Pride Month 2020 may look a lot different from years past, but in many ways, the changes have brought the LGBTQ+ community back to its progressive roots. For members of this community, including those within the specialty coffee community, this month has been a time of poignant reflection, a time for uncomfortable (but necessary) conversations about inclusivity and intersectionality, and a time to take stock of the work that lies ahead.
We spoke with six LGBTQ+ voices within the specialty coffee community to discuss representation within the industry, the future, and what Pride means to them.
- Joshua Edens (they/them), Director of Events, Onyx Coffee Lab | Fayetteville, AR
- Kyala Ahava (they/them), GM & Lead Trainer, Revelator Coffee Company | Atlanta, GA
- Meredith Singer (she/her), Head of Marketing/Sales, Revelator Coffee Company | Atlanta, GA
- Trae Herman-Durica (he/him), Assistant Production Manager, Joe Coffee | New York, NY
- Vincent Sosa (he/him), Creative Director, Temple Coffee Roasters | Sacramento, CA
- Elysia Fernandez (she/her), Barista, Greater Goods Coffee Co. | Austin, TX
How did you get started in coffee?
Joshua Edens: I got started in coffee about six years ago when I came on the Onyx team. Originally, I was a barista at our Springdale location which was a staple in the community. Throughout high school and college I spent much of my time here studying, getting coffee with folks, and engaging with the community. Fast forward to now and I’m in the unique position to be able to work with people, creating spaces similar to the spaces I was welcomed into back in 2014.
Meredith Singer: Back in 2009, I decided to ditch a seat at law school and start my own production company. It was one of the best decisions I ever made because it forced me to confront myself and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. My business partner and I met while working in news and we bootstrapped everything we did. We produced some cool, short docs but our attempt to create a sustainable business ended up tanking for a mix of personal and practical reasons. As that company was folding, I took jobs bartending at a local cocktail bar, working shifts at Starbucks, and spearheading content for a small digital marketing agency in the area. My time drifting around East Alabama was a huge gift and it was definitely when I fell in love with the F&B industry. I learned the joy of giving great service and taking pride in your shop. I learned how to create ambiance and build camaraderie behind a bar. And I learned how to taste and take pleasure in a simple cup of coffee.
Kyala Ahava: In 2015, I was laid off of a computer position at Whole Foods. I have always wanted to be a barista since college. Revelator gave me my first shot when they opened a café in Atlanta. I went through a week long training and fell in love with coffee. I also fell in love with this style of roasting coffee.
Trae Herman-Durica: My first coffee experience was during college when I worked at an on-campus coffee shop in North Carolina. Third wave coffee was in its infancy, and I found myself captivated by the different origin stories of my morning brew. I spent a number of years in restaurants and cafés after that, so when I started at Joe, it felt like a homecoming.
Vincent Sosa: My introduction into specialty coffee involved a crash course, of sorts. When I started my position at Temple Coffee almost two years ago, I didn’t have any professional experience working in the coffee industry. Fortunately, the Training staff at Temple Coffee helped me tremendously to learn as much as possible, providing me with a strong foundation and the tools necessary to do my job and to continue learning. Now, I can’t imagine not working in coffee.
Elysia Fernandez: I got started in coffee when I was 16 while going to high school working at Starbucks in Converse, Texas.
Describe your role at your roaster?
JE: I am our Director of Events! From catering projects, special events, to private reservations; this is kind of a catch-all role that allows me to work directly with the members of our community here in NWA, coffee by coffee, person to person, bridging the gap between the café and the community.
KA: I’ve had many roles at Revelator. The position I hold now is being developed and on hold because of COVID-19. It is more of a General Manager of Corporate accounts. I have also been the General Manager Trainer.
MS: My simple answer is swiss army knife. Formally, I’m the company’s Director of Marketing and Sales. Given the pandemic, my current focus is on growing our online and grocery business while providing guidance and support for our roster of wholesale customers. We love Trade! I’m also hiring to support that business (growth marketers and e-comm savants, please hit me up: [email protected]).
THD: While my title is assistant production manager, I find that the position allows me to see so many more facets of the business than just packing and delivering the beans. In addition to our Trade partnership, we have brick and mortar shops here in New York City and regional wholesale customers in the tri-state area. I work with the roasting and production teams, shop managers and purchasers to make sure that every bag of Joe Coffee is delivered promptly and that every customer has a delicious cup of coffee, just the way they like it.
VS: As Creative Director, I coordinate all of the marketing and promotional efforts at Temple Coffee. The position is quite broad, and includes managing our digital and print advertising, social media, merchandising, as well as copywriting, design, and photography.
EF: My position at the cafè is as a barista, which entails; crafting espresso beverages, house made syrups, making sure we’re set with inventory etc. while maintaining a positive atmosphere and flow in the shop!
In the broader coffee community, what does Pride mean to you?
JE: I feel that Pride is being able to sit with who we are even when other people can’t. When we create spaces that people feel comfortable being themselves in we allow Pride to take on another form, which is not only sitting with ourselves but inviting others to sit with us because of who we are.
KA: Pride is being who you are inside and out. It's showing everyone that you can be who you are. It’s the feeling of accepting yourself in your own skin. It is finding power in that pride in being you. And not being afraid of shouting it from the rooftops.
MS: Pride means being the most open and candid and brave version of one’s self, in all settings and at any time. For a myriad of reasons, I know lots of LGBTQIA+ people struggle to bring that full version of themselves to the table. I know others, like myself, are super comfortable when we’re around our friends and families but we’re maybe a bit more conservative in the workplace. It’s my hope (and a growing focus of my work), that we get to a place where our industry supports our most honest and pride-filled selves without fear, judgement, and/or concern that we’ll be taken less seriously when it comes to advancement.
THD: When I first came out, I found community in the coffee shops in my small southern college town. They were safe havens in a time where queer folk were forced to hide themselves in day-to-day life. We knew that here, in a coffee shop, we were safe to hold hands in public. It was often a secure place to work for those who feared employer retaliation if they were outed. It was this year, 2020, that the US Supreme Court finally said that it wasn't legal to fire us just for being ourselves. Having Pride in something says that its value has been fought for. There may be a lot of work to do, but the coffee community has shown me that it values its LGBTQIA folks over and over again.
VS: To me, Pride means to be free to express who you are. It means removing the filter (no pun intended) that is sometimes used to cover up what makes us unique. Essentially, Pride is freedom to be; freedom to exist as you are, without fear.
EF: Pride for me means being able to be true to yourself and others, acceptance of your community no matter race and social class. To be proud of who you are and where you came from, to respect the journey.
Why is LGBTQ+ presence crucial in coffee?
JE: Presence from all marginalized groups is crucial in any industry. The coffee industry is so heavily people focused and to be able to cultivate connections with people, we have to be able to empathize with their experiences and welcome their insight into the fold. There is a distinctive culture amongst LGBTQ folks that when correctly fostered, invites so much into our industry. Being queer, we often have to choose our family, and it is this understanding of seeing people for who they are, welcoming them into our families, and protecting them that I find is so important to the industry.
KA: It’s an underrepresented community that can build more relationships that otherwise may not be connected to coffee, as a story and a full process/art form. As well as: let’s show queer youth that they can do this job too and be fabulous!
MS: Obviously, a strong LGBTQIA+ presence is crucial when it comes to lobbying for a more just and equitable set of conditions within our industry. In a less political and perhaps more emotional sense: coffee is just a fascinating product that benefits from fascinating people. Coffee passes through hundreds of hands around the world before being prepared for a customer. Ultimately, as service workers, we want that moment to reflect all of the labor and artistry involved in farming, cultivation, roasting, and preparation. We need that handoff to be a moment of beauty and connection, and that’s really only facilitated between two people that feel comfortable and safe and open to one another. So, we must create cultures and spaces that welcome all people in that spirit of mutual respect and harmony. I’ve found my LGBTQIA+ community to be particularly generous and thoughtful with that part of the job and I think this is, in part, why coffee has always been something of a safe haven for queers.
THD: Visibility has weight. By widening the scope to include more experiences and more people's stories, we exchange the tokenization of a few prominent faces in favor of a rich tapestry of experiences from a chorus of voices. In this country, in this decade, LGBTQ people are still seen as rare and other. We can all do a better job of recognising our human connections especially in the age of social distancing. Coffee is a ritual that needs no gender or sexuality, no religion or race. It is merely an individual moment of enjoyment that we can connect over. We don't all take our coffee the same way, but we can all enjoy it together. if 6 feet apart.
VS: Having different voices and experiences represented in the coffee industry (not just from the LGBTQ community, but from all marginalized groups) is crucial to allowing our industry to move forward and improve. As the coffee industry grows and changes, it is necessary for our community’s diverse voices to be represented so we can contribute to the ongoing innovation and progression of the coffee industry as a whole.
EF: LGBTQ+ presence in the shop is “crucial” in a way that helps society interact with the queer community in an everyday ritual manner you can say. Supports the fact that yes, we are nice and approachable and we can make you a damn great cup of coffee, just like our heterosexual counterparts. Supports the fact that sexuality doesn’t define what we can offer the world.
What does your roaster do to support that?
JE: Onyx welcomed me in and provided for me a home and support when my own family couldn’t. We have cultivated an incredible culture of family and community within our walls that I haven’t seen anywhere else. We feel welcome when we’re here and we feel we’re missed when we leave. For so many of us, it’s so much more than a job. It’s a mission statement focused on hard work, acceptance, and loving one another that we can all get behind and support and work towards together.
KA: As a nonbinary queer person, I have always felt supported by Revelator. In my first café, I got the chance to change our bathrooms to gender neutral bathrooms. The marketing staff even helped to create a design that we could use across all cafés. I was supported when I held a Drag Brunch at that same café as well as a Pride event.
MS: As a lesbian and as someone in a leadership position with Revelator Coffee, I think it’s important for me to say: we need to do more. We’re working to right some of our past wrongs and to be better moving forward. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons along with my co-workers surrounding the balance of capitalism and the creation of equitable cultures. These are the issues that keep me up at night. Perhaps counter-intuitively, these are also the problems that keep me invested in my work with Revelator. I think it’s important to stay engaged and to be a louder and more committed advocate for the sort of change we all want to see within our respective companies. I’ll also say: Revelator Coffee has always strived for inclusivity in our hiring practices and has held a zero-tolerance policy for acts of hate and discrimination, both within our team and in our cafés. We do our best to support and to sponsor our employees’ personal interests and to create opportunities for growth. We have and will continue to sponsor Pride events, LGBTQIA+ film festivals, and similarly-minded non-profits.
THD: The Roaster can be operated by anyone without needing to be recalibrated based on the users' sexual orientation or gender identity. Joe recognises that one employee's experience doesn't represent every employee's experience. Even while the pandemic has been the looming concern for many these past few months, Joe is continuing to explore ways to be more inclusive for all people as well as how to address and rectify some of the historical inequities in the history of the coffee industry as we move forward.
VS: We listen. Now more than ever our company is taking a step back to listen closely to our team members, to hear them and be a voice for them, and to implement positive change from the inside out. We realize we can’t expect to improve if we don’t look inward first. We have a renewed focus to be better for our team, that way we can be even better for the community we serve.
EF: My team at the shop does great about not making me feel any different, supporting me in whatever way I may need. We’re also a certified safe space for anyone in our LGBTQ+ community that needs somewhere to be for a bit in their time of need. Let us know and we will do whatever we can do to help you / give resources.
What positive changes have you observed in your experience in coffee?
JE: Growing up queer wasn’t always easy; and into my adulthood it hasn’t always been easy either. One of the things I’ve found comfort in within the industry is how generally accepted I feel by my peers and the members of my community. It’s this acceptance and the willingness to come beside me in my own growth and understanding of myself that has been such a positive influence on my life.
KA: I’ve noticed that many coffee communities are giving up the high school clique ways and moving forward to a new outlook. I enjoy the growth I’ve seen in the diversity of people who come to work at Revelator. I love watching them develop in their roles.
MS: I think some of the stuffiness surrounding specialty coffee is finally falling away. We’re starting to have more fun with it and, as a collective, we’re thinking about coffee in the context of the communities we’re here to serve. Thankfully, that shift also involves significant reflection on the communities specialty coffee has failed to include in our attempt to convey quality. I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and lived in Alabama for nearly ten years before finding my way into coffee. The coffee landscapes in smaller and more rural areas have changed so much over the past 5-10 years and, as a result, I think an appreciation for specialty coffee has grown. We’ve shot beyond the rarified air of major metro centers and a pretty narrow class of people. Broader access most certainly impacts our entire supply chain in a positive way, and it also means we’re doing more work to strip out ego and to understand the nuances within our customer base. Out of necessity we’re starting to understand that this is no longer a one-size-fits-all venture and “success” is lashed pretty tightly to how well we listen and how attuned we are to local needs.
I’ve noticed that many coffee communities are giving up the high school clique ways and moving forward to a new outlook. I enjoy the growth I’ve seen in the diversity of people who come to work at Revelator. I love watching them develop in their roles.
THD: I'm excited by the increasing mainstream interest in the origins of their coffee. Coffee is global but it only comes from a limited zone of the planet. In my work, I am one of the last people in a long chain leading back to the farmer. I feel like we forgot that food has to be grown and harvested before it gets to the market and we're slowly regaining these connections to the origin story.
VS: I especially enjoy seeing coffee professionals explore career opportunities beyond the café level. The coffee industry is made up of a wide range of roles (my position is a perfect example), and it’s great to see others working to effect change in all aspects of our industry (from the farm level, through the supply chain, and to our own coffee communities).
EF: Some positive changes I’ve witnessed over the years in my experience working in the coffee industry, is how giving my coffee community is down in Austin. We try and support / give back wherever / whenever we can! Supporting our local suppliers and giving back to our local charities, putting effort in progression in all we do. The support I’ve seen these past few months with Covid-19 and the current POC issues / police brutality is insane. The community has really come together to help in whatever way they can, helping put an end to injustice and supporting whoever may need it through the pandemic. I’m proud of my community, let’s make good.
What progress do you hope to see in the next 10 years?
JE: Queer culture in the world is always changing; thus how we need to change beside it as an industry is imperative. Ten years ago, acceptance would have felt like the most we could ask for. Today, when acceptance is often more achievable than it was 10 years ago, it’s now literally the bare minimum. To be accepted, only, is the bare minimum and is complicit to “tolerance” and tolerance just isn’t good enough. We need to continue to change and to raise the ceiling for what it means to be accepted and brought in by a group of people and what that experience is like from the outside looking in.
KA: I hope to see a lot of smaller cafés. Maybe even a coffee collective that supports each other. A move towards more coffee-focused events. Also, reaching out to communities that can't afford the coffee we sell and showing them that there is another avenue to make money. Maybe even making the café a place where you can talk to people again.
MS: I think the next ten years are going to be challenging for the specialty coffee industry’s small business owners and independent roasters. That said, one of the best and most immediate things I’ve noticed during this pandemic is just how creative we can be when we come together. Conversations are more transparent, more honest, and more humble than ever before. My hope is that this spirit of collaboration and mutual aid grows over the next decade, and we end up creating a better set of guiding principles for our industry. Concurrently, I also think the top-down view of our industry needs to change and now is a great time to really reset the playing field. We need more gender diversity, more LGBTQIA+, Black, Latinx, and minority individuals in positions of power and ownership.
THD: I hope that we can get to the end of 2020 with all our limbs intact. We're in a moment where more has changed in the past 10 weeks than most of us can keep up with. Frankly, I hope to see more majority groups take up some of the inclusivity work that needs to be done in our current society. Marginalised peoples are finally being heard and they've been doing the shouting long enough.
VS: I hope to see greater diversity of leadership positions in the coffee industry. (That includes my own company.)
EF: Changes I’m hopeful to see in the next decade; higher barista wages, more shops using eco friendly compostable packaging / takeaway supplies, my shop being able to give back to more charities and more coffee education to the public so they can understand Fair Trade coffee a little better and the process.
What is the most important work that needs to be done to get there?
JE: Creating spaces where people feel safe to be who they are and feel what they need to feel is the most crucial step in cultivating a raised bar for what acceptance looks like in the industry. We need to be intentional in our time with one another and not only create the space for conversation to happen, but to show up to the table and sit with the intention of creating a better set table.
KA: Education and outreach. There are many talented and educated people who work for Revelator or want to work for Revelator - they want to learn. We should use our sources to help educate people of the community, especially people from underrepresented communities who often believe they don’t have access to those dreams. Ways we could do this is by offering trips to coffee farms and free training (i.e. cuppings, how to use various equipment).
MS: To echo Kyala a bit, investing in education and growth opportunities for coffee professionals (and aspiring professionals), both within and outside our company, is crucial. In the context of this specific question, we need to create environments where LGBTQIA+ people are valued and legitimized. Beyond that, our industry must commit, long-term, to reviewing the ways in which we contribute to systemic prejudice. The Revelator team is currently looking at our pricing strategies both online and in-store, we’re reviewing the principles guiding our purchasing decisions, we’re reviewing our employee handbooks, we’re committing to spending more money with more minority-owned and minority-led businesses, we’re identifying accountability measures for this work, and we’re looking at ways to create more reciprocity within our communities. We need to do more than just open our doors. We need to extend ourselves and to look for more ways to build up the communities surrounding and supporting us.
THD: I don't speak for all LGBTQIA people, but I don't really feel it's productive to point to one "most important" thing and say that it's the thing we have to work on. In my own life, I think the most important thing I can do is be unashamed and out about who I am. I'm simply a person trying to live my best life. If I can find a way to do that, then maybe we all can.
VS: Greater access to our industry needs to be extended to marginalized groups, otherwise I don’t see how true equity and overall improvement can be achieved.
EF: In order to get there we must educate our guests more about seed to cup and the lovely process that comes with buying green coffee. Let them have an insight to the production process and get them to understand that this is truly an art form and takes love and patience.