Despite widespread attention to issues of gender and economic exploitation at coffee's agricultural origins, works within coffee scholarship systematically overlook the workers at the final stage of production: baristas, the coffee shop employees who prepare and serve beverages. This article draws from data collected from over four hundred female American specialty coffee baristas to examine how their gender impacts their experiences at coffee competitions. I argue that barista competitions exist in order to legitimize the barista as a type of skilled laborer, but that these attempts rest on highly gendered understandings of skill, professionalism, and performance. Barista competitions attempt to present a unified industry face, but gender remains a salient issue through its unequal presence that renders female baristas as distinct and different from the ideal barista, who is assumed to be male. The conclusions drawn from this case study have broad significance for our understandings of gender and precariousness in the food industry, and the relationship between, and negotiation of, skill and perceived value. The rarefied world of specialty coffee competition magnifies and illuminates extant workplace issues regarding gender, which are characteristic of many forms of low-wage service labor in the United States.

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