“I just can’t stop learning coffee”
Watch as Starbucks China employees experience coffee in Seattle
Inside the glistening coffee shrine inspired by Willy Wonka and built by Starbucks, loose beans swirl through glass pipes, from the giant roaster up to the vaulted ceiling and down to the spotless bar, before being scooped and transformed into hot hazel liquid. The factory at the corner of Pike and Melrose in Seattle is unlike anything a young barista from southern China has witnessed. Simon had only seen pictures…until now.
“When you sleep, you have a dream, and you wake up and Starbucks tell(s) you, hey, do you have a dream? Let’s make it come true,” he said.
As one of seven Chinese baristas who earned the coffee world's Golden Ticket—an opportunity to be trained by master roasters at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle—his dream is realized.
“There are fewer than 70 roasters here at Starbucks, and they’re excited to be on the list,” said Jolene Zehnder of the Starbucks Global Coffee and Tea Team. “They’re really the best of the best.”
Simon and the team will spend nine months in Seattle being primed for the world stage. Before Starbucks unveils its new interactive 30,000-square-foot Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Shanghai in 2017, there is a lot of training to be done. The team will be taught, their passion for the complexity of the task tested, their ability to execute the delicate balance between the technical and creative aspects of roasting finessed. But first, they will be schooled on the story: Starbucks’ past, present and future.
“One of the things we didn’t expect here at Starbucks is what we would learn from them.” Jolene Zehnder leads the Starbucks Heritage Experience. “The coffee passion and knowledge from these partners (Starbucks employees) is something I’ve never seen in my 17 years with the company.”
“He’s going to be one of the top roasters out there in Shanghai for us.” Joshua Read is the master roaster coaching Simon on quality checks, milestones, temperature, and color of the beans. “If we’re doing our job right, we’re bringing out the flavors that are already there. We’re doing our best to point back at the farmer and what he or she did at the country of origin to instill those properties in the coffee.”
Simon knew nothing about coffee when he joined Starbucks in 2012. One year later, he took third place in Starbucks China’s national Coffee Ambassador Cup competition. Now, he’ll become the first generation of Starbucks China roasters.
“I can’t describe it, I can’t use any word to describe the feeling,” Simon said. “I just can’t stop learning coffee. It’s in my blood, it’s in my DNA.”
Simon’s parents are cheering for him in China, in the small part of Canton where he’s from, because they know about his dreams. When he finally made it to Seattle, when the sensory immersion produced the full picture, it became clear, “Living a dream. Is that the word? Yes. Living a dream.”