10 Minutes With—2020 U.S. CoffeeChamps Edition: Michelle ‘MiMo’ Tran

We talk to MiMo—barista, bartender, and Coffee In Good Spirits competitor—about making coffee competition appealing to those outside the industry and more.


Cover photo by @hawkeyejohnson

Editor’s note: The 2020 U.S. Coffee Championships season is wrapping up. We’ve been interviewing some of the competitors who have already qualified for the remaining upcoming national competitions about their coffee careers, approach to competition, and much more.

MiMo Tran is both a coffee and cocktails person, working at Sey Coffee in Brooklyn, N.Y., as well as additional coffee and bartending gigs. That combination of skills made MiMo a uniquely qualified competitor for Coffee In Good Spirits (CIGS). After honing their skills at the Glitter Cat CIGS Bootcamp, MiMo went on to place second in the competition at the Nashville, Tenn., qualifier in January, qualifying them for the upcoming national competition. We talked to MiMo to find out more about them.

MiMo has extensive experience in both the coffee and cocktail worlds. Photo by @mika_snaps.

Chris Ryan: Please tell us a bit about yourself! Where did you grow up and what did you study?

MiMo Tran: My name is MiMo, I grew up outside of D.C. in Arlington, Va., then skedaddled around Fairfax and D.C proper. I originally studied music education and dabbled in double bass performance. I spent a lot of my late teens and early 20s in music; I wanted to be an orchestra conductor and a middle school orchestra director. Aside from that, I also organized a lot of art events. In college I used to put on art forums and competed in local art competitions.

How did you start working in the coffee world, and what did you like about it? Where do you work now and what’s your role there? 

My first ever coffee job was at a coffee roaster in Winchester, Va., at the time called Hopscotch Coffee Roasters! They were literally across the street from my college house; I walked in on the first day and had my first cappuccino. I saw latte art and FREAKED OUT. It was a soy cappuccino with a perfectly symmetrical chubby double-stacked tulip. I just thought—you can draw in coffee?! 

I basically went there every day for a year, leaving napkin doodles (a whole story on its own), befriended the owner through our love for D.C. punk music, and started volunteering for a few months, which led to me working there part-time for a year or so.

Fast forward almost five years—now I work three jobs in New York: Sey Coffee in Brooklyn as a production lead; Yanni’s Coffee in NYC as cute cookie chef and barista; and I am recently a partner at Shaka Shaka Tiki (the cutest tiki bar) in Brooklyn.

MiMo working on their CIGS routine at the Glitter Cat CIGS Bootcamp. Photo by @hawkeyejohnson.

How and when did you get interested in competition? Had you competed before this year? 

I first considered it in 2015, when one of my first coffee friends suggested I watch A Film About Coffee. I had no idea barista championships existed, that this drink that I had every day was so special … so I got super stoked about competing. Unfortunately, that idea died after I joined the D.C. coffee scene, met the wrong person, and became very scared about competing and the community in general. I just wasn’t able to find my place. I probably did one or two latte art throwdowns and I judged AeroPress in maybe 2017? It wasn’t until summer 2019, (when) my friend asked me to compete with them in STUMPED last minute and—we won! This threw me into the mindset that, “Oh hey … I think I can really do this!” Then they said, “Hey, you should do CIGS and sign up for Glitter Cat Bootcamp.” I said no, they said yes, blah blah blah, BOOM OK here I am.

Why did you decide to pursue CIGS rather than the other competitions, and how did your Glitter Cat experience help prepare you for that? 

Yeah, so other than my friend telling me to, I decided CIGs was perfect for me because I work in both coffee and spirits. When I moved to New York I hit a point where I was DONE with coffee. NO MORE. Then not even three months in, I found myself integrating coffee into my cocktails.

Now on to Glitter Cat. Glitter Cat is everything. Glitter Cat showed me all the basics, like how to read the rules thoroughly, how to not get disqualified, hey here’s some gear, tips on coffee and cocktails, etc. All that, pretty important, but what we all have to appreciate here is that the Glitter Cat Bootcamp provided me with the secret weapon. Community. Soaked. In Pure. Love. *Jazz hands*

MiMo credits being themself on the competition stage as a big reason for their success in Nashville. Photo by @mika_snaps.

Before meeting these cats I felt like I was so alone. Yes I have close friends in the industry and yes I know I’m not really alone, but after my weekend with the cats, I was “shook,” as the kids say. Suddenly I had a whole world to back me, a bunch of people to hold me when I cried, and a family that loved me for me. Like the real me.

What was the experience like of actually competing, and how did it feel to finish second in the qualifier and advance to nationals?

Walking out on stage at qualifiers was one of the hardest and craziest things I’ve done in a long time—but it was also the easiest because all I had to do was look out and see my glitter litter, and I knew I was gonna have fun and be OK. So in short, it was a blast! I basically was just doing my job on stage, making people laugh and serving drinks that make people go, “Ha!” 

Let me tell ya, I am still shocked I finished second! I wouldn’t have imagined in a million years that being silly myself on stage would get me so far in a competition. I really hope that my performance inspired peeps out there to literally just have fun. Here’s the deal: If we wanna make people outside of our industry appreciate our craft, we gotta show them how much we love it and how much fun it is.

About Chris Ryan 259 Articles
Chris Ryan (he/him) is Barista Magazine's online copy editor and a freelance writer and editor with a background in the specialty coffee industry. He has been content director of Sustainable Harvest and the editor of Fresh Cup Magazine.