Photos by Hawkeye Johnson
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to be one of the instructors at an intensive 3-day workshop aimed at providing training and resources to members of marginalized communities in order to increase representation and diversity on the national and international Coffee Championship stages. It was an incredible experience and this is the story. The names and locations have not been changed in order to promote the fabulous.
Glitter Cat Barista was founded by T. Ben Fischer after taking second place in the US Barista Championships in 2018. Drawing inspiration from her two companions, Axel Cat and Other Cat, and support from editor Eric J. Grimm and designer Kelsey Maccombs they all set out on a mission to make the competitions more accessible to those who wished to take part, but lacked the resources and knowledge. The first bootcamp took place in 2018 for the 2019 competition year and only Barista competition training was available. However, after the program proved a success on the competition stage, and generous support from various sponsors, Glitter Cat was able to expand this year for the 2020 competition season. In addition to the Barista competition, separate bootcamps for the Brewer’s Cup, Roasting, and Coffee in Good Spirits Competitions we held as well. Each training camp took place in a different city in the US and the costs of travel, lodging, food, and supplies for all those involved were covered by Glitter Cat (which became a recognized non-profit this same year).
The Coffee in Good Spirits competition (otherwise known as CIGS) is centered around presenting two identical hot coffee cocktails and two identical cold coffee cocktails to two judges in 10 minutes. 2019 was the first year it was held in the US, but has been on the world stage since 2011. It’s an incredible and unique competition that demands a high level of skill and knowledge from both the barista and bartending professions (i.e. coffee and Bailey’s won’t cut it).
Applications from across the country were submitted by aspiring coffee professionals. Each bootcamp could only accept a maximum of 10 trainees (henceforth known as Glitter Cats), but all those slots did not have to be filled. Each applicant was selected based off of their commitment to compete in the upcoming season, their stories, visions for the future, and who they were as individuals. Their levels of experience ranged from brand new to the competition scene to maybe having participated in a competition or two already. This year’s CIGS Glitter Cats included Cyrenthia Ngueya, Jalen Kelly, Mika Turberville, Meghan-Annette Reida, Matt Kumar, Mo Koolphanich, Joanna Lareau, MiMo, Rob Rodriguez, and Christina Lee.
The CIGS bootcamp was held from Nov. 22 through Nov. 25 and took place in Provincetown, Massachusetts. A fitting locale if there ever was one. We were lodged and fed by the incredible people at Kohi Coffee Company, The Waterford Inn, and Spindler’s. Kohi Coffee also found us a great space at a public school science room we could convert into a coffee cocktail lab. The long weekend started off with drinks and an amazing dinner at the French style restaurant Spindler’s as the group got to know to each other and T. Ben laid out the agenda. Each day would consist of seminars for the Glitter Cats in the mornings, recipe development and practice in the afternoons, and planned events in the evenings. The goal was to have each Glitter Cat perform a shortened competition presentation by the end of the weekend. Two identical coffee cocktails, hot or cold, prepared and served to two judges in 6 minutes.
The classroom was well equipped with tools and ingredients thanks to sponsors such as Atlas Coffee Importers, Pacific Foods, La Marzocco, Mahlkonig, Urnex, Acaia, Espresso Parts, Fellow, OXO, Kickapoo, and Campari America, so the drinks were flowing! For those who have never workshopped a cocktail recipe, it’s 1-part imagination, 1-part knowledge, 2-parts tasting, an occasional dash of existential breakdown, and garnished with a sense of pride and accomplishment once it’s complete. After the planned seminars the cats worked together or in groups to come up with their drinks. During this time head CIGS judge and owner of Liberty Bar Brandon Paul Weaver, Imbibe Magazine Bartender of the Year 2018 Alex Negranza, freelance bartender and beverage expert Amanda Whitt, 2018 US Brewer’s Cup Champion Rose Woodard, and myself provided feedback.
The first evening Tymika Lawrence of Atlas Coffee Importers came to the hotel to give a presentation and exercise centered around GALS, Gender Action Learning Systems. The system originated from Uganda and is currently being used in other parts Africa to promote gender equality. On the second evening the Glitter Cats put on a particularly wild event at and in collaboration with Provincetown Brewing Co. Decked out in capes, teams of two were tasked with coming up with beer/cider and coffee cocktails. As one of the two tasting judges I can say for sure, don’t bother trying this at home. On the bright side, the winners each won an amazing grinder provided by Baratza.
The weekend culminated the following morning back at Provincetown Brewing Co. with each of the Glitter Cats giving a 6-minute performance presenting one beverage. In addition to further critiques on their beverages the instructors also gave feedback on how they can continue to develop their presentation and technical skills after they return home to prepare for the upcoming Qualifying competitions. Some of which will be competing in Nashville January 11 and 12, while others will be in Orange County February 21 – 23.
This was a spectacular weekend and I couldn’t be prouder to have played a part in it. Some of the strongest bonds are made during times of stress and I’ll be the first to tell you these competitions are all equal parts fun and stress. These were incredible people and I can’t wait to see them in the coming months and what they literally and figuratively bring to the table.