Barista Connect is a new kind of coffee conference. Founded in 2015 by Austrian Barista Champion Sonja Zweidick, the event dedicates itself to improving equality in the coffee industry by empowering and inspiring women from various roles within the international coffee community. The inaugural event took place last year in Aarhus, Denmark, where Zweidick is based with La Cabra Coffee. The second edition of Barista Connect took place in London just a few short weeks ago, in which 60 women coffee professionals from more than a dozen countries gather together for three days of lectures, workshops, and networking at two iconic London venues: Square Mile Coffee Roasters and Prufrock Coffee.
I arrived at Barista Connect expecting to see familiar faces from the London coffee community, where I'm based. Instead, I was happily surprised to find women in attendance from different European countries (Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Poland, and Norway just to name a few), some of whom I had met previously through my coverage of the Barista Guild of Europe's inaugural Barista Camp event in Greece. I also recognized several World Barista Championship competitors—national champions from their home countries who had advanced to compete at the world level of competitive coffee.
I was standing in a room filled with passion, energy, wisdom, and experiences, which felt something like camaraderie. If gender equality in the coffee industry is to be addressed, if hard work and practical answers are to be achieved, rooms like this cannot be underestimated.
Some of the coffee industry’s most respected and inspiring women were at Barista Connect to share their knowledge and speak about their journeys in coffee. The event kicked off with an open and honest talk by Anne Lunell (Koppi Coffee, Swedish Brewers Cup & Barista Champion) on competing at global events and sourcing competition coffee, a topic that generated a lively Q&A afterward. Other guest speakers over the weekend included—among others—globe traveling Icelandic coffee maven Sonja Björk Grant, Estelle Bright of La Marzocco, Specialty Coffee Association of Europe's Annemarie Tiemes, and Cerianne Bury of Trabocca. Highlights abound, especially from Bury, whose insightful work on gender disparity in coffee competitions has been featured previously on Sprudge. This talk addressed one of the major underlying issues of the conference: the fact that there has never been a female World Barista Champion. This subject is one close to the heart of Sonja Zweidick, who hopes with Barista Connect to inspire more women to take part in coffee competitions and encourage each other.
“When I started competing, I was inspired by many former champions, but I didn’t have any particular role models,” Zweidick told me during a brief side moment at the conference. “There is a need for more female role models in specialty coffee, especially in competitions. And also, there is a lack of female ambassadors representing coffee brands. It is my hope that Barista Connect has a positive impact on more women wanting a career in coffee.”
Certainly one of the biggest gifts of Barista Connect was the opportunity to gather in a very intimate atmosphere and establish connections with baristas from all over Europe. 2015 Swiss Barista Champion, Emi Fukahori, was back at Barista Connect after attending the first event in Aarhus last October. She visited again “to meet new people and learn from them, learn what they do and what they like,” particularly “to meet WBC champions in person and connect with them.”
From day one, all attendees were very engaged in open discussions, not afraid to ask questions or share their experiences. Equally, they approached the hands-on workshops with a geeky excitement, whether it was brewing coffee with an ibrik or cupping coffee with defects.
Barista Connect provided an affordable and invaluable opportunity for women in the coffee community to build long-lasting professional networks. Women with diverse backgrounds and different goals, different levels of experience and current roles in the coffee industry, tackling the issues facing them with the mentorship of trailblazers.
This is how change happens, and it's just the beginning. Sonja Zweidick plans to continue her Barista Connect project beyond this London event and hopes to create a network platform accessible to as many women as possible. Work has already begun on a Barista Connect platform for 2017, which will include not one but two events—including the first-ever Barista Connect outside of Europe. Stay tuned.