March 8, 2019

Yunson Lee: Women are better cuppers than men

On the International Women’s Day, 8th March, we continue our topic on women in the coffee industry. We had the pleasure to receive at DABOV Yunson Lee, South Korean Q Grader, in August 2018 and here is what she shared about her professional life with us.

Today is our special cupping Coffee from Women for Women on three coffees produced by female farmers.

Yunson Lee is a Q Grader from South Korea, an Alliance for Coffee Excellence Board member and coffee hunter for South Korean coffee shops chain Terarosa Café.

You are a Q-Grader and South Korea has the highest number of Q-Graders in the world. What attracted you to the world of specialty coffee?

Yunson Lee: Coffee is a very big commodity in the world. And it has always motivated me to make more. Every year, at the end of the year I think that I have finished working with coffee. But next year starts and I have another issue and so it’s really motivating to learn or to think about it. Coffee is never boring, and this is what makes me really enjoy this work. Besides that, specialty coffee has a lot of meaning for a lot of other people. For the farmers, specialty coffee is like a gate to a new and better life because its price really makes a difference.

Specialty coffee helps them upgrade the life of their family because buyers are always from more developed countries than theirs. Specialty coffee also provides a common ground for people from different cultures to meet. Let’s say, some farmers didn’t expect to meet someone from Korea. But when they meet, they start to have a new idea about Korea, Asia, or some other part of the world. I think this also motivates them more to focus on the quality of their production and hence, the quality of their life.

Specialty coffee leads us to unknown worlds

When we speak about specialty coffee, I think it’s really about relationship between one world with another which we never knew before coffee. So, we start to know each other. And we start to think more than we used to think. I never thought about climate change before but now as a coffee buyer whenever I visit the coffee origin, I can see a lot of big changes and I start to worry about Earth. Specialty coffee makes us think more than before and motivates us to think what’s my role for all people because we are in this world together. My approach to specialty coffee is a kind of moral philosophical approach.

Does this also mean that when you are looking for coffees to buy for your company those elements are important?

Yes. I’m looking for quality, but quality is a base and if there are two farmers that have coffee with the same quality, I prefer to buy from the one who has a similar philosophy. Because with this kind of similar idea, we can find a way to help the world. I have a friend, a coffee friend in Rwanda, and he didn’t know anything about specialty coffee, but he knew he had to be clean for coffee. Just this simple idea. And we really liked his coffee so I started to visit him to buy more and more. He may not be really well-educated Rwandan, but he understands that to get better coffee he must do everything like throwing away some trash from the farm or from the washing station. These small things also help against climate change. So, I think this kind of looking at the world with the same eyes can make a perfect specialty coffee.

Do you try to convey all this information that you gather from the farmers and the way that they produce their coffee, this environmentally conscious and environmentally friendly approach to your customers as well?

Yes. Whenever we have a new coffee and whenever we have a chance to talk about coffee with our customers, we always do so. If our customer likes to keep this coffee as his daily drink, then he must start from this – we prefer him to enjoy his coffee at our place in a beautiful cup instead of taking a paper cup away. And this is a kind of a small message which I hope motivates our customers to reduce trash. They start to think about Rwanda, where is it, who is the farmer. I think all is connected.

Thanks to specialty coffee everything is connected

So, I think about our roastery as the mediator between the customer and the producers. We would like our customers to think about the origin or the producer of their coffee. If we are really good as roasters, we can make people from different countries think about each other. Whenever I go to Rwanda, not only my friend, but other farmers want to meet me. They don’t talk, they just watch me cupping their coffee, thinking “Ah, she’s our buyer.” And after, that they start working harder than before. It is a motivation for them to work harder and to take greater care of their coffee. Because they know I’m a buyer from a very, very far away country. So, it is the same to our customer. If the coffee is good, they start asking who has produced this. If we provoke this kind of question, our job is done.

Apart from being a buyer in Terarosa Company, you are in the board of directors of Cup of Excellence and a juror in the competition. How is this different or complementary to your work in Terarosa?

I joined Cup of Excellence in 2009. I was a juror three times in the competition. I believe that if someone has the money to buy a ticket, it is the best way to buy or to learn about high-quality coffee. For a cupper, if he hasn’t tasted those type of coffees, if he doesn’t have the necessary experience, it will be very difficult for him to choose one coffee instead of another. He may taste a highly commercial coffee and without the necessary experience start to think that this is an amazing coffee. Cupping and evaluating the quality of coffee depends on my experience. I participated in many Cup of Excellence contests because I want to have the highest standard for specialty coffee.

What is the most important question for the coffee hunter

When I want to buy a coffee, the most important question that I ask myself is, if I want to develop this coffee and to have it in my cup? As a board member of Alliance for Coffee Excellence, we try to satisfy the needs of the farmers and the buyers. It’s not easy! ACE is a nonprofit organization, and everyone thinks that this equals donations. ACE needs money to work but we don’t get any profit. To survive and to run the competition, we need money from both sides. Sometimes, farmers or buyers complain why is there a commission that they must pay. We try to find ways to solve these misunderstandings by changing the rules for the competition and making everyone happy. We also want to start making competitions in new countries, like Indonesia, for example, in order to have more diversity.

We also want not only to keep the standard for coffee high but also to make it stable – this ACE’s highest goal. COE is also part of the business. Good coffee means good money for the farmers and good sales for the buyers. Personally, I learned a lot during Cup of Excellence and I and our company really appreciate this organization because again, the easiest way to learn about quality is to join the company. Except for the competition, you can learn a lot about origin.

The biggest difficulties a woman faces in the coffee industry

You are a woman in this industry where still the number of women is not that high. What were the biggest difficulties that you face as a woman? Do you have an advice for women who start their careers in this business?

You know actually in the world of coffee women have an advantage in front of men. I think that because we have more sensibility for the taste. When you start training a man and a woman, she is always faster in learning how to cup and evaluate quality. So, as a cupper, it is better to be a woman. But to be a good buyer, you need a lot of experience – this is main. We must travel a lot to the origin and learning from websites or books is not enough because this is agriculture and in it, everything can change at any moment. You cannot have the real experience of a book. We travel a lot and especially for woman who has kids, I guess it’s very difficult. Except that there aren’t so many challenges because I’m a woman.

But I realized that as a woman psychologically and physically I am not as brave as a man. Men naturally have, how should I say it, a brave mind. They are never afraid. They just are very simple – they go and get some experience! Women we start to calculate everything – time, danger, etc. This kind of complicated calculation makes us stop. But don’t be afraid, go!

Do you know that…

The Q Grader Programme is the coffee industry’s most recognized and coveted certification system for Arabica and Robusta cuppers, with over 3,500 Q Graders worldwide and the biggest number of them are in South Korea.

Article written by napravimisait

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