We talk with Demelza Jones, founder of Same Cup, a group dedicated to promoting equity and justice in the Australian coffee scene.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
After 10 years in the coffee industry, Demelza Jones knew something needed to change. So she started Same Cup, an organization whose mission is to promote equity and justice within the coffee community. In this interview, Demelza talks to us about the inspiration for Same Cup and what the future looks like for the organization.
Ashley Rodriguez: What is Same Cup? What are the goals of the group?
Demelza Jones: Same Cup is an organization dedicated to bringing more diversity into positions of power and influence in the Australian specialty-coffee scene. The coffee industry over here is very straight, white, and male, so we want to see a more assorted cross-section of society in roles that inspire others. Same Cup will provide an avenue for networking, personal and professional development, education, and increasing the visibility and power of the WHOLE coffee community—not just a select few. We want you to feel strong, positive and valuable because you do not fit into the “status quo”—not have a difficult time because of it.
The unique aspect of Same Cup is that anyone can be involved. It is not a women-for-women or an LGBTQI-for-LGBTQI group. It is a whole cross-section of the coffee community—everyone is welcome if you want to see that same growth in the industry as we do. It’s important to me to not drive inclusiveness through being exclusive. And I can honestly tell you that some of our biggest advocates are straight white men.
How did you get started in coffee?
I used to waitress in a bar/restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland, when I was backpacking. There was coffee available for patrons to drink after dinner and I would whip out the worst cappuccinos you’d ever seen for those poor customers. Using a coffee machine for the first few weeks without any training was like trying to figure out how to fly a plane without an instructor.
When I came home to Australia, I was unemployed and went through a government program to teach hospitality skills to the unemployed. My job placement was at a Leagues Club, and even though I had a really limited idea what I was doing and the majority of my customers were aged 70+, I got such a thrill from a great workflow, being busy, chatting to customers, and generally giving people a positive interaction in their day. I slowly taught myself what it meant to make a “good” coffee and how to provide a great customer experience, and I have stayed on that path ever since.
That was a bit over 10 years ago. Two years in I distinctly remember the moment I decided that coffee was going to be my career and I would do everything I could to keep learning and make a positive impact on the industry.
Was Same Cup based on any one experience you had in coffee? Were you hearing similar stories from others?
Same Cup was born from the liberating experience provided through Barista Connect in Melbourne in 2018, an event created to connect women in coffee. Feeling the refreshing positivity and the unbridled encouragement from powerful women in coffee at Barista Connect was SUCH AN AMAZING FEELING. I need more people to experience that.
Also, the courage provided to me by Molly Flynn when she was a guest on the Boss Barista Podcast was a huge inspiration.
Molly’s #coffeetoo movement really struck a chord with me—I had been taken advantage of and sexually assaulted at an event in my early coffee years. I didn’t know what to do and how to handle myself, so I did nothing and told nearly no one. I felt weak that my vulnerability was being exploited. I figured it was par for the course and it was just something I had to deal with being a woman—I was scared that it would jeopardize my future in coffee if I spoke out. Who could I tell? Would they believe me? What would even happen anyway? I didn’t want to be labeled as “that” girl.
I have heard of some other similar experiences from other women—some old tales, some new—all unacceptable.
Also, never having had a strong female leader/role model in my whole career is pretty outrageous. As a woman in coffee, if I had a mentor or a role model that I could relate to, it probably would have progressed my career much faster.
What sorts of programming are you looking to put on or provide? Can you talk a little bit about events you’ve already put on?
Because we are working toward a vision (more diversity & inclusivity) and not necessarily selling a specific product, there are SO MANY directions that we can approach it from. Each project is helping the industry to take another baby step toward long-term change.
The first step however is to raise funds to kick off different projects. We really needed to think about how we could raise revenue while still providing a positive impact. We are working on our first big project right now, and I can’t wait to talk more about that soon!! Stay tuned!
Some of the projects we are working on for the future will be: website/webstore, podcast, traveling coffee classes and educational seminars (geared at rural areas), and coffee competition training and mentoring.
We kicked off the brand with an amazing launch party in November 2018. The wonderful people at Collective Roasting Solutions donated their space and we welcomed around 70 people who all have a similar interest as Same Cup—it was rad! We had a panel of amazing women who are really shining brightly in their field and setting the stage for others who want to pursue similar careers. There was an interview room where attendees could go and answer some questions about their industry experiences on camera, which made for some really insightful content.
We had a signature beverage smackdown competition which was a huge success. I really wanted to take the stress out of competing and bring some fun back into it while still actively building on legitimate barista & palate development skills. Competitors ranged from super-seasoned professionals to people really new to the industry and everyone in between.
Feedback from the event was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone we spoke to enjoyed themselves and the activities, felt a little bit inspired, and also made some new connections, which was a huge goal for the event. Something I learned early on in my career—networking is everything.
Can you talk a little about the coffee scene in Australia? Are there problems unique to the coffee industry there?
No doubt, we have a killer coffee game here. For the most part the quality of the coffee, the attention to detail, and the varieties on offer always impress me. I just wish we would spend as much energy looking after our people as we do the coffee.
There is a lot of underpaying, over-working, and physical and sexual harassment. I do not think they are problems specific to Australia, but they do seem to be quite prevalent in hospitality in general.
What needs to change? What are some of the immediate and long-term goals you have? What do you believe to be achievable?
There has always been an element of pretentiousness to the specialty scene that I have never felt good about. I have always been conscious of the way that made me feel (crap!), and I really try to be approachable, friendly, and share knowledge wherever I can. So for me I just want to make sure I maintain those core values while trying to achieve something much greater than a good cup of coffee.
I recently left the security of a full-time job with a prominent Australian coffee company due to a fundamental difference in personal values. That was easily the toughest decision I have yet to make in my career. I have a 2-year-old son, a husband, and a mortgage to take care of—so my immediate goal right now is just to make ends meet and support my family while I get Same Cup off the ground. I am enrolled in the New Entrepreneur Incentive Scheme (NEIS), which provides me with a mentor and will help me make more informed decisions and (hopefully) fewer mistakes in my first years of business, and I am super excited to get deeper into that.
As I touched on before, there are a lot of directions we can take with Same Cup. We have some pretty ostentatious long-term plans, but I don’t want to get too specific as we still have a lot of smaller hurdles to jump before we can attack the big time.
What’s the future look like for Same Cup?
Bright. You’ll start to see us pop up more and more supporting people and events that are really trying to shake things up a bit. Our first big project will launch in a few months, so I am excited about that adventure ahead.
I can see some amazing work being done over there in the USA. There are inclusive events/spaces like Glitter Cat and Cherry Roast, and even new publications like the Coffee People Zine who are all doing everything I want to champion here in Australia. Then you have powerful voices like Umeko Motoyoshi, Jenn Chen, and Michelle Johnson who are making waves that can be felt and heard here in Australia.
I know people want this. I know I want this. I know it won’t be easy, but I want to make those waves too.
The future is getting brighter for the diversity and inclusivity of the American coffee industry, and honestly, I can’t wait for Australia to catch up.