Our coverage of the Sprudge Twenty interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series continues this week on Sprudge. Read more about the Sprudge Twenty and see all of our interviews here.
Nominated by Kat Melheim
Elle Jensen is an entrepreneur, community organizer, and coffee professional based in Denver, Colorado. In 2015 Jensen opened Amethyst Coffee on Denver’s Capitol Hill; in 2018 the brand’s second location opened in the Berkeley neighborhood. In 2015 she launched the Cherry Roast, a landmark “platform and coffee competition to support and provide visibility for womxn/trans/GNC/gender queer coffee professionals.”
In her nominating essay, Coffee People Zine creator Kat Melheim writes “[Jensen] creates a welcoming and inclusive space for guests and baristas alike. She is an amazing, transparent, and honest business owner with the interests of the community at heart.”
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
I’ll give you the answer that strikes a chord with me most in this moment, but I don’t think as business owners we get to choose an issue that we care about “most” because we are in a privileged position that demands we care about all issues at the right time. Currently, most of my brain space is taken up with ways to increase cafe transparencies to make hospitality work more sustainable for people who want to make it their career, but behind that is a multifaceted web of decisions that inevitably require that I also care about every aspect of our industry. I suppose I could distill it down into I care about making coffee a sustainable career for everyone along the value chain, with a focus specifically on front of house staff. I don’t imagine I’m known for giving simple answers…
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
The social awareness that I believe serving coffee requires. I think coffee is a beautiful conduit for human interaction, in so many different ways, and I think we have a responsibility as folks who live in consuming countries, and have chosen to serve coffee professionally, to challenge the social norms that are so harmful to so many.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
Again, I think there are many issues on a large scale that are critically overlooked, but being that I am, and always have been, a front of house worker, I think that there is a total lack of efficiency in coffee shops that make them much more stressful to work in and run. I always say that managers are like goalies, the ball has to get by everybody else first, but no one is mad until the goalie lets the shot in/drops the ball. This is not a sustainable infrastructure to promote people into. We set them up for failure; we reward people in the wrong ways for their hard work and dedication to our companies. There is a lack of re-addressing our existing cafe infrastructure that is holding us back and making us unsustainable.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
It’s a tropical fruit, borrowed from D.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
Well, god-shots don’t exist, but, yes, I did have a defining coffee moment. It was in the basement office of Pavement Coffee on Boylston Street in Boston. There were maybe eight of us at this cupping and probably no more than six bowls. I had a Kenyan coffee, roasted by Counter Culture, that tasted just like carrot juice. It was the first coffee I didn’t relate to a memory or personal experience and actually was able to relay a flavor call. I was at the cupping table, fortunately, with some really supportive people and it is a truly cherished sensory memory.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
Living in a world where the whole coffee supply/value chain is at peace and not just living but thriving.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
My job. It’s an incredible job.
Who are your coffee heroes?
Breezy Sanchez, my business partner. She is a living freaking legend.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
My dad, #ddc. I have a lot of questions.
If you didn’t get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
Coffee is my career, and I’m privileged that I got to make that choice. Coffee took over my life at some point, and I’m just now sorting out my identity outside of it, therefore this question is hard for me. I don’t think I need to be “doing something instead” but rather “also doing other things”. However, if you end up with access to another dimension and happen to also run into alternate dimension Elle, please introduce us. I’d love to meet her and see what she’s up to.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
If we’re talking about the traditional mentor/mentee relationship, no I do not. However, I have dear, dear friends whom I bounce ideas off of, cry to, call when I don’t know what to do about an employee situation, look up to as people outside of coffee, and who I whole-heartedly depend on as a human. I recently had a conversation with one such person and he brought up the idea of community and dependency. This man is an integral part of my life, and my business greatly depends on him. He pondered if because we are so dependent upon one another, are we more invested in each other’s lives? The answer is yes. At first that sounds strange, because it sounds like our care for one another is contingent upon our working relationship. However, it really means that in a world where everything feels temporary and “community” is a word that is tossed around like an Aerobie frisbee, coffee has afforded us the space for actual connection and a relationship that is real, happy, and beautifully human.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
No one has the right to treat you like you are lesser than them. Also never underestimate a floor drain’s propensity for nastiness and clean that shit regularly.
Name three coffee apparatuses you’d take into space with you.
Look, I’m really not sure about the whole space thing. I’m much more interested in the bottom of the ocean, and if I’m journeying to either of those places I’m a multi-billionaire or a scientist (spoiler: I am neither of those things), because these hypothetical questions aren’t really my imaginative style. Anywhere I go I will always choose to take my people with me over any apparatus. This means I really need some buddies for the zombie apocalypse because I will have a lot of people and ZERO apparati with me. So we’ll all die if I’m in charge.
Best song to brew coffee to:
Go! by Santigold and Karen O.
Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?
This is not a question I regularly ask myself because I find it stressful and rather useless (I’m not a dreamer in this way, life comes at ya fast), but I have thought about it for the purpose of this questionnaire and here it is…
I have puppies. My husband, Stuart, and I grow our own food and have a sweet little homestead with some friends. Breezy Sanchez, my business partner, and I maintain our YouTube channel which went viral and has over 2.3 million followers. Amethyst has grown to a company run by an incredible group of passionate, courageous, smart, funny, mostly gender/sexuality fluid folks who are having the time of their lives. I have more time to be involved in social activism and political issues. Stuart and I visit Breezy and her wife at their adorable bed and breakfast in New Mexico often. I might be running for office. Stuart and I are planning to open our breakfast restaurant in which I get to live out my dreams of being a salty, feminist diner waitress.
What’d you eat for breakfast this morning?
Seeded rye toast from a bakery called Dry Storage in Boulder, CO who mills all of their own grains! What!
When did you last drink coffee?
What was it?
Girma Eshetu, a washed Ethiopian roasted by Jason Farrar of Commonwealth Coffee.
The Sprudge Twenty is presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2019 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.