T.Ben is the Founder of Glitter Cat – a barista training program for underrepresented groups of people. He is also the latest addition to our growing training and education department! We sat down with him to learn a little more about his coffee background and what he’s doing when he’s not showing off his latte art skills.
Hey T.Ben! First and foremost, how do you take your coffee?
My all time favorite way to drink coffee – go to a 6am yoga class, walk to a cafe, order an espresso for here and a batch brewed drip togo. Second favorite is any coffee snuggled on my couch with my two cats and boyfriend.
When & where did you get your start in the coffee industry?
Milwaukee, WI! I had a trio of incredible trainers that taught me the basics, led me through a few years of barista competitions, and then launched me over to the East Coast!
What is Glitter-Cat?
Glitter Cat is an all-expenses paid coffee competition training program to prepare marginalized and underrepresented coffee folx for the United States Coffee Championships (USCC). We launched the program for the 2019 Barista Championships and are expanding for the 2020 season to include Barista, Brewers Cup, Roasters, and Coffee in Good Spirits competitions.
Coffee pros from across the US and with varied skills sets applied and we selected 10 trainees for each boot camp. These Glitter Cats will be trained by U.S. and World coffee champions, Head Judges, and world level coaches.
What inspired you to start Glitter-Cat?
Seeing some major imbalances to who was placing in the top at Nationals. There have been countless years when the top 6 or top 18 have been most if not all straight-white-men. We have lacked diversity on these competition stages for a lot of reasons and one of those is access to information and training. Coaching for these competitions can go as high as $1500 per day!
It is frequent that marginalized folx do not get offered training through their employer and it is extremely rare a barista could afford training out of pocket. The year I took 2nd in the United States was the first year I had direct access to coaching from a World Barista Champion and his Coach. It was a direct correlation between being coached and nearly winning. Walking away from that year I knew two things: I wanted to try at least one more time to win and I wanted to find a way to help increase diversity and representation at the top level of coffee competitions.
What are your short term and long term goals for Glitter-Cat?
From 2019 to 2020 we grew by over 500%! From one boot camp to four and from two community events to six or more. We are hosting events all across the US from Seattle to Provincetown to Kansas City…it is going to be a crazy year! Long term, I’m honestly not sure. The community that developed last season was so strong and special I want to make sure Glitter Cat always has that. We have forty Glitter Cats this year and we are going to invest, train, laugh, cry, and work our booties off to have an excellent competition season and come out the other side as colleagues, friends, and mentors.
What is the best piece of advice you have for baristas that are just getting their start?
….I guess I have a lot of advice…
Be yourself! I’m a quirky, goofy diva that has extremely little pop culture knowledge, will talk endlessly about Idina Menzel and Disney movies. I used to be so nervous to admit that. Once I accepted myself for my quirks, I felt happier, performed better at work, in life, and in competitions and was simply myself.
Also, you are valuable, necessary, and deserve competitive pay, breaks, time off, and a safe, healthy, and harassment free work environment. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. I was told this by one of my mentors and it has really resonated with me: We are people first and baristas second. Take care of yourself.
How long did it take you to perfect your latte art?
It took me about a year to win my first latte art throwdown, but I have far from perfect latte art. Ask me to pour a two tiered tulip and I can make it super beautiful, but swans, triple rossettas, and all those crazy things we see online, are not my forte!
What excites you most about starting your next chapter with Tradecraft Outfitters?
When I think about what my dream job is it includes three things: Connection to the greater coffee community, camaraderie amongst colleagues, and a commitment to respecting the craft of coffee from planting the seed to composting the coffee grounds
Tradecraft represents all of these. We are committed to training partners to make excellent coffee, keeping those resources accessible, and educating in a way that is easy to remember, fun, and will make delicious and beautiful coffees. We work in an industry where numbers can supersede interpersonal connections and I’m happy to be a part of a team that views excellence as caring for each other rather than an exact-unbending extraction recipe.