nice nibbles.



Day 2 – Thou should be educated

We started the day with the beginning of the Coffee Journey – origin – with Marta Dalton, co-founder of Coffee Bird, the other co-founder being her mother, a 6th generation Coffee Farmer in Guatemala.

Marta talked about the hardship of being a woman entrepreneur in Guatemala, in a very male-dominated community; the great amount of disrespect encountered from men as they do not take women seriously, but Marta also talked about how these women are viewed by other women as role models, as heroes and as an inspiration.

 Before coming to the event, Marta ran a survey amongst women farmers in Guatemala and asked question such as: 

  • What strength do you think being a woman plays in coffee farming?

“Today, coffee farming is an art. Women are more assertive, creative, perceptive and persistent. These strengths are very important to coffee” 

  • What role does the barista play in the coffee industry?

“Communicate and transmit the dedication and passion of each person in the supply chain that grew the coffee they are serving, to brew a delicious cup of coffee – and honour our work. “ 

Marta also talked about the huge problem that farmers encounter due to miscommunication and mismanagement from buyers, quite ignorant about how the problems you may encounter, such as the weather, insect pests, fungus outbreak – in conclusion, the importance of supporting farmers in communicating their day-to-day struggles to the wider world. 

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baristaconnect-02_04Talor Browne, the first female roaster in Norway, Tim Weldenboe’s former head roaster, Q grader and co-founder and owner of Fryd and Talor&Jørgen, was our next speaker. 

Talor talked about the lack of communication between roasters and how frustrating it can become when you want to purchase a roaster, as every roaster has its own language.

The only common language you hear is from the roaster builders – “Buy my roaster – they are better than any other roaster!”. In order to create a common language between roasters, and to help her choose a roaster that would suit her, Talor decided to roast 24 different profiles of the same coffee on four different roasters. 

In doing so, she created this objective data, useful to any and all roasters who need to know the pro and cons between different roasters – and she found the roaster that suited her best.

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baristaconnect-02_29We tasted 4 of the coffee profiles, one from each roaster, and voted which one were our favorites, but frankly they were all quite delicious. 

Unfortunately, Ida Steen had some health issues, therefore she couldn’t be with us at Barista Connect.

In order to talk about the new flavor wheel, Anne Nylander from SCAA did a great job, showing us how the new flavor wheel was conceived.

baristaconnect-02_22Then, Anette Moldvaer, co-owner of Square Mile, green buyer, roaster, Q grader and author of the book ‘Coffee Obsession’, excited our palate by making us cup defects, using Flavour Active capsules dissolved in water.

Then she submitted us to a threshold test, where you to identify the flavor and the concentration of that flavor. 

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baristaconnect-02_42After a delicious lunch, Freda Yuan, Q Grader Calibrator, talked about how to prepare for the Q grading exam; the questions you should expect, the test you will do, the training you have to follow, the knowledge you will need.

Then she concluded with a wise message: 

 ‘Never stop tasting!!! Taste consciously, be present and be true to yourself’. 

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baristaconnect-02_45Diana Johnston Ledezma, Head Trainer from Taylor St Barista, who will be competing in every coffee competition, ran the next workshop.

She organized a cupping, same green beans – different profiles, and we had to grade the coffee.

Some were really delicious! 

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baristaconnect-02_51Last talk of the day at Square Mile was a panel of women who went beyond being a barista, Lina Nail VP of Bunn, Estelle Bright, after sale coordinator at La Marzocco UK, Mikaela Wallgreen, Barista and HR – Coordinator at Coffee Collective and Sonja Björk Grant, Founder of Kaffibrugghùsiđ. 

Sonja talked about her journey from being a carpenter, to starting a coffee business mid-90’s, to having created a coffee school in Reykjavik. 

Mikaella talked about her own journey from being a barista and going on to create the HR department at Coffee Collective. 

Estelle started from being a barista in a small town in Wales, reaching top 2 in the UK Barista championships, twice running. She now has over 30 technicians under her command at La Marzocco UK. 

Lina Nail, as the VP of Bunn in the Middle East and Asia, has made men accept her in their circles by creating an understanding of  local culture  and custom. 

baristaconnect-02_61Finally, a talk at Prufrock by Laura Bruneau, who works in digital marketing, who gave us advice on how to improve our digital image. After these inspiring and empowering sessions, we were ready for an evening of delicious lasagna and espresso martinis at Prufrock.

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Day 3 – Thou should connect 

Our final morning was at Prufrock. We had a delicious breakfast with some champions behind the bar, Agnieszka Rojewska, Polish Latte Art Champion, and Mikaela Walgreen, WBrC Champion. A nice start to the day! 

baristaconnect-03_02Sonja Björk Grant had a talk about the cluncky beginning of the WBC, how it started, how it was then, what it has become now – and still no women Champions! 

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Well, now it is the moment to answer Cerianne’s questions: 

  • Why would women not enter competitions?

First stress, money, time-consuming training, children…. 

  • What does an ideal competition team consist of?

An unbiased coach, not someone emotionally attached – no boyfriends! The roaster selected just for the choice of bean. Depending on the competition, perhaps 1 or 2 helpers/cleaners who know you very well, know your competition routine better that you do, and most importantly, being there on the day of the competition, with the coach. 

  • Should competition strategy differ between men and women?

As Sonja explained to us, the competitions have been created in order to have men and women competing together. The strategy should not be about your gender but about how you to present your routine to the judges. Therefore the strategy should be personal.


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 baristaconnect-03_17After an emotional thank-you and goodbye from Sonja Zweidick, we all exchanged contacts, as we must all try to see each other soon to continually learn, improve ourselves – and win! 

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Written by Régine Guion-Firmin for SCAE.

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