Nominated by RJ Joseph
“In her five years in the Bay, Ellan has been instrumental in building a large, thriving community of trans coffee professionals at various tiers of the industry. When she moved here, she was the only visibly trans person in her company. Over the five years since, she has persisted in her growth and worked her way into various roles through sheer undeniability, skill, and dedication, and left the door wide open for others, fighting to help them see themselves and the growth they deserve. Now, it’s easy to go into a coffee shop in the Bay Area and find multiple trans baristas behind the bar.
She would never take even the smallest amount of credit for that, but I’ve watched her work, her humility, and her persistence, and I see the series of stepping stones she’s laid for others. She is humble yet unapologetic about her skills and experience. She never felt the need to prove anything to anyone, and yet she has. She works quietly without the need for recognition, but she deserves it.”
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.
Sprudge: What issue in coffee do you care about most?
Ellan Kline: Addressing any specific issue in coffee is a straw man to distract us from the absolute catastrophe that is capitalism. For example, insuring that producers (including migrant labor) are actually paid appropriately for the work and resources put into producing coffee rather than the quality of the final product in a sustainable way means that rent—not rent rises—need to be capped in proportion to a living wage for both commercial and residential property in areas where coffee is consumed. That's just one example of how everything is interlinked in a way that prohibits simply addressing individual issues.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
I want to make people's lives better by supporting their empowerment. As an educator, I strive to create spaces that allow people to feel comfortable with play and failure because that's how we grow.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
I think we've spent too much time as an industry focusing on individual issues rather than looking at the gestalt and addressing root problems. We need to shift our focus from individual representation to dismantling supremacy structures, from focusing on what individuals are paid to global financial equity.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
The body ;)
Did you experience a life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
I had too many moments to count, but they all surrounded leaving coffee for a brief stint after my first cafe job and realizing that coffee was where I wanted to spend my time working.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
French press on the weekend.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
It feels kind of weird to say, but what I do at Ritual has always been my dream job in coffee. I haven't yet decided what the next goal is.
Who are your coffee heroes?
RJ Joseph, Izi Aspera, Chelsea Thoumsin, Tymika Lawrence, Christy Greenwald, Jasper Wilde.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Any one of my many crushes.
If you didn't work in coffee what do you think you'd be doing instead?
Therein lies the question I've been asking myself as of late.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
Not really, but maybe my definition is too narrow. I've always wanted one!
What do you wish someone would've told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
Don't let coffee become your entire life. It is wonderful and absorbing, but life is better if you don't tie up your sense of self-worth with your career.
Name three coffee apparatuses you couldn't do without.
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
practice — Chynna (RIP)
Where do you see yourself in 2040?
Homesteading and working with my community.
What's your favorite coffee at the moment?
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you personally and professionally?
Like the vast majority of my peers in the coffee industry, I've suddenly found myself without work and have been ordered to stay at home for, essentially, the foreseeable future. I'm trying to take this time to look inside myself and around me at all of the issues in our world and industry that have now been thrown into sharp relief over the past few months. The questions we need to ask and answer collectively and individually address how we move forward in a way that brings joy and connection, empowerment, and communal support into all aspects of what we do as individuals and professionals. We cannot go back to a way of work and being that creates so much violence and despair. So how do we pick up the pieces and move forward?
Is there any donation fund or resource in your community we can share with our readers?
The Sprudge Twenty Interviews are presented in partnership by Sprudge & Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2020 Sprudge Twenty honorees and a complete interview archive, please visit sprudge.com/twenty.