“Finding others like myself” Expanding my reach as an ambassador

Sakiko Sone

After graduating from an art university, working in sales at a handbag manufacturer, and as a planner at an advertising agency, she became a freelance barista. She serves coffee at special events, markets, and coworking spaces. Feeling the limitations of what she could do as an individual, she joined TYPICA, the first-of-its-kind business model which is revolutionizing the world of coffee. Her name is Sakiko Sone, and this is her story.

If only this moment could last forever

In the spring of 2015, Sone joined 11 others for a trip to San Francisco. For all they knew, the group members shared nothing in common with each other, save for a love of coffee. Sone was amazed by what she saw there.

“To encourage visitors to socialize with one another, Four Barrel Coffee had installed tables that did not lend themselves to the use of laptops. There was also Sightglass Coffee, with coffee roasters installed in the middle of the shop where all the guests could see them run. At Ritual Coffee, a barista mesmerized customers with a charming coffee brewing routine. And finally, there was Blue Bottle Coffee, where the staff boldly asked, “How do you like to drink? Each of these shops was full of life and personality. The world of coffee was truly free!”

This trip was proposed by TYPICA co-founders, Ayane Yamada and Masashi Goto. At the time, they believed that “Where there’s someone brewing coffee, there’s a café.” This idea resonated with Sone, and she began to feel inclined to become a coffee brewer herself.

Inclined to dig deeper, Sone got into the habit of visiting cafés and coffee shops featured in a magazine called “BRUTUS” whenever she had the chance. Already drawn by the charms of the world of coffee, it was when Sone visited “GLITCH COFFEE & ROASTERS” in Tokyo’s Jinbo-cho district that she became captivated by it.

“ A barista (it turns out, he was the owner and top barista) offered me some coffee from Kenya. They said, ‘This tastes like tomatoes.’ When I tried it, I was surprised to find that it really did taste like tomatoes! The shock of that moment turned my perception of coffee on its head. It became clear to me that I wanted to broadly promote the love of coffee.”

Months after leaving the advertising agency where she had worked for over 10 years, Sone, now a freelancer, started visiting various coffee shops, attending coffee seminars, and training in the art of coffee extraction. In this way, she spent a few years accumulating knowledge and developing her skills.

Then, as a freelance coffee barista, she provided dispatch services to local events, markets, offices, and weekend businesses. She felt her services were well-received; however, Sone was unable to dispel her uneasiness towards the reality of her situation.

“Since my business only required a small investment, there was little risk. However, unable to earn enough income, I was eating into my savings just to get by. At the same time, opening up a shop of my own didn’t seem like an option either. At one point Goto, seemingly aware of my feelings, asked me ‘Is this really what you want?’ I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt.”

At around this time, when Sone was unable to find her way, she heard the following “guidance” from a coffee shop owner.

“Sone, I think you have a very special role to play, a role that no one has ever played before. I could be wrong though.”

Those words struck a chord with Sone. Perhaps, it was simply destiny that Sone would join TYPICA, an enterprise that had developed an unprecedented business model of its own.

“One day, I was helping out at a cupping session hosted by TYPICA. From the moment when the local curator, Yamada, who was in the Netherlands, and Goto, who was at the Japan site, as well as all of the participants connected online, I just felt this powerful emotion welling up inside. Perhaps it was because I wanted to be part of this priceless connection everyone shared. Feeling a strong desire to continue to experience this moment forever, I decided to apply to join TYPICA myself.”

Making friends over a cup of coffee

As she made more-and-more solo trips to coffee-producing regions, a company called Starbucks continuously provided an impetus for Sone to fall more and more deeply in love with coffee.

About six years ago, working overtime was the norm for Sone. Making a 10 pm Starbucks run for coffee and a bite to eat became part of her daily routine.

“One day, the barista said to me, “You’re a late-night regular, aren’t you!” And, from that sprang just a lovely conversation. Now that I think about it, I just might have been starving for the warmth of some real human connection.”

The only reason she went home was to sleep, and there were almost never any holidays. Most of her clients were large companies. Since her counterparts rotated out every year or so, it was impossible to build any meaningful human relationships. At the whims of her clients, she was often made to redo the work she had done for them…. As her situation grew unsustainable, Sone found it harder to see any significance in her work. Her heart was no longer in it. One day, her boss exclaimed, “You don’t even care anymore, do you!” She left her job shortly after.

From that little chat with the barista, Sone felt the powerful potential of coffee. In fact, it was about three months after this conversation that she left her job at the advertising agency. It was for more than the mere charm of coffee itself that she fell in love with the world of coffee.

“At any shop that I visited at least a few times, I would always have some questions for the baristas. I really appreciated that they always answered me cheerfully, even when I asked the most mundane questions, and I really enjoyed speaking with them. Over a single cup of coffee, it was possible to deepen my connection with others. Really, I wasn’t even going to the café for coffee so much as I was going to meet the people that worked there. Perhaps it was this feeling that opened my eyes to coffee’s potential for me.

For this reason, my post-coffee world is completely different from my world before. The people with whom I associate have also completely changed. Before, most of my acquaintances were business connections, so hardly any of those relationships remain today.”

To meet the other “selves” who are waiting for me

As a planner at the advertising agency, Sone prepared a wide variety of promotional materials such as marketing videos and leaflets. When she was in high school, her dream job was to decorate window displays. Drawn to the idea of bringing shops to life by giving them a brilliant “face,” she chose to study at an art university. But then, after becoming more familiar with the field of design, she grew more interested in the work of planning for displays instead.

“After beginning art school, I got the impression that rather than working as a decorator, I might be better suited for working at the big picture level. I was going to cross genres and create new goods and services. So I came to see the value of constantly learning about new things.

I kept my finger on the pulse of global trends. I consulted a wide variety of information sources. My extensive research often came in handy unexpectedly at times. Whether or not my ideas would be well-received by many people would largely depend on whether or not my work was suited to the mood at the time. In fact, without sufficient input, I don’t think it’s possible to produce meaningful output.”

When Sone started digging deeper into coffee, her friends told her that  specialty coffee shops  were “difficult to land a job at” and that “you’d really need to be a coffee expert to do so.” Even as she carefully worked to clear up her friends’ misunderstandings, Sone felt there was a limit to how much she could possibly promote the popularity of coffee on her own.

As a platform promoting human connection and community, Sone found that TYPICA was the perfect place for her.

“At first, I was involved in efforts to launch a program to enable nano roasters and  home roasters to buy green coffee beans jointly. The fact that so many people, acquaintances as well as strangers, kindly participated in our Facebook community showed me that there was truly a need for TYPICA in the world. Now that I could hear what people from the coffee community had to say in person, I was delighted that my simple work could bring joy to people right before my eyes.

Just like me, TYPICA is ever-evolving, and it’s necessary to stay up-to-date in order to survive. Sure, there’s pressure, but within this new framework, I want to put in my best effort to generate new ideas. I do this for all of the coffee roasters who have kindly offered me their friendship over the years.

My motto is “Make more of me.” Coffee has changed my life for the better, and my vision is to bring that same joy to others. With TYPICA, I can do it.”

Since leaving the advertising agency, Sone has participated in coffee-related functions at every available opportunity and has become acquainted with many coffee roasters. Sone fit right in with this crowd and naturally assumed coordinator-like positions. Perhaps for that reason, when she announced her intent to join TYPICA, others were surprised to learn that she was not a member already.

“As a pacifist, I once placed too much weight on the value of harmony. The fact that I wanted to change this about myself is one of the reasons I joined TYPICA. I no longer simply wanted to conform to the attitudes of others, I wanted to be open, share my mind, and find others like myself. Through TYPICA, I hope to meet these other “myselves” who are waiting for me.” (To be continued).

Photo:Kenichi Aikawa