A Barista’s Experience with Glitter Cat’s DiGiTiTiON

Kaldi’s Coffee has some truly talented team members, and one of them is barista Jalen Kelly. We invited Jalen to share his own words on the transformative experience he had judging a virtual coffee competition in the fall of 2020!

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Jalen Kelly, Kaldi's Coffee Barista

The 2020 season of the United States Coffee Championships ended prematurely due to COVID-19. It was decided that preliminary and qualifier competitions for 2021 would be canceled, and the 2020 Coffee in Good Spirits, Cup Tasters, and Roasters qualified competitors would move on immediately to the 2021 finals. 

However, Glitter Cat saw this as an opportunity to fill the gap with a virtual competition, called the DiGiTiTiON, centered around folx of marginalized identities. 

Glitter Cat is a nonprofit organization that challenges the coffee industry to reimagine its spaces and status quo to include and empower marginalized folx. Their programs include creating new accessible spaces and providing training and support for marginalized folx in the coffee industry, and influencing coffee companies to adopt anti-racism policies that impact everything from hiring to the guest experience.

Their programs include creating new accessible spaces and providing training and support for marginalized folx in the coffee industry

Making the best of the situation, Glitter Cat called on interested folx to create video submissions showcasing why they should be chosen as finalists for the six competitions: Barista, Brewers, Roasters, Tasters, Latte Art, and Coffee & Booze. Glitter Cat also called on individuals in the community to judge the competitions; as a Glitter Cat alumnus who found success in competition, I was asked if I would be open to judging the Coffee & Booze Comp. I was overjoyed, and immediately said yes. 

Mocktail Mojito from Jalen Kelly
A mocktail Mojito made by Jalen

Each competition had its own set of rules that each competitor had to abide by, and each competition was based on the different United States Coffee Championship competitions. 

  • Barista revolves around 3 rounds of espresso drinks; the competitors had to serve an espresso, milk beverage, and a signature beverage which is basically a coffee mocktail. 
  • Brewers centered on hand-brewed coffee; the competitors had to brew coffee with a provided device, and also create their own brewing device.
  • Roasters is exactly that, coffee roasting, where the competitors had to create a light and dark roast and design their own bags for each. 
  • Tasters tested the ability of each competitor to identify mystery syrups, essential oils, and pick out which of three coffees was slightly different. 
  • Latte Art competitors had to produce four drinks with milk alternatives; three of those had to be identical monks head designs, and the fourth one was a signature design of their choosing. 
  • And finally the Coffee & Booze competition: create a riff on a classic cocktail using provided coffee and pair the drink with food.
Seasick Crocodile from Jalen Kelly
The "Seasick Crocodile", one of Jalen's creations

Judging for me meant being given six coffee cocktail recipes as well as food pairings for each drink from six competitors. The six competitors also had to produce video presentations for me to judge on previously decided criteria. Each competitor had to choose a classic cocktail to recreate using provided coffee, brewing device, and compulsory spirits from sponsored companies. They also had to provide tasting notes and a definition of professionalism to be judged on. 

This competition was a great display of what we can still safely do in the midst of this pandemic.

I was blown away by the ingenuity this new class of Glitter Cats displayed. Each competitor made delicious drinks with inspired food pairings, and the video presentations were topnotch displays of who the competitors themselves were and where they came from. Drinks ranged from an inventive version of the New York Sour, to interesting takes on the classic Mai Tai. Some of the food pairings were as simple as Fig Newtons, and some more involved like a chili mango salad. Each competitor brought their own flair to this competition, and every one of them should absolutely be proud of the skill they displayed.

This competition was a great display of what we can still safely do in the midst of this pandemic. It would be nice to be able to see friends and to connect with each other in person again, but until it's safe to do so we should keep exploring safe and fun alternatives like the Glitter Cat DiGiTiTiON. This competition was an example of how we can still challenge ourselves and each other to explore our creativity and ingenuity. 

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Stay Tuned: you can catch Jalen on Kaldi’s IGTV and YouTube channels next month as he walks us through some Kaldi’s favorites, and maybe tackles some original recipes!

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READ NEXT: 
PURSUING PERFECTION: BARISTA TRAINING AT KALDI'S COFFEE
Pursuing Perfection with Kaldi's Coffee Barista Training | Kaldi's Coffee Blog


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