The Glitter Cat Barista - T Ben Fisher

Photo credit: Nils Clauson

Photo credit: Nils Clauson

Founder of Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp (GCBB), T Ben’s goal is to represent and give voice and opportunity to those who are underrepresented in the coffee industry. T Ben took a moment to share with us on what drove him to start the Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp as well as talking about what inspires him daily!

Was the Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp something that had been in process for a while? What pushed you personally to move forward in it and start?

T Ben: Looking back, I am still shocked that the first Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp not only happened, but grew beyond what I first imagined. The idea started coming together after I became the 2018 USBC Runner-up. I suddenly had a visible platform and I wanted to find a way to use this visibility to help make positive changes in our coffee community. I remember sitting on my couch, snuggling with my cat, and going through idea after idea of what my passions were, where did I want to make a lasting and meaningful impact, and what does our industry need? Coffee competitions are a passion of mine. When I look back at the years of standing on that stage presenting everything from tasty drinks to, what one colleague described as, “it kinda tastes like I vomited in my mouth a little”, I do not see the specific time cues or scoresheets; I see my friends and community. Coffee competitions have given me a place in this industry. I have felt supported, cared for, challenged, and loved as a person and professional through them. I look around at our industry and we have people doing incredible things from providing safe spaces for black coffee professionals, education for non-cis male roasters, special recognition for womxn in coffee, queer coffee events...the list is long and I wanted to start an organization that would help continue to build safe and fun communities and give as many marginalized folx as possible a chance to compete in and win some of these competitions! get back on track, from initial concept to Bootcamp Day 1 was under four months. The support of the greater coffee community, my friends, and my boyfriend allowed Glitter Cat to raise enough sponsorship to fly, house, feed, and train everyone and to get promotional materials to as many folx as possible. Glitter Cat truly is the coming together of dozens of people's’ skills, talents, and motivations, I simply helped mold and form them all into a bootcamp!

What motivates you to compete, is there something specific in competition that gets you hyped and pushes you to keep going?

T Ben: Somedays I truly have no idea why I compete. Who wants to taste multiple roasts of a coffee, pulled as espresso at 7pm, while figuring out how to structure a paragraph for clarity, and go through gallons of milk practicing milk texturing and sharing? The months leading up to competition weekends are some of the most anxiety provoking and challenging moments. But they have also led me to be more creative, had me question the status quo, and educated me on more aspects of this industry than I would have otherwise. I learn so much every year from fellow competitors, research, and a lot of trials and improvements. What gets me hyped? I mean that first place trophy is pretty dope, but the people are more dope. I love seeing everyone’s passion and hard work on the stages. It’s some of the most raw and most real you will see people and that truly is special.

What are some reflections you have from past competitions? Do you see changes in yourself from competition to competition?

T Ben: Whew! So much! I recently went back and watched a recording of my first barista competition. It was the one held at the boxing gym, Big Central 2013. I said “blueberry” twenty-seven times, made a terrible James Bond joke (I have never even seen James Bond!), sprayed milk all over the espresso machine, put an ice cube in my back pocket, and had the time of my life! I could see my excitement and passion and that is what so many of the next generation of barista competitors have: new points of view, refreshing energy, and they know how to make damn tasty coffee!

Photo credit: Roosevelt Nguyen and Chris Pirone

Photo credit: Roosevelt Nguyen and Chris Pirone

After each competition I take a couple of months to recharge and try to disconnect from the comp mindset. Then I go to the drawing board and start mapping out what I am passionate about in that moment, what is inspiring me, and what do I want the community to hear from me that year? It’s led to me having a wide variety of themes and concepts but all hold true to who I am. I have grown immensely as a coffee professional through competitions whether I am talking about being a barista day-in and day-out or about an alternative model to coffee purchasing. One of the biggest things I have learned is to not cater yourself to the scoresheet, cater the scoresheet to yourself.

Who are your greatest inspirations that have led you into both your career in coffee and inspired you to be a voice for the underrepresented in the industry?

T Ben: Holly Bastin - a champion of my heart. She gave me the pin that sparked the slogan for Glitter Cat - Less bitter …. More GLITTER! She teaches me patience, love, and, of course, coffee skills. Most importantly she reminds me that I am a human first and need immense self care before anything else!

Pete Licata - a champion of my mind! I first met Pete my 2nd year competing and now I consider him a close friend and someone who challenges my status quo. He pushes me to my limits while constantly supporting and encouraging me.

Ashley Rodriguez - a champion of my community. few people have taught me more about how to engage and communicate effectively with others. She has taught me professional integrity while never settling for the status quo.

My Mom and Linda - the champions of my intuition: my Mom raised me to be there for others and to be the purest version of myself at all times and her partner in life Linda showed taught me to strive for perfection and that we all need someone to ground and love us.

The Glitter Cats - the champions of my career. I am so proud of each of the 2019 Glitter Cats. What they showed me is beyond words. I’m broadly smiling as I write this if that gives any context. Stay fabulous cats!

Do you have any advice for those who are considering or have a desire to compete in future competitions?

T Ben: Never stop asking for what you need and to remember to love yourself. There are so many avenues for success and the more times you put out into the world what you want and need the more connections you will have the opportunity of making. It might take time, but keep the passion and the hope and the desire. You’re skilled, you’re valued, and you’re needed. In the words of RuPaul, “if you can’t love yourself how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” or the words of Alice in Wonderland “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

A huge thank you to T Ben for taking the time to share some of his thoughts as well as showing us the huge heart that stands behind what he does!

Article by Amy Smithwick

Photo Credit: Roosevelt Nguyen, Chris Pirone, and ils Clauson

Amy Smithwick