The event, organized by New York City coffee professional Erika Vonie, brought together female-identifying and gender non-conforming members of the specialty-coffee community to listen to each other and brainstorm strategies to combat abuse, bias, and other daunting, systemic challenges.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
When the news about Four Barrel Coffee broke earlier this month, it shocked and saddened many in the specialty-coffee community. For Erika Vonie, the news evoked immediate empathy for the victims of the alleged sexual assaults. “Since the news … I have been feeling a kind of connective hurt amongst my fellow female-identifying and gender non-conforming friends in coffee,” Erika says. “… This didn’t happen to strangers, and as it turns out, it also didn’t just happen a whole coastline away. Echoes of similar experiences were voiced from women I know and have worked alongside.”
Knowing that others in the specialty-coffee community were experiencing feelings similar to hers, Erika created the NYC Women in Coffee Town Hall, a night of conversation that took place Tuesday, January 16, at Gimme! Coffee’s Lorimer Street location in Brooklyn. “Abuse happens in many forms, and I wanted my peers to see each other, come together, and know we’re OK, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now,” says Erika, who works in green-coffee sales at Crop to Cup Importers (and is also the 2017 Coffee Masters NYC champion).
The event was “respectfully closed off” to men and male-identifying people; Erika says this move was made “to create a safe and private space for those attending to share as much or as little as they’d like.”
About 20 coffee professionals attended the town hall, including baristas, café managers, and representatives from coffee-importing companies. Erika says that while she anticipated the start of the event to be a “cathartic kind of support system,” attendees wanted to start talking about issues immediately. “We spent about two hours conversing and sharing problems we’ve faced, and identifying the major facets of our industry that have been obstacles for us,” Erika says. “Once we listed the main problems, we began to brainstorm ways to fix them.”
At the end of the conversation, the group created action plans and “homework” to engage their male coworkers in thoughtful dialogue in which they could share their perspective. The group agreed to keep working together and meeting on a monthly basis—the next meeting will be announced in the coming week—and also decided to keep the group closed to men and male-identifying people. “There aren’t currently women- and gender-non-conforming-only groups for coffee professionals in New York, so to create space once a month for ourselves is important,” Erika says. “We will work on figuring out ways to reach out to and include our male constituents, but we have more pressing matters to attend to before we cross that bridge.”
While those matters haven’t yet been introduced publicly, Erika says this group will share its resources with the New York chapter of #coffeetoo, and will continue to collaborate regularly with the goal of ending bias and abuse. “Together we will pool our own collected resources to contribute to the overall cause,” she says. “I work in the same region as some of the strongest willed, loudest, and most progressive people in specialty coffee, and I’m proud to be one of them. … If there is a group of people who can fix these problems, it’s us.”