RJ Joseph and Jenn Chen open up about their new website Coffee Equity Toolkit promoting inclusivity in specialty coffee.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Jenn Chen
Earlier this week, RJ Joseph and Jenn Chen launched the Coffee Equity Toolkit, a new resource billed as being “for and about diversity and inclusion in the specialty coffee industry.” The toolkit collects articles and links to other resources on topics such as racism, human resources, and health. On the mission statement on its website, the Coffee Equity Toolkit says the content on the site “details how to improve the coffee industry and strengthen those within it, especially those from marginalized backgrounds or demographics. We are a hub of information fortified by group participation, so add helpful resources as you encounter them or even create them yourself.”
The two professionals behind the toolkit are well-known in specialty coffee: RJ roasts coffee at Counter Culture Coffee and writes the Queer Cup blog, while Jenn is a freelance coffee marketer. We talked to them about the toolkit’s genesis, how others can contribute to it, and much more.
Chris Ryan: How did the toolkit come about? Why did you want to create it?
Jenn Chen: For me, [it was] at the end of 2016 when I’d see numerous arguments happen online between specialty coffee professionals, especially surrounding topics of feminism, politics, and inclusivity. Oftentimes, people who are marginalized end up repeating the same reasoning and giving emotional labor out to educate their peers. It’s exhausting and frankly, insulting, when people aren’t willing to do their own education and work. I wanted to have some sort of open resource out there that would help with these questions and provide a space for people to do their own research.
RJ mentioned in June that she wanted to start a resource hub, and so we combined resources to create this project. Collaborating with someone else on a project gave us both more of a push to complete it and also check each other’s work. We also opted for it to be wiki style, so we could avoid additional labor of answering questions or requests for edits. If you’d like to see an article on there or a new page, you are welcome to propose the idea on the discussion page and/or create it yourself.
I’m also tired of seeing the specialty coffee industry reinvent the wheel for certain things. Most coffee companies don’t have an HR department. I’m going to hazard a guess that most don’t consider hiring a more diverse staff. And when someone mentions, “hey, you have an all-white staff,” and the company shrugs and says, “we don’t know how to hire diversely,” I get mad. There are so many industries out there that have already addressed this. It’s a Google search away.
RJ Joseph: Creating a coffee resource hub wiki was Jenn’s idea, but the timing was very serendipitous. She happened to get in touch with me at a time when I was also thinking a lot about resource pools and how to best use my time to increase access to education and information for others as much as possible.
I’m constantly both inspired and appalled by how much time my friends (and especially my coffee friends) spend self-educating and educating others on issues around equity, and Jenn and I were both thinking about what we could do to help maximize the effect of our time and our friends’ time. Coffee Equity Toolkit is a resource people can browse in their free time, but it’s also a place that marginalized coffee folks can send their friends, family, and coworkers when they’re tired of answering the same questions about their experience over and over. It’s an educational tool, but even more so, it’s an emotional labor-saving tool.
CR: How did you decide what topics to focus on?
RJJ: For me, choosing content and focus meant thinking about what already exists versus what still needs to exist. There are websites like The Establishment where conversations and materials on equity and marginalization live, and there are several coffee info hubs that focus on things like brew recipes and roasting. But there’s a gap in finding materials on equity in coffee specifically. I have a lot of group chats with coffee friends asking about things like how to make a dress code accessible, or how to manage the detail-work of setting boundaries in the cafe as a manager, and I’m excited to have a place where that content can live once it’s created. We’re also sourcing a lot of that material from other industries like tech that have the capacity for more built-out HR policies.
While Jenn and I did choose the content that’s on there now, there’s infinite room for others to contribute things that they feel are important. We’re going to keep adding to this, and we want others to do the same. No two people can ever be the arbiters of what it takes to achieve equity, and in this project, we’re not trying to be. We’re only trying to open the door and facilitate as much as possible.
JC: It’s important to note that these are just the starter topics. There are numerous ones to include. As long as the content is in line with our mission, we’d love to see more topics and pages get written. I’d say these are the more popular topics that come up in online and in-person arguments.
CR: What’s the process for people to contribute to the toolkit?
RJJ: If people feel like investing a little bit of time in building this space, go to the wikia, create an account, and start adding great coffee equity-related articles as you come across them. Just as importantly, flag us if you see something that looks off. This is a space anyone can access, so we’re all going to have to work together to troll-proof it.