Origin Coffee Roasters was founded in Cornwall, England, in 2004 and currently has three branches in London and Cornwall each. Origin Coffee Roasters has been a pioneer in the specialty coffee industry, and Ms. Freda Yuan, originally from Taiwan, is its Head of Coffee. We interviewed Freda, who has excellent cupping skills and is the backbone and the important figure at Origin Coffee Roasters, about the secret behind her success and her vision for the company.
Cherishing this, the present moment
Freda was the champion of UK Cup Tasters in 2017, 2018, and 2020 and gained third place in the World Cup Tasters 2017. Freda, with her solid track record in coffee cupping skills, was headhunted by Origin Coffee Roasters to become the Head of Coffee for their coffee department.
Freda states, “My role is like a head chef in a restaurant. I’m involved in everything that goes into making a good cup of coffee, from buying green coffee, maintaining partnership with the coffee producers, cupping the coffee, checking the quality of the coffee served in the cafe, and training the baristas.”
Origin Coffee Roasters is often looked at as an organization with a flexible approach to running its company. How has Freda gained so much trust?
Freda states, “I am a spiritual person who incorporates meditation, yoga, and Zen into my daily life and, while at first glance it may not seem to have anything to do with coffee, there is actually a deep connection.”
“Yoga is a practice that trains you to understand what you can do and to unify your mind. It’s important to accept your current state and face yourself patiently, believing that one day you will be able to do it. If you keep practicing with this in mind for a few years, you will be able to do various poses that you didn’t think you could do in the past.”
“It’s the same with coffee. Sometimes it’s easy to run into problems and think that you can’t do something because you’re not good enough, but thanks to the awareness that yoga has given me, I understand that I have to let go of that kind of thinking. The more you train, the more you are likely to do well. When you enter a competition, it’s not about winning or losing; it will happen as it should happen. If you think that way, you can tackle things in a relaxed state without worrying about unnecessary things.”
Freda’s motto, “Cherishing the here and now” came from her experience of going through depression. As a side effect of her depression, she suffered from bulimia. She repeatedly ate and threw up and her taste buds on her tongue were damaged by the acid flowing back from her stomach so she started not to be able to taste the flavor of the coffee.
Freda states, “The reason I was able to stop hurting myself and recover from depression and bulimia was that I was able to redirect my thoughts to coffee — wanting to drink good coffee, wanting to brew good coffee, and wanting to improve myself. That’s it.”
At that time, Freda was living a fast-paced life as a barista at a cafe that served 1,600 cups of coffee daily. While she was working hard, she didn’t have any space in her mind, and her passion to eventually open a cafe and become a barista was fading away. On the other hand it was the perfect environment for her because she could focus on the present moment without thinking about unnecessary things.
Later, as Freda began to learn about life from a spiritual perspective and gradually learned how to live in the present moment, she started to know how to live better by staying in the present moment.
“It’s about sharpening your five senses or more than five senses to feel various things. For example, if you are in a cafe, the taste of the coffee is not only the sense of taste and smell of coffee, but also the sound of the air conditioner, the conversations of other customers, the touch of the cup, and everything else you feel in the environment around you. If you focus your attention on this, you can be close to the coffee as well.”
“If you can’t feel the flavors of coffee, it is probably because you are not carefully tasting the food you are eating. No matter what you eat, you shouldn’t just eat it- you should also analyze the taste and find out what it has in common with coffee and store it in your memory. Then, when you taste the coffee, you can connect it to that memory. By sharpening your sense of being present in this moment and this place, you will not only be able to taste more flavors, but you will also be able to enjoy life more.”
Taking action is natural thing to do
Since joining Origin Coffee Roasters and becoming a buyer of green coffee, Freda has traveled to more than ten countries in 2019 alone. Although she has taken a break from visiting production areas since the COVID pandemic started, seeing and experiencing the conditions of production areas with her own eyes has made a difference in her state of mind.
Freda states, “Origin Coffee Roasters has a set of standards so we look at how the producers work on their farms and in their facilities and we determine if we can work with them. It’s relatively easy to find new producers to work with because the exporters connect us with them, but it’s very difficult to maintain long-term relationships. Some producers have been working with us for more than ten years. Our goal is to build long-term relationships with all of them.”
“To do so, I always make it a point to talk to the producers and understand their way of thinking about their work, their values, and their nature. For example, you have to decide if they are just talking or they will do what they say they will do. In fact, there are people who say, ‘I can do anything and I’ll do anything you say, Freda,’ but in the end, they don’t do anything.”
“Whether she or he is a producer or an exporter, we want to partner with people who share the same mindset as us. Are they willing to work together with us to solve problems? Are they willing to have tough but frank conversations when necessary? People who have that kind of entrepreneurial spirit are willing to work hard to make efforts so that everything works out well.”
Establishing long-term relationships with all producers has been a goal at Origin Coffee Roasters since the company’s inception, but it is also a mission for Freda herself to accomplish.
“The monthly income of a coffee farmer is only 6 USD in Rwanda and 12 USD in Ethiopia. Someone in the supply chain is probably exploiting the system and taking the money, so the farmers are getting paid very little.”
“But that doesn’t mean that we should simply give them money. They probably don’t even have a bank account, so if you give them money, they will spend it immediately. We need to visit the community, work with the local NGOs and charities, and listen to and understand what they really need.”
“Helping them is what motivates me the most. I want to continue to work with the Head of Wholesale and cafe staff to communicate that there are hard-working producers behind the delicious coffee we enjoy. I believe that it is important to support the producers, whether they know about our activities or not.”
It has been seventeen years since the company was founded. In that time, Origin Coffee Roasters has built a team of people with entrepreneurial spirit and expertise and has bought eighteen to twenty containers of green coffee a year.
Freda states, “The more we can sell and the more we can buy from producers, the more they can earn. My biggest goal is to one day start projects that can solve the social issues for coffee producers and also for the people who need help so that they can improve their living standards. I am the type of person who feels happy when I give to others. I want to give love to everyone.”
“Of course, the situation is different from one country to another. If they are already earning a lot of money, there is no need to dig a well or build a school for them.”
“But I feel that the producers in Africa need it. There are not even paved roads there and garbage is scattered everywhere. When I see such a reality, it makes me realize that we are privileged in every aspect. Taking action is natural thing to do.”
“We have been working with producers for years and have overcome many challenges such as COVID and severe frost damage in Brazil. I love this job because I feel greater joy when we understand each other, cooperate with each other, and overcome difficulties together. That’s why it breaks my heart to see roasters who say, ‘We buy green coffee to support producers,’ but they only buy one-off from importers.”
The phrase “That’s other people’s business” do not exist in Freda’s vocabulary. Coffee must have given meaning of life to Freda, who is very sensitive and empathic to others and can understand many different things around her, which even brought her to depression in one phase of her life.
Freda states, “When I visit production areas, I observe many different scenes. When I talk to people, I have to make an effort to understand what they want and what they need. That is exactly the time when the spirit of “cherishing the here and now” comes in handy.”
“When green coffee I bought at the production sites arrives at our roastery, I immediately roast it and brew it at our cafe. I feel happiest when their coffee tastes good because that is also the moment when I can express and bring out the efforts of the producers to the world. We release new coffees every week, so I get to experience this feeling every week.”