Glitter Cat 2020 Season Kicks Off with Roasters Bootcamp

10 U.S. Roaster Championship hopefuls descend upon Minneapolis for a weekend of intensive training with previous competition judges and champs at Mill City Roasters.


Cover photo by Victor Pagán

Glitter Cat’s second season began with typical flair and a little more fire at the inaugural Glitter Cat Roasters Bootcamp held October 25-26 at Mill City Roasters in Minneapolis. After launching a successful barista competition training program for coffee professionals from marginalized and underrepresented communities in its first year, Glitter Cat has since expanded to offer training to aspiring competitors in other categories in its second season; they now consist of Roaster, Brewers Cup, and Coffee in Good Spirits competitions, with an overwhelming amount of support from various companies in the industry including Pacific Foods.

Introducing the Glitter Cats of Roasters Bootcamp! Photo by Glitter Cat.

Mill City offered up their state-of-the-art training space, and instructors included Chelsey Walker-Watson of Atlas Coffee, Joe Marrocco of List + Beisler, roasting guru and 2019 U.S. Cup Tasters Champion Jen Apodaca of Mother Tongue Coffee, and 2019 U.S. Roaster Champion Shelby Williamson of Huckleberry Coffee Roasters.

For Glitter Cat founder T. Ben Fischer, this dedicated all-star lineup of instructors was crucial to expanding the program’s scope. “I just don’t know much about roasting!” he admits. “The fact that these green coffee and roasting pros, who have more titles and awards than they can probably count at this point, believed in this project and the potential of 10 incredible humans they’d never met before really speaks to how this program is something bigger than I had ever envisioned.”

Glitter Cat Sum Ngai sorts through beans at the first workshop of the Roasters Bootcamp this year. Photo by T. Ben Fischer.

With T. Ben’s guidance, the instructors created a training program that packed in classes and lectures on rules and regulations, green grading and sorting, roasting theory, and presentation work over two 12+-hour days. The weekend also featured a workshop on mental health and sustainability, and concluded with a friendly competition on the final night that was open to the public.

“It’s a ton of work and we expect a lot from bootcampers,” T. Ben says. “They have two days to absorb material that will lay the foundation for months of competition work ahead, and these incredible folx were super driven and up to the task. From focus to flair, they have it all!”

Alex McClean Egan roasts coffee during the workshop. Photo by Haley Aurora.

The bootcamp culminated in a public event at the Cafe Imports warehouse. With the Glitter Cats paired with partners of varying coffee experience, the teams had to correctly identify coffee origins, matching mystery cups, and roast curves through tastings at timed stations. The two most successful Glitter Cats worked with enthusiastic partners who had zero coffee experience. Winner Emily Smith of Novus Coffee worked alongside Monica Marrocco, whose husband Joe instructed all weekend, while second-place finisher Carlos Devone of Happy Home Coffee Roasters found support in Amanda Meincke, a CrossFit instructor and T. Ben’s sister. With no prizes or buy-in, the focus was on challenging the participants and building their support systems.

“The community was what made [the] event great,” said Glitter Cat Kebby Vincent. “It felt like we were one family, and that was amazing.”

Looking to the future, Glitter Cat Roasters will compete at U.S. CoffeeChamps Qualifying Events in Nashville, Tenn., and Orange County, Calif., in early 2020, with hopes of competing at the U.S. Roaster Championship in Portland, Ore. By nature of the roasting competition, Cats will mostly work on their own, perfecting their roasting and cupping skills, but they will have plenty of support from instructors, volunteers, and fellow trainees they met at the Bootcamp. For many Glitter Cats like JR Harris, the program has encouraged them to step out of their comfort zone.

Things got a little nutty during Glitter Cat’s open competition on closing weekend. Photo by Victor Pagán.

“I like to be in the background,” JR admits. “Unnoticed, unseen, but to compete, I have to speak intelligently and clearly for a crowd. But I’m a Glitter Cat now, this thing is bigger than me. I can do it, dammit.”

Eric J. Grimm counts 11 years in the coffee industry in New York City, where he has helped execute over 500 events as the catering manager of Joe Coffee Company and has held his tongue while making 1,000 flat whites. He has written about coffee in popular culture for Sprudge, is a retired theater critic, and once ghost wrote a savage Khloe Kardashian diss in an issue of Us Weekly.

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