The compensation for Tate Britain's coffee-focused position is more than many museum curators make.
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The Tate Britain museum in London
Credit: Rex Butcher/Getty Images

Tate Britain, the oldest of the four Tate museums in London, Liverpool, and Cornwall, England, has some of British art's most important and iconic pieces, including works by JMW Turner, Francis Bacon, and David Hockney. It also has a restaurant and cafe, employs one of "the Top 10 Most Powerful Sommeliers in London" to oversee its on-site wine cellar, and has its own coffee roastery, which is inside a former WWII bunker on the museum grounds.

According to a recent job posting on its Working at Tate website, its Tate Eats subsidiary is looking for a new Head of Coffee, who will be responsible for "all aspects of coffee within the four Tate Galleries." Although Londonist has previously reported that the Tate Roastery produces some 22,000 kilograms (48,500 pounds) of coffee every year, it's not the beans that have gotten everyone's attention this week: it's the paycheck.

The Head of Coffee's salary is listed at £39,500 ($51,962), plus sales-related bonuses and "great benefits." It's especially jaw-dropping when compared to another job listing that appeared this week; Buckingham Palace is currently trying to find a traveling sous chef for the Queen's royal residences, and Her Royal Highness is only offering a reported as £33,000 ($43,098) annually. (And if the chef opts to live on-site, that'll further reduce his or her take-home pay).

According to Tate, the job requires extensive experience of cupping and espresso quality assessment, as well as experience in developing blends for espresso and filter coffee. "The successful candidate will provide strong leadership and lead a team that makes a unique, ethical, quality-driven product while delivering a profitable business model," it writes.

Which… fine, but some museum professionals have expressed their concern that their annual salaries are, you know, less than that. According to the BBC, the average salary for a museum curator in London is around £37,300 ($49,092) annually.

"The pay discrepancy highlighted is a stark reminder, not that the head of coffee is paid too much but that highly qualified museum professionals are paid far too little," Alan Leighton, the national secretary of Prospect, the trade union that represents Tate workers, said. "Across the sector it is clear that roles which exist in other sectors are paid well, while heritage-specific roles are paid appallingly."

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Fair Museum Jobs, a collective that advocates for more equitable and inclusive job recruitment for museums, echoed those sentiments. "Curators should be paid more. Heads of Coffee should be paid more. MacDonald's [sic] workers should be paid more," it tweeted. "We can point out disparities between rates and salaries without invalidating other people’s labour. But let’s never punch down. We should all be paid more."

Thomas Haigh, who had been Tate's Head of Coffee for the past four years, announced on LinkedIn that he would be leaving the position "for some new adventures." During his time at Tate, he established its Gender Equality Project (GEP) with two of the roastery's import and export partners. According to Tate, under the GEP, each kilogram of coffee it purchased is "sourced equally between female and male producers," and it further works to champion the efforts and products of female coffee producers.

"I was really interested in equality in coffee and when I took over the roastery it was the chance for me to use it as a platform to research and engage with the issue—which I believe is at the heart of sustainability,” Haigh said in 2018. "This narrative ordains everything we do. One of the issues that women producers face is access to market, and we’ve created export avenues for over 60 independent women in Latin American since we started."

The Tate defended the Head of Coffee's salary in a statement. "All Tate’s departments have a variety of roles with different responsibilities and salaries, including curatorial, and a more accurate comparison would be a curatorial team leader,” it wrote. “We value all our staff and strive to pay them appropriately for their work at Tate.”

The gallery added that that hypothetical curatorial team leader would make between £40,000 and £50,000 ($52,720 to $65,894) depending on the size of the team he or she leads.

Either way, it probably beats cooking for the Queen.