Some sad news coming out of Denver. Cherry Roast, the “platform and coffee competition to support and provide visibility for womxn/trans/GNC/gender queer coffee professionals” will shutter after four seasons. Founder and Amethyst Coffee owner Elle Jensen made the announcement via social media, published originally via the Coffee People Zine’s Instagram and reprinted below in full.
In it, Jensen recounts the early days of Cherry Roast, which launched in 2015 as a competition for “female baristas.” The competition soon expanded to prioritize inclusivity for trans, gender non-conforming, and gender queer individuals. Across four seasons Cherry Roast saw a lot of growth in both who it served and how it was able to serve them: 2018 champion Simone Rodriguez, for instance, will be attending the World Barista Championship in Boston next week as part of the winner’s bounty.
Ultimately, 2018 would be the last chapter in the Cherry Roast story, and for Jensen, the timing was right. The burden of running an organization can often be overwhelming, especially when you are busy opening new cafes. And instead of handing off the reins to someone else, Jensen opted to put an end to the competition, while questioning the nature and necessity of competition within coffee itself.
Cherry Roast was part of a wave of local, DIY, community-driven coffee competitions for people who, for a variety of reasons (often relating back to inclusivity), didn’t have the interest or resources to in compete on a national level. We covered Cherry Roast frequently over the last four years on Sprudge, and watched as it became a bellwether for what coffee events can be and mean today: diverse, inclusive, community-minded, and above all else, fun.
The full statement from Elle Jensen is reprinted below.
Dear Friends of Cherry Roast-
This is not an easy letter to write, and I will try to fit all of the pertinent information into the first short paragraphs so you need not read further if you don’t care to. The short of it is that Cherry Roast has seen its last year. In the coming paragraphs I will explain my position, give my reasons, say it’s not your fault (robyn, anyone?), and try to leave the jokes aside, but #copingmechanisms, amirite?
Yes, you read that correctly. The last Cherry Roast is in our past, and will not be continued into the future. I am beyond thankful to everyone who has supported this event in it’s 4 years, and I think that for a moment we did a lot of good in our community. I think Cherry Roast did what it was meant to do, and now I think it’s time to let it go. That’s the gist of it, so please feel free to walk away now, before I get emotional.Cherry Roast will always hold the most special of places in my heart. From that first year of rickety tables set up in a space that was too small to hold everyone who came out to support, to this past year figuring out a way (with so, so much help) to send our champion to Boston for WBC. That’s a pretty fucking cool glow-up in 4 years. However, it has not been 4 years of triumphs. It has been 4 years of sleepless nights, giant missteps, and harmful mistakes on my part. I had no idea what Cherry Roast was going to become when I started it, I didn’t realize how big the hole was that it filled, and I didn’t realize it would then create other holes in our community. To best organize this, I’m going to make a list of reasons why Cherry Roast was a great stepping stone, and it is now time for us to step to the next one.
1. I started Cherry Roast as a competition for ‘female baristas’ in 2015, the same year I opened Amethyst Coffee. I now cringe at the word ‘female’ when trying to reference a specific group of people, but you can’t hide from the past. Due to my positions of privilege, I didn’t understand why this verbiage was harmful and why creating a competition like this also created an othering of already othered baristas. I am so sorry for the hurt that choice caused. I am sorry that my responses were not always graceful. I am thankful to a community who held me accountable, because that in itself is a lot of work. Cherry Roast was not only a lot of work for me, but also a lot of work for our community in a way that I did not foresee. In 2017 we made Cherry Roast more inclusive. We worked to make sure that our language was inclusive and that this wasn’t just a competition geared toward cis white women baristas. We stumbled over our inclusive language more than once. White cis men sent me angry emails more than once. Policing gender identity and trying to create a box in which certain people could fit became unhealthy and caused more hurt. I think in some ways this shows that our community is growing and getting better. I think more of us understand how our privilege presents when interacting with our community, and how sometimes the best thing we can do is just be quiet and let the voices who should be heard, be heard. I think Cherry Roast played a part in that, and that is part of the good that came of it. However, like I said, I think that we can grow beyond this, and that we have grown out of Cherry Roast.
2. We don’t need another competition. We don’t need another reason to create animosity, and even though Cherry Roast has never felt that way, in 2018 the disappointment I felt was palpable and I don’t think that serves us. I’d like to see us create things together; build things together. Competition is born from toxic ideas as it is, and we don’t need it in this context.
3. I always wanted Cherry Roast to be a come-as-you-are and see what happens sort of thing, but the community wants something else. The community wants education, spaces to taste coffee without fear of judgement, and tangible professional development. Those are all incredible things to want, but that was not the space that I intended to create. When an organization ceases to serve the people it set out to serve, then what is it doing? Cherry Roast started to lose it’s identity as an entity, which, again, I think is good. I think it shows growth as a collective group, and also speaks to what the community needs. I’m hoping in the coming months to address these needs, so we’ll see what happens!
4. ‘If you’re tired of doing it, why not just pass it off to someone else?’ I thought long and hard about this. There are leaders in our community who would love to step up, but I don’t think that’s the point. I don’t think some regeneration of Cherry Roast is what we need, I think it just needs to be let go. I think it should live in it’s moment in time as a reminder of growth and change. Not preserved in a strange way, just there in it’s own moment in time.
5. To state the obvious, I am also tired. Running a platform like this is more than I anticipated in so many ways, and though I am thankful for the personal and professional growth, I need to do more of this work on my own time and from my own emotional bank. I’ve unknowingly asked a LOT of the marginalized people in my community, and it’s not fair. I’ve done my best, and I now better understand what we actually need. What I can promise you from myself moving forward is more work toward inclusive legislative change, more work toward holding other business owners accountable and making sure our spaces are actually safe and not just advertised as safe, more work done to highlight marginalized voices in our communities, and more work towards cafe transparencies.
As I close, I have one thing to ask of you. I’ve spoken to many people who run platforms focused on uplifting marginalized voices and bringing to light the harmful aspects of our community. I’ve asked what they do to take care of themselves and a lot of them say ‘I don’t know… if you think of anything please let me know’. These people run these platforms because they care. They are people, they are not perfect. I see baristas playing call-out wars and, honestly, it sucks. It’s gross. Yes, it is SUPER important to hold people accountable, but you NEED to check in with yourself and say ‘am I holding this person accountable for their own growth and the good of my community, or am I just trying to be the first person to call them out?’. I’d like to see more privileged people reaching out with offers of help for these platforms, rather than call-outs. This will be more appreciated than you probably know.
This news will come as a surprise to many of you. There are those of you who will be sad, angry, confused, and I hope you know that I am always available to talk. Ultimately, I had to make this decision on my own. I’m sorry that strips some of you of a voice in this, but I really do believe this is for the best. I have so much love for everyone who has ever supported and been a part of Cherry Roast. You are seen, loved, and valued, and I promise to continue working hard for you.
Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
Top image via Cherry Roast