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What is a Coffee Ambassador? Thoughts from Temple’s Eton Tsuno

coffee ambassador eton tsuno temple

Eton Tsuno of Temple Coffee

by Eton Tsuno of Temple Coffee

This origin trip was different from most. Instead of a backpack, hiking boots, and rain jacket, I packed blazers, a briefcase and dress shoes to represent not only myself and Temple Coffee Roasters, but also the U.S.A,  as a speaker at the 2014 Latin American Coffee Summit in Puebla, Mexico.

It was awesome, exciting, and nerve-wracking all at the same time. We were representing coffee in the United States. In essence, I was a coffee ambassador. “Coffee Ambassador” was a job title I thought up years ago, but didn’t quite work for a tax form. I may have had too much Ron Zacapa in my system when I thought up the term, but to this day I believe it to be important.

(related: On Marketplace vs. Origin: ‘Like It or Not, We Are All in This Together’)

Back then, I believed that the coffee ambassadors were the baristas — and they still are. The true barista is the highly trained professional who bridges the gap between the coffee and the consumer. The barista explains and expands the coffee world by serving it to the public perfectly every time, educating one coffee consumer after another. But at some point in my career, I realized I was living in a dream world, in my own self-created coffee utopia. It was a rude awakening.

My eye-opener was the exact opposite of a the kind of “ah-ha” moment that effects change. It was one with deep despair, and rebounding from it required even deeper digging. How could I, as someone who had, “been there” and “done that” be wrong about who really speaks for coffee, who introduces coffee to the world, and who is truly a coffee ambassador? Years passed and this question repeatedly popped into my head, more so as I have watched our our industry grow.

(related: An Indelible Journey From Liverpool to the Heart of Yirgacheffe)

It occurs to me now that It isn’t really the barista, the green coffee buyer, the director of coffee, the coffee producer, the farmer, or any single title that defines a coffee ambassador: Coffee ambassadors are found throughout the entire specialty coffee industry. They are any number professionals from farm to cup — those who always go above and beyond the standard operating procedures in the coffee trade, who sing the Hallelujah Chorus of coffee, spreading the gospel to whomever they may encounter.

During industry events, I often hear coffee professionals attempting to label this “new” era of coffee, because many no longer want to be defined anymore as “third-wave.” I, too, hate labels, but I do believe that we are heading into the Golden Age of coffee ambassadorship — a time when we share, experiment and expand with no sense of company boundaries, country borders, or selfish motivation.

Was I wrong to think of baristas as coffee ambassadors? No, I was not. But I was wrong in assigning a job title to ambassadorship. Instead, what defines a coffee ambassador is a personal devotion to the specialty coffee industry as a unified whole, and the willingness to share information with and inspire your fellow ambassadors.