All photos taken by Nhan Trinh for Glitter Cat Barista.
Glitter Cat Barista is reimagining the coffee industry through competition, community engagement and events, and hospitality programming. Glitter Cat provides support, training, access to resources, and mentorship for marginalized hospitality professionals including BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, neurodivergent, disabled, and persons of marginalized gender.
Brewista’s partnership with Glitter Cat started in 2022, providing in-kind gear donations for their amazing bootcamps. The Glitter Cat bootcamps are all-expenses-paid training programs for marginalized coffee professionals where they are coached by U.S. and world champions and head judges to break down scoresheets, improve coffee brewing techniques, calibrate on flavor profiles, and discover how to get higher technical scores.
We had the opportunity to digitally catch up with Veronica Pearl, Founder & Chief Glitter Officer of Glitter Cat Barista. She shares the inspiring story of how Glitter Cat began, how the organization is challenging the idea of how one is expected to “act” in the coffee industry, and the advice she would give to coffee professionals.
Brewista: In a single sentence, how would you describe yourself as a human being?
Pearl: A fabulous, queer, trans woman who’s fierce as hell and cute to death.
Brewista: Tell us about how and when your coffee journey began.
Pearl: When I was 5 years old I had my first sip of coffee from my grandma’s mug and I really enjoyed it! Neither of my parents drank coffee and I was always told I could only have coffee on special occasions. It wasn’t until years into my adulthood that I realized “special occasions” were only when Grandma was around.
Fast-forward to me finishing college and I got my first coffee job in Milwaukee so I could work early morning before classes. So I left my 7 year tenure at Cold Stone Creamery to become a barista. Little did I know, a fully fledged career was about to develop!
Brewista: Glitter Cat has been such a powerful force in providing training and resources to marginalized coffee and hospitality professionals. When was the defining moment that inspired you to create Glitter Cat?
Pearl: Oh thank you so much, I really appreciate you saying that. For me, watching other competitors compete and build community with each other is one of the best parts of the coffee competitions. I noticed that we were seeing a lot of similar people and stories being shared on those stages. In contrast, the people working behind bar are often women, queer, people of color, neurodivergent, disabled, 2SLGBTQQIA+, etc. However, the people given the opportunities to get on those stages are often cis-hetero white men. We needed (and still need) a shift and I saw a space I could help be a part of changing some aspect of these competitions.
After I took 2nd at the U.S. Barista Championships in 2018, I was sharing my visions with a dear friend about wanting to help change the face of the average coffee competitor; to see more representation at the top-tiers of these competitions, but I was bummed I didn’t win so I did not have that visibility. He told me “Veronica, you’re not the winner, but you are a champion. It’s up to you to do what champions do - be a voice and help change the narrative.”
It sparked something major in me. It sparked Glitter Cat Barista. Each year I tell all of the Glitter Cats, "There can only be 1 winner, but many champions. Find out what you need to do this year to be the US Coffee Champion and make it happen.”
Brewista: Glitter Cat has this phrase “f*** professionalism” to challenge the idea of how one is expected to “act” in the coffee industry. Can you tell us a little more about it?
Pearl: The phrase started as we were working on writing rules for our own digital competition (the DiGiTiTiON!!!) back in 2020. Part of the research was looking at rules for other events and we frequently saw “professionalism” as a vague category that often promotes “non-disabled-neurotypical-cis-hetero-white man” characteristics. As we sat with the idea of professionalism, we went deeper into dress codes, hiring/firing/promotion standards, music guidelines and kept finding cringy rules we wanted to see changed or abolished completely.
Our energy behind f*ck professionalism, is that there are hundreds of ways to be “professional”, and “professionalism” is tied to how each person shows up and completes the tasks of their job. We need different styles of hospitality. We all come from such different and fabulous backgrounds and should serve coffee with the lens through which we enjoy it.
Setting a standard of professionalism will always be rooted in toxic environments, so we say f*ck it!
Brewista: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Pearl: It’s hard to boil it down to one piece of enjoyment. Somedays I find such energy in working with people, getting to know the Cats, and being so thoroughly extroverted. Other days, I’d much prefer working on spreadsheets and navigating shipping timelines and creating budgets. I guess my favorite part is there is always something new and different to work on, which fits well with my beautifully neurodivergent brain!
Brewista: What have been some of the hardest moments in building your career? What have you learned?
Pearl: Balance! The majority of the time I have run Glitter Cat I have also worked a full time job and been involved in the industry through other events or through competing myself. I always felt like if I wasn’t doing everything I would be left behind or forgotten. Especially after coming out as a Queer Trans Woman, it was important to me that I remained visible so other queer or trans people saw someone who identified similarly to them. That said, I’m working on advocating for myself for a balance of work and rest. In this industry it’s easy for our job to become our hobby and our hobby to become our job. I spend more time cross stitching or going out with friends than I do dialing in coffee recipes at home these days, and that brings me joy!
Also, if you want me (or anyone else!) to work on a project with you, don’t assume someone is too busy. I’ve made that mistake in the past. Most of us love to be asked, and then it’s up to each individual to share if they have the space for it! I find such joy in working with other members of the community, and supporting projects however possible, and hope to do even more of it.
Brewista: If you had a magic wand and could make one change about the coffee industry, what would it be?
Pearl: Oh goodness. I’m stumped on this question. Accessibility. Representation. Compulsory Competition at the Barista Championships ...
Brewista: What does your morning (coffee or no coffee) ritual look like?
Pearl: A walk followed by a matcha based adaptogenic mushroom latte. I typically only drink coffee when I go out to a shop. I never intentionally fell off the “drinking daily coffee train”, but I had to take a caffeine break after a surgery and I have found that drinking coffee for pleasure instead of necessity feels really good for me.
Brewista: What music do you listen to while you work to get hyped or to help you focus?
Pearl: Oh goodness! I just made my first playlist the other month! It’s such a new experience for me, I only started listening to music over the past few years. Usually I listen to showtunes - yesterday while I was packing to move apartments, I listened to the Encanto, Frozen, and Beauty and the Beast soundtracks.
But I made a playlist for y’all! Definitely listen on shuffle:
Miss Pearl’s Top 50 for Brewista
Brewista: Our readers are really serious about coffee. For aspiring coffee pros, what is one single advice you would like to give them as they navigate the coffee industry?
Pearl: Put it in your mouth hole. Does it taste good? Amazing, do that again! Does it taste bad? Change something! We can get so caught up on numbers and extraction percentages that I think we can forget that, at the end of the brew, the only thing that matters is if you like it. Use your mouth to make changes to your recipe, not some statistics.
Brewista: Are there other projects you are working on that you would love people to know about?
Pearl: Glitter Cat is launching a Human Resources project in early 2023! Our goal is to get 10-12 coffee professionals to get their Associate Professional of Human Resources certificates. We’re so excited that this project, which started forming back in 2020, is coming to fruition.
Brewista: How can people find out more about you and follow your projects?Follow us on Instagram and Twitter! That’s where we post all of our updates. We also have a newsletter we send out a few times a year: you can sign up here.