“We can lead”

Freda Yuan, Head of Coffee at Origin Coffee Roasters, SMC Specialty Coffees partner, talks about her career in specialty coffee, her connection with Brazil and the representation of women in the industry.

Freda Yuan visited co-op members’ farms during the 2019 harvest

How did your history with coffee begin?

“I lived for a while in Australia and always loved the vibe at the coffee shops there. I then started working as a barista. At the time, my dream was to open a coffee shop in Taiwan, my home country, which is why I was so interested. I met some people there who had connections in London and were setting up their own businesses. I started working with some of them back in the UK. I found out more about other parts of the coffee chain, such as roasting and tasting, to improve my work skills. I even sold green coffee for a bit. Working with coffee has helped me through some difficult times in my life, and that is why I feel so fulfilled to continue my journey in this field.

What is it like to be in such an important position at Origin?

“My job requires a lot of attention. It can be very stressful at times, because I can’t let the company down. I must understand exactly the volume and qualities we need to acquire and to which customer I am going to direct each coffee. I am like a chef in a restaurant, like a head chef. My job is to put together and present our portfolio of options, like a menu, to our partners.

When I was offered the position of Head of Coffee, I confess that I almost turned it down. I doubted that I would be able to do a good job because it was a great challenge. But of course, I was willing to challenge myself. I decided to give myself the chance to move forward. Nowadays I have the privilege to meet specialty coffee producers and growers, visit their farms and estates and build relationship that are so important when working with traceability and sustainability.”

Are there other women on the Origin team?

“Almost half of our team is formed by women, mainly in the administrative area, but they are also in roasting and quality. I feel that we are more intuitive and bring a certain lightness to the work. We are more vulnerable, but this should not be seen as a bad thing. In fact, I see it as a great trait, because without this softness, it gets difficult to navigate some hardships, especially in a moment like this, with the Covid situation. We have more compassion, and it helps us to understand people better, and to better deal with the feelings and actions of those around us. This is why I believe that female representation in business is so important.

How is Brazilian specialty coffee perceived in the UK? Is there demand for coffees produced specifically by women?

“Brazilian coffee is extremely important in the market we work in. It is capable of delivering the high quality and volume that we need. Those who drink coffee here in England are very used to Brazilian coffee because it goes so well with milk or simply as an espresso; both are widely consumed here.”

“It’s interesting to talk about coffees produced by women, because I have seen many coffee shops and roasters owned by women – managers, marketers, and directors who are looking to support and invest in the production of coffees made by women. Thus, they can offer their customers a product that has been cared for by women’s hands from beginning to end, adding value and also telling the story behind it. It’s a very beautiful movement, because I feel that we really need to come together, creating spaces for all and opportunities that benefit women producers.”

She wraps the conversation by leaving a special message for women coffee producers that she could sum up in one word: confidence.

“We need to understand that we are enough and capable of leading our own path, whatever it may be. We can really do whatever we want, as long as we can change our mindset and the tone of our conversations. We should never diminish ourselves or doubt our abilities. I hope that the Brazilian producers who are partners of Cooxupé and of the SMC feel encouraged to do a differentiated work with specialty coffee, because there is, without a doubt, a demand for this on our side. I hope that the world situation improves and I can travel to Brazil again.”

Freda está atualmente trabalhando em um livro sobre suas experiências dentro do mundo do café especial e como isso tem impactado positivamente no seu crescimento profissional e pessoal. Esperamos que seja um sucesso e que ela possa nos visitar mais uma vez em breve.

Freda is currently working on a book about her experiences within the world of specialty coffee and how it has positively impacted her professional and personal growth. We hope it will be a success and that she will be able to visit us again soon.