USBC Speech 2017

Hello judges. I want to share a story about my sister. She’s twenty-two, and she’s a new barista — she works at the coffee counter of a large grocery chain. She’s sweet, she’s smart, and she can taste espresso just like any of my peers. One of her first days at work, a customer asked her for something she’d never been asked for — a tea with two tea bags, and she wasn’t sure exactly what that was, so she brought back a tea with an extra tea bag on the side, and the customer just started yelling at her. Laid into her, and eventually she had to have a manager come and handle the situation. When she told me that story, the first thing I thought was, “Wow, that would never happen to me.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is — some of it is because I’m older, and I’m the manager of my café, and I’ve been making coffee a lot longer. These qualities give me power, but none of those things make me more deserving of better treatment, and yet I know that as a manager, being slightly older, having experience, I am treated differently. And these differences are small potatoes compared to the hundreds of other ways members of our community are treated differently based on what they look like and the identities they inhabit.

Today, I wish to examine, and play with power. You are all here because you have power in our industry — as leaders, as shop owners, as visionaries. I hope to encourage our community members to think about the power they have, and how they can use it to lift up those that our society, and our industry, have ignored in the past.

Standing on this side of the judges table, my power is in being able to craft an experience for you. Even though you have power in that you get to decide how well I do, it can be daunting to sit down and have an experience thrown at you. So I’m going to give you some of my power. In front of you are two vessels. We’re going to enjoy our milk course first, and I want you to pick which vessel you’ll drink out of. Sue Kang made me these amazing ceramics for this course — both highlighting different experiences. The light one is glossy and smooth, and it captures the light of a beautiful morning in a café. The dark, matte one is hefty, with more of a texture under your thumb. Please choose as a group which cup you’d like to enjoy. Head judge — you’ll break the tie if there is one.

(prepare the shots for milk course, don’t pull shots yet)

Another way I’m going to do that is by being transparent throughout my routine. In front of you is a timeline, letting you know minute by minute what we’re doing and what to expect, and those are for you to take to the judges room for calibration. We’re at minute 4, which means you’re about to get your milk drinks. These drinks are anchored by a coffee from the Narino district of Colombia from the Nuevo Amancerer association, a collection of 43 farmers. The coffee is rich and sweet and powerful, and with the milk you’ll notice flavors of BLANK BLANK BLANK. The cups in front of you are for your spoons, and I’ll be back with your second set of drinks.

Narino is known as a region that has the potential for really great coffee — high elevations, the right varietals — and yet coffees from this region are still relatively new to the specialty industry. That’s because farmers had no connections to specialty buyers. Exporters would come to this remote region and offer farmers market prices for the exceptional coffees they were producing. Farmers lacked power because they lacked access — not because they weren’t producing great coffees, but because they didn’t have a way to get these coffees to a market willing to pay the prices they deserved. Again, you’re gonna see notes of BLANK BLANK AND BLANK as I set these down.

So how’d did the coffee we’re enjoying get to us? Through partnerships and sharing power. The Nuveo Amanecer association is a group Counter Culture found indirectly through the borderlands project, and this is the first year they’ve worked with the association. The goal of the Borderlands project is simple: to create a market between farmers and specialty buyers. By connecting farmers to buyers like Counter Culture, the borderlands project gave power to farmers through focusing on quality, and empowering farmers to invest in their farms and realize the worth of their coffee. This coffee, when harvested, was cupped at origin and divided into three grades: A, double A, and triple A, with price incentives provided to the higher grades. This is the triple A, which went for $4.15/lb. Farmers from the Nuevo Amanecer association, where this coffee comes from, cupped these coffees and sorted them before sending sample lots to Counter Culture, who verified their quality and pay a premium based on their grade.

(talk some nonsense about the coffees — likely already serve the coffees, let them cool down, then enjoy. Coffee wayyyy better cooler more sweetness — enjoy in two sips first sip mouthfeel second sip flavor. Have to talk it out to see where this is pacing-wise)

MOUTHFEEL: Juicy body, incredibly expressive all over your palate, high acidity that engages your entire tongue, sweet finish at the back of the tongue.

FLAVOR: Tangerine acidity, fig sweetness, soft nutty finish like praline.

(go clean espresso station, move scale back under, wipe down grate, clean grinds around machine, then go to judges and say this as you pour more water)

Projects like the borderlands project is the type of work we should be doing. We can take our power, and share it with others to create better outcomes for farmers. But perhaps you’re thinking, I’m not a green buyer or I don’t work at origin, so what can I do? We can all utilize our power, no matter what part of the coffee supply chain you occupy. Power is an amplifier — it allows us to say things louder, do things and grab more attention.

(go to set up of drink — put ingredients in over at prep table)

In this drink, I want to play with the idea of power as an amplifier. The ingredients I’m adding will both amplify and transform the flavors we tasted in the espresso. I have four shots of the Nuevo Amanecer chilling in an ice bath, and I’m first adding 8 grams gum Arabic simple syrup — gum Arabic is traditionally used in powerful, spirit forward drinks to bolster flavor and give a silky texture. Lastly, to which I’m going to zest tangerine, to bolster the flavors of the tangerine we tasted in the espresso. I chose to zest the orange to enhance the flavor without diluting it. This drink should taste like espresso. The flavors of orange should be clear, the fig sweetness bolstered, and the body syrupy with a long finish. I’m serving it short and neat because I want the full power of this drink to be preserved. I’d like for you to drink it in three sips, and to finish the entire drink. Please enjoy.

Power to farmers gives us the pleasure of enjoying these beautiful coffees. But why I’m here — and why I choose to compete — is to give power to baristas. If we look to the examples set by the farmers at Nuevo Amanecer, we can see how sharing power, creating transparent systems, allows everyone to do better work. For everyone here, I urge you to examine your position in the coffee industry, and find ways to affect change. For me, it’s to speak up for the baristas who have been overlooked, and for formats like this to reflect the diversity of the larger barista community. We all know the industry isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change things. When we decide everything is fine without looking to our other, more vulnerable members, that’s when our power is wasted. Let’s not waste our power. It’s beautiful and awesome when we harness it.

Like what you read? Give Ashley Rodriguez a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.