I first came into contact with Veronice in 2019, around the time I was competing in the finals of the Dutch Barista Championship. It became clear really soon that she is all about sharing coffee knowledge and her personal experience to help others grow. We got to spend a little bit of time during the World Barista Championship ‘19 in Boston, where she generously saved my butt by lending me some of her coffee gear for my competition. Altough we haven’t had half as much cocktails as we would have liked there, I am happy to call her a friend ever since.
You might know her from becoming runner up at the 2018 US Barista Championship, or as that sassy barista who always uses some kind of Disney song in her competition routines.
But she’s also the founder of GlitterCat, what she explains is ‘a non-profit that provides free training and resources to marginalized coffee professionals’, such as the GlitterCat Bootcamp and more recently, Digitition.
Tell us a bit about yourself; how did you get into coffee, and into competing?
My entry story isn’t that grand or exciting. It was simply a job to get through college that I could work in the mornings, and go to classes in the afternoons!
At the time I had just finished my career as a collegiate cross country/track runner, and when I found out that coffee had competitions too, I was immediately drawn to it.
I actually learned about coffee competitions from the first latte art throw down I attended 30 days into being a barista. Afterwards, one of the judges pulled me aside and said: “I like your vibes and it’s clear you have a passion and are building some skills. I think you should consider competing in the US Barista Championships.” Nine months later there I was, on stage, and making really bad James Bond jokes, and saying “blueberry” twenty-seven times in 15 minutes. Yes, I went back and counted…..it was my first natural Ethiopian, it blew my mind and I thought it’d do the same to the judges. It didn’t, haha! I learned so much that year and met so many great people.
What is it you like about competing so much?
It’s cliche, but it’s the people. I have met my closest friends and best colleagues through competition and that community only continues to grow. I technically met my husband through competition, but that’s a story for another blog (or over a cocktail). I like to tell stories, to think about what I bring to the industry, and how we can be better together. I like to push the boundaries of what it means to be a professional or a coffee competitor and I like to have fun. It’s why I have Disney music as a part of all of my competitions.
What is the best lesson you have learned from competing? And what was the hardest lesson?
Lots of lessons. The biggest one is to be unapologetically myself. From how I dress to how I talked or what story I shared or what music I played; every competition I did well in was 100% T. Ben. My coach, Holly Bastin, is a dear friend, mentor, and fabulous coach, and everyday she made me remember that I am a person first, competitor second, and no matter what, T. Ben. Wow, I miss working with her so closely! She’s taught me so much.
The hardest *competition* lesson was the first year I finally made it to semi-finals (4th year competing), and I had a very good shot at making it to Finals. I was Top 6 heading out of Day 2, but during my dial-in the second morning I took the advice of someone I trusted, but who had not spent any time with me training/dialing in. I knew the grind adjustment was the wrong call but I did it anyway, because I didn’t trust myself enough. I still felt like I didn’t belong. I actually had a repeat judge on my panel from the day before and during debrief afterwards she said “I so much wished your coffee would have tasted like it did yesterday, it was so good! What happened?”. It was right there that I learned, trusting myself and my team, and limiting who is at that dial in table is so important. On the positive side, because I didn’t make finals, I went out to a party that night and met who would become my husband, so there’s that!
In general, what do you think is the most common mistake competitors make in coffee competitions?
Not trusting yourself. It took me five years and a lot of coaching/encouragement to finally realize that I know what I’m doing! When you’re dialing in your competition coffee backstage, no-one knows it better than yourself! You know the parameters you’re looking for, you know what adjustments need to be made, you know if a flavor call feels right, you know if someone's advice feels wrong. Trust yourself!
You are the founder of GlitterCat, what can you tell us about the Bootcamp and Digition? Where did your idea come from?
I find joy and magic in the way that competition can bring people closer together when you have a similar goal and mindset - to support each other through intense yet friendly competition with a goal that goes beyond “I want to win”. The DiGiTiTiON was formed to be a space for marginalized folx to not only take up, but to be authentically themselves. They got to create their own definition of hospitality and professionalism and it was the judge’s job to see their presentation through the competitors lens, rather than the competitor accommodating to what the judge expects (i.e. white-washed masculine professionalism).
The Bootcamps function in a similar way. Why compete if you cannot represent yourself fully as you are? There is a way to score 6s while being yourself, but so frequently in competitions if you don’t accommodate to what a judge expects, you lose points. If a judge needs to calibrate because they “felt uncomfortable” or “wasn’t sure if that was professional”, that’s unacceptable and those rules need to change.
Glitter Cat’s inception was a combination of being on a bus to Portland to attend the first Black Coffee event put on by The Chocolate Barista where I was thinking about how to reinvest in the coffee community, and a friend telling me “T. Ben. You took 2nd place, you're a champion. You didn’t win, but you are a champion, so now what are you going to do with your platform?” So I made Glitter Cat!
Who inspires you?
My Mum for teaching me that pushing myself, using my resources, and caring for those around me can make something truly beautiful. My husband for showing me that I am valued beyond comprehension and for fiercely supporting every ridiculous idea I have, and asking to see me for me, the goofball. The Glitter Cats for sharing their stories, journeys, and vulnerabilities, my life would not be the same without them.
If you could change anything about the coffee industry, what would it be?
Goodness, injustices rage through this industry at hurtful rates, but one thing, that I think I have the ability to help be a catalyst of change for is to deconstruct professionalism, hospitality, and predominance of white-men saturating jobs/competition spaces/the industry. It’s time all of that went out the window and we got to rebuild it.
If you could go back in time 10 years, what would you say to your younger self?
Don’t fear your own happiness.
What would you like to say to baristas that would like to start competing?
Ask yourself why you want to compete. If the answer is “to win!” Or “to get this big fancy job”, go back to the drawing board. There is only 1 winner in a competition, but there can be many champions. Find out what would make you a champion, then sign up. And do it!
Please sign up, ask for help, email Glitter Cat for resources, ask your friends, post questions on social media, use your community. And if your cis-ablebodied-neurotypical white dude, consider sitting down so others can take up that space. After all, we can only make space if we take ourselves out of it….or create our own.
Find Veronica P. Grimm and GlitterCat on Instagram: