We discuss coffee careers and gender issues with coffee marketing guru Jenn Chen
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
Cover photo by Sean Farley
You’ve probably seen Jenn Chen at any number of coffee events behind a camera lens. She is a freelance coffee marketer, writer, photographer, and also the force behind the resurrection of the Bay Area Coffee Community. Jenn is also vocal about equality behind the bar, and has penned a number of popular articles about her experiences with gender and ethnic discrimination. You can find her work at medium.com/@thejennchen. We sat down and asked her a few questions about how she got to where she is now.
Ashley Rodriguez: You majored in zoology ”how did you get into coffee?
Jenn Chen: I founded a coffee club at my college, Michigan State. I was president for two years and during that time, we learned about coffee through cupping workshops (shoutout to Paramount Coffee!), roastery tours, and latte art workshops. That period of time was when I realized that you could work in coffee and make a career out of it. After graduating, I wanted to decide between careers in wildlife rehabilitation and coffee, so I took on internships in both. For coffee, it was a roasting internship at Paramount. I realized that while I did not want to be a roaster, the coffee industry was one I wanted to stay in.
AR: When did you begin bridging writing and coffee together?
JC: Seven years ago! I’ve always kept a journal. I think I started journaling when I was five years old. It was mostly about how I got into fights with my younger brother. My first time writing about coffee was through a personal blog. I documented my roasting internship experience. From there, I kept writing about coffee from the varying perspectives of a consumer, enthusiast, geek, business owner, and now professional. It was only when I received several compliments on my writing that I realized I could do it for a living.
AR: Did you face any challenges becoming a freelance coffee marketer and writer?
JC: Always. I still am. Freelancing is a dream, but it’s also incredibly difficult. To me, it’s a way to choose who I work with, set my own hours, decide on my own pay, and still be able to work on any hobbies.
AR: You wrote an incredibly powerful piece about the intersection of gender and ethnicity. What drove you to write this piece (and the follow up)?
JC: It was a buildup of ruminating on many moments throughout my life and career. The biggest problem I faced with examining my own intersectional feminism was identifying the actual instances. Micro-aggressions are real and I’ll be honest ”I don’t remember all of them ”simultaneously due to having a poor memory for details and because they’re so frequent. The first piece was a cathartic expression of many experiences and trends I saw in the industry. The follow-up was written, because I felt an overwhelming anger at people who dismissed my experiences. I needed an outlet and writing was that outlet.
I haven’t been to thousands of industry events in the United States, but I’ve gone to a few national ones, attended regional competitions, organized local events, and was in Seattle when the WBC [World Barista Championship] was there in 2015. The [United States] population is so diverse, yet the competitor selection is overwhelmingly white and male. Events with panels were white and male. I observed throwdowns being won by men and so many large-scale events being emceed by men. It’s also frustrating to see event posters being either 1) masculinized, or 2) sexualized.
AR: What are the most important things the coffee industry needs to consider when thinking about equity for all its members? Is there an area of the industry that we’re currently overlooking?
JC: This is a super broad question. I think the coffee value chain needs to be broken down. Addressing gender for producers, by country or even region, requires a certain approach. Addressing gender and race for baristas is a completely different approach. If you break up the coffee community events into parts (like local, regional, national, and global), you can take a closer look at what’s needed. Is leadership in all of these communities diverse? I’m using œdiverse here as a broad term. Do you have a protocol in place for addressing harassment in an event? Did you try and bring in varying perspectives to speak at your event or are they all just people you are very familiar with (and look like you)?
AR: You helped revive the BACC, which has hosted a variety of different coffee events in the Bay Area. What were you the most excited to launch? What do you want to see the BACC do next?
JC: I wasn’t able to attend, but I was very excited about yoga for coffee pros! I’d love to see the BACC work on a defect cupping. I’ve always wanted to host one!
AR: You penned a code of conduct for the BACC and a sponsorship policy with Acaia, who you also work for. What are these policies meant to address? Why were they important for you to write?
JC: Creating a code of conduct was one of my recommendations in my first piece. I wanted one set for the BACC as a statement of inclusivity and providing safe spaces, but I also wanted it to be an example for other communities to use. The Bay Area itself is an incredibly open city, welcoming to people from all walks of life. So while I think it would be rare for harassment or sexualized remarks to happen at our own events, it’s still an important statement to make for people who are unfamiliar with the events and/or otherwise feel generally unsafe at other events.
Like the code of conduct, the sponsorship policy came from watching the tech industry struggle with similar (but much more pervasive) problems. I’ve seen sexualized coffee event poster images come through my Twitter timeline before and other than speaking up about it, I felt powerless to enact change. Acaia works with the coffee community on a global level and sponsors many events. It makes sense to want the events we sponsor to reflect the diverse and inclusive community we are a part of. We really shouldn’t have to write this policy, but it appears to be necessary. Having it written out and sent to people before they accept our sponsorship allows us to publicly declare what we are willing to support and what happens when you disregard what we are asking for. And to be clear, I really do not think it is a large ask for you, as an event organizer, to have a non-sexual poster or have varying genders on your judging panel. I also don’t think it’s a large ask to say that harassment is not okay at any event.
AR: What’s on top of your list of places to visit?
JC: I would love to visit Costa Rica.
AR: How do you make coffee at home?
JC: It’s based on the number of filters I have for the brewing device. I am currently out of V60 filters, so I’ve been switching between using a Bonmac and the Kalita Wave.
AR: What album would you choose to play first if you we’re working an opening shift at a cafe?
JC: This is a good question. If there were no repercussions and maybe no customers, either, I would play the œWho Run the World? Girls playlist on Spotify. But some songs would be R rated, so I probably wouldn’t be able to ¦