Rose Woodard presents at the 2019 US Brewers Cup (Photo by Elizabeth Chai)

Is 2019 the year of the coffee competition statement? At two separate North American competitions this past weekend, competitors from the United States and Canada used their stage time to make the case for change in the specialty coffee industry.

Social statements and impassioned messaging on the competition stage have a long history and are part of what we love so much about these events. This year we’re seeing competitors risk serious points and intentionally jeopardizing their ability to advance in order to make some of the biggest, boldest statements we’ve seen yet. Today we’re covering just two of these remarkable intentional actions—look for much more coverage in the days and weeks to come on Sprudge Media Network.

In Kansas City, home of the 2019 US Coffee Championships event, reigning 2018 US Brewers Cup champion Rose Woodard used the final three minutes of her routine to call for equality and fairness for all competitors. “The standards these competitors are held to are that of a white, male, heteronormative perspective,” Woodard told the judges. “That’s a major issue that needs to change before we can make progress in this industry.”

When we originally reported on this routine via Instagram, it ignited debate in the comments (along with some predictably disingenuous sealioning) and an outpouring of support for Woodard’s message.

Woodard provided a transcript of this routine statement to our Competitions Multimedia Manager Elizabeth Chai. We’re running the whole thing below:

Now I have to be honest, I didn’t come here today to only talk about the coffee I’m brewing, I came here to talk about something equally as important.

In 2017 the SCA announced they would be holding a WCE in Dubai, and the community collectively came together and said we were not okay with that. There were safety concerns as well as human rights violations that we did not want to turn a blind eye to. I was part of that push, I signed the petitions and asked the hard questions and didn’t stop talking about it till action was taken. I competed for the first time in 2018 and though I was aware of the clear lack of diversity in the competitions, I was convinced it was because the industry as a whole was white male dominated and that companies were not making an effort to include and support marginalized people. I didn’t realize until I witnessed some amazing people competing and not making it past qualifiers, that the structure of these competitions themselves is problematic. So we push for change on something that, while important, was a symptom of a larger issue, and we don’t push for something deep routed and systemic. Judges, and anyone who is listening, I’m talking about how when EV [Erika Vonie] spoke with passion and purpose, she got labeled “aggressive” and “intimidating.” I’m talking about how when Adam [JacksonBey] used AAVE and played hip hop music, he got marked as “unprofessional.” I’m talking about how I was told at the World Brewers cup that *sometimes* when I was *really* focused I lost my smile, and was docked points for that. The “standards” that competitors are measured up to on these stages are that of a white male heteronormative perspective and that is a major problem that needs to be fixed before we can hope to have progress in this industry.

The rules and regs read that judges are here to support the coffee professionals, but we see majority of white men on these judging panels, supporting mostly white male coffee professionals. The rules read that judges are to be neutral, fair, and consistent when evaluating, but we clearly see biases playing a role in how competitors are scored. The rules say the judges are here to select a worthy and highly professional Champion. We see time and time again, female, gender non-conforming, and POC baristas getting points deducted on professionalism because they don’t fit into this narrow box that makes the majority of white male judges feel comfortable. When someone is told their culture is unprofessional, when people are repeatedly told that they are not professional because they’re intimidating, aggressive or cold for things that white men do without repercussion; it sends the message that we are not wanted, and that we are not worthy of these competitions or this industry.

There needs to be a change in the structure of these competitions before we can be truly inclusive and representative in the industry as a whole.

Chai spoke with Woodard about the performance off-stage. “It really hit me that there are certain wording within the rules that leaves a lot of room for bias in the judging,” Woodard told Chai. “You can see that there’s a clear bias.”

This is powerful stuff, and we’ll continue to report on it in the days to come. A full interview with Woodard will appear in this week’s episode of the Coffee Sprudgecast (subscribe now and never miss an episode).

This story is developing…

SprudgeLive’s coverage of the 2019 US Coffee Champs is made possible by Joe Glo and Mahlkönig. All of SprudgeLive’s 2019 competition coverage is made possible by AcaiaBaratzaFaemaCafe Imports, and Wilbur Curtis.

Elizabeth Chai (@chaiamericano) contributed to this reporting. 

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