Seriousness: Gender & Specialty Coffee

11/21/2013

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The subject of the gender gap in specialty coffee is something that occasionally get’s brought up, debated heavy handedly for a brief period of time before it’s dismissed for “more important” discussions like extraction yields, filter rinsing and whether or not you should drink espresso from whatever vessel you like.

Over at Bitch Magazine, Lisa Knisely penned a thought provoking article for the current food issue that delves into specialty coffee’s gender gap that’s obvious to anyone who has ever watched a barista competition. However, the gender gap is not the only issue Lisa brings to light, highlighting more classic examples of pure sexism in coffee, such as the feminization of flavored milk-heavy drinks, and the mere existence of designations like “women in coffee.” I highly suggest reading the whole thing, but here is a brief excerpt to pique your interest.

Specialty-coffee folk pay attention to coffee at all levels: bean varietals and soils, correct roasting, flavor profiles and aromas, acidity, espresso dosage, and flawless service and presentation. In other words, they’re coffee snobs.This niche market, unheard of before 1974, now makes up almost 50 percent of the “value share” of the approximately $30 billion U.S. coffee industry each year. The largest professional trade organization in coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, has been influential in developing baristas into professionals within the service industry. While the coffee retail industry used to be more like so-called pink-collar fields such as nursing and teaching, efforts to make espresso slinging more professional have led to a masculinization of the workforce. That is, the more a job is thought of as “skilled,” the more social prestige is associated with it, the higher the wage, and the harder it is for women to get, keep, and advance in the field. Whether in terms of wages, visibility, career advancement, or coffee competitions, female baristas lag behind their male counterparts in this burgeoning professional service field. –Lisa Knisely, “Steamed Up”

I won’t pretend to have an answer, nor do I expect someone to offer one, but this should be a larger issue for anyone who works in the industry and it’s one that rarely gets discussed. I found it surprising, but refreshing to see the topic discussed in a non-industry publication like Bitch Magazine.

If specialty-coffee baristas are sincere in their calls for equality, there needs to be a shift in the conversation to talking explicitly about sexism in the spaces surrounding coffee so that the masculine is no longer the default. –Lisa Knisely, “Steamed Up”

From my experience living in Scandinavia, I would argue that many of the points made by Lisa don’t necessarily apply there (competitions being an exception), but every time I travel back to the US or the UK, many of the examples laid out in the article become much more apparent.

In the future, how can specialty coffee counter balance these factors to make the industry more accommodating for all genders? What could be gained from the many voices belonging to individuals that aren’t being heard because they haven’t won a barista competition or started their own company? How can the industry support and inspire all genders who want to build careers in specialty coffee?

 

[photo credit: Christoffer Erneholm]

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