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Three Questions with Cydni Patterson of Sweet Finish

Cydni Patterson 2

Cydni Patterson. All images courtesy of Cydni Patterson.

With manicured nails, sparkling wit and sometimes even a tank top with her face printed on it, Cydni Patterson packs an undeniable amount of charisma into her social media posts. Thankfully, she’s all about coffee, too. 

Patterson started working in coffee eight years ago, taking a job at a local cafe in Durham, North Carolina. The job was less about her interest in coffee and more an escape from a cashier position at Whole Foods, a position she described as soul-sucking.

Said Patterson, “I felt like with each checkout item my soul was leaving my body.” 

She thought working at the cafe would be “one of those transition jobs” — until, one day, a bag of Ethiopian coffee proved undeniably charismatic to her. To this day, she still remembers the flavor notes of oat and blueberry, recalling it as notably “different from the diner coffee and pancakes that I was used to.”

Cydni Patterson Sweet Finish

Patterson wanted to learn more, but a hierarchy at the cafe allowed only certain staff to dial in the single-origin espressos, she said. So, she began experimenting on her own after closing shifts. 

Said Patterson, “It was a time where I would drink coffee and get real twitchy at five in the evening,” she laughed.

Patterson eventually landed a role at specialty coffee trading company Caravela Coffee, where she explored more sides of coffee related to sample roasting, green coffee quality control and coffee science. 

These days, on her Instagram, Patterson explores her own creative interests in coffee, including deeply experimental drink recipes and flavors. One recent video shows her making a Peruvian Chicha Morada with a pineapple peel and core, while another shows her mixing coffee with Korean-style sugar syrup with watermelon rind and chunks. Yet another shows her mixing coffee with a mustard seed, lavender and lemon peel syrup that she says “tastes like Dr. Pepper.” 

The former host of Sprudge’s “Cascara” podcast, Patterson enjoys the creative process of making flavors, as well as the fact that the creations are intentionally impermanent.

“You get to create, but you don’t have to be committed to a particular medium,” Patterson told DCN. “Coffee is fleeting, so you get this rush that every single bean is new. You can dial in a new bag of coffee, and a week later, you have to have a new process.” 

Beyond these personal pursuits, Patterson now has her sights set on a more public project: a coffee popup and catering concept called Sweet Finish that she plans to expand once she earns her dual bachelor’s degrees in business and African American history from Shaw University

The business idea came to Patterson after she was invited to participate in a one-night popup alongside Jeddah’s Tea, a Black-owned tea shop in Durham. Some of her regular customers came, saw how happy she was and urged her to start her own business.

“That sowed the seed. I was like, ‘I can do this,’” she said. “My love is the craft and the specifically curated, so a popup allows me to marry both without the expensive overhead of setting up a shop.” 

Cydni Patterson

With Sweet Finish, Patterson plans to prioritize wage equity, sustainable sourcing from like-minded suppliers, and more environmentally sustainable practices such as not upcharging for plant-based milks. She said Sweet Finish will attempt to create a comfortable environment through which people can absorb new coffee experiences. 

Said Patterson, “It’s like, give me something consistent, and then surprise me.”

Here’s more from DCN’s conversation with Cydni Patterson…

What about coffee excites you most?

The thing about coffee that excites me is that it is seemingly a simple thing that reaches everyone. 

It’s not just the act of crafting that is awesome about coffee. You could be an ethicist and talk about labor practices across the supply chain. You could be a scientist and explore fermentation or climate change. You could be an economist and talk about the exchange of money for goods and services in the global economy. You can find a place in the industry. I think that’s the cool thing behind the coffee professionals. The industry is small enough and with a wide enough reach that you actually can change lives, and all of this can happen over a cup of coffee, and I think that is freakin’ magical. 

What would you like to see change in coffee?

I would like coffee to stop pretending it is apolitical. From 2016 to 2020, we witnessed coffee beans coming to our border and treated with more dignity than the people from the countries that grew them. We sat and watched children punitively put in cages from these coffee producing countries, and our industry, as a whole, had zero to say about it, zero solutions to offer, and zero concern under the guise of not wanting to be political. We need to not be afraid to be political because everything is political. 

What would you be doing if it weren’t for coffee?

I would probably be an African American history professor. I’m specifically interested in the Revolutionary era African Americans.

Is there someone in coffee who inspires you? Nominate them for a Three Questions feature here.


1 Comment

Rev. Dr. Gregory S Hardaway

Perseverance has this young Woman where she is. America needs MORE creative Black entrepreneurs like her and her seeitthru spirit and attitude.
Hang in there and grap your prize.

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