Vancouver’s All-Female Barista Judging Panel Takes On The Male-Dominated World of Coffee

Their palates are overthrowing the patriarchy, one slurp at a time.

Three judges hunch over a table at a coffee showroom in Strathcona, taking turns slurping out of three identical white cups. It’s been five hours and twelve rounds of shaky kettle hands and palms pressing with precision. How are the judges not bouncing off the walls after thirty six slurps of coffee? Like wine tastings, most of the time they’re using spittoons. Judges tilt their head to the side in deliberation as contestants nervously stand behind their stations. Some start to pack away their equipment, perhaps distracting themselves from the imminent decision of who will get flown to Toronto for the 2019 Canadian AeroPress Championship

If this all sounds rather intense, know that coffee competitions are serious business for the coffee obsessed. One contestant for Saturday’s 2019 B.C. Aeropress Competition competition drove all the way from Edmonton, another from Vancouver Island. But while coffee competitions are nothing new to the industry, what is new is the emergence of an all-female run competition and judging panel. 

One of the women on this panel is Laura Gonzalez, founder of the Instagram account Strong Women of Coffee. “In 15 years we have only seen two women win the National Barista Competition,” Gonzalez says. “You hardly see any women in the industry. Most of the big roasters in Vancouver are male”. Gonzalez started her Instagram account to profile women in the coffee industry and to encourage other women to get involved so “women who aren’t in the industry can identify with other women’s experiences.”

Despite being in the minority, the other two women involved in the event are also successful in the industry. Stacey Lynden is an award-winning barista and Kathleen Behrend is a speciality coffee roaster.

Alison Ensworth, co-founder of the competition and Marketing Coordinator for Espressotec explains that the impetus behind having an all-female panel was an effort to encourage more women to get involved in the industry. “Events like this where more and more women show up to host, compete, support and spectate, give me hope,” she says.

As a woman in the coffee industry, Ensworth says, “there’s still a long way to go,” in terms of being treated equally. She praises panel members Lynden and Gonzalez for recognizing “the contributions women can make when they’re given the opportunity,” and their efforts to change the way things are in the industry. “It’s really powerful to watch talented people like Stacey and Laura lead the charge.”

In celebration, Saturday’s competition did indeed see a woman in the final round—Andrea Beckham from 49th Parallel. Beckham came in at third place, while the winner was announced as 20 year old Keegan Street from Fernie, B.C.—unfortunately declining the first prize tickets due to a coffee workshop he is attending in Portland. Eldric Stuart, who received second place, is off to the finals in his place. 

So what are the judges looking for in a cup of coffee? “We’re not looking for anything with bitterness,” says Behrend. “I’m looking for something balanced, but the deciding factor is sweetness”. 

Are there any last words of advice for making a good cup of Aeropressed coffee? Although the tool is renowned for its straightforwardness, at this level of competition, it seems that there’s no consensus on what makes a good cup. Keegan’s advice? “Keep it simple.” Eldric’s? “Reverse osmosis.” Lauren, a contestant living in Vancouver, says, “it’s all about keeping a steady hand.”