We talk to the Alliance for Coffee Excellence’s new senior manager about her coffee background and her role managing the Cup of Excellence competitions.
BY CHRIS RYAN
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Coffee origin is familiar territory for Erin Wang: In working with importing companies over the last five years, she has connected directly with coffee farmers in producing countries on all of the steps that take place between production and export. Erin is bringing this experience to a new role: In November 2017, she joined the Alliance for Coffee Excellence (ACE)—the nonprofit that runs the Cup of Excellence (COE) program—as COE senior manager. Erin talked to us about her new role, her experiences in coffee, and how an unforeseen internship helped steer her toward this career path.
Chris Ryan: What are your earliest memories of coffee? What was your relationship with coffee before you started working in it?
Erin Wang: My first memories of coffee are of starting the coffee maker every morning when I was young. My dad loves coffee and drinks it every morning and after most meals. He would prepare it each night, so I would just need to push the “on” button in the morning and the house would fill with the smell of coffee. The smell was nice, but I didn’t start drinking coffee until my last year of high school in Texas. At the end of high school, I got a part-time job working as a barista at Gloria Jeans Coffee. And naturally, when I moved to California for college, I got another part-time barista job at a coffee drive-thru called Caffino. During those years I drank and enjoyed coffee, but I didn’t have a connection to where the coffee was coming from or who was producing it.
CR: What did you study in school? How did that lead you to coffee?
EW: I went to the University of California, Davis, and graduated with a B.S. in managerial economics. Even though I worked as a barista, I never considered it for a future career. During my third year I realized finance wasn’t something that excited me, so I went to a counselor who recommended I check out an agricultural internship fair. At the fair, a table with coffee on it caught my eye. The Pacific Coast Coffee Association (PCCA) had an internship program for the summer where you could work for three weeks each at InterAmerican Coffee (importer), the Annex (warehouse), and Peet’s Coffee & Tea (roastery). They hired me for the summer of 2007, and that was my first peek into the coffee industry. After university the timing wasn’t working out to start in coffee, so I took a job with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Almost three years later, a quality control assistant position became available at Volcafe Specialty, and that was what I consider my start in coffee.
CR: What’s exciting and/or gratifying to you about working in coffee?
EW: The PCCA internship is when I first got excited about working in coffee. There’s something for everyone—business, finance, travel, sensorial analysis, agriculture, large multinational companies, small mom-and-pop shops, NGOs, nonprofit organizations … just so many possibilities. Personally, I was attracted to the travel and sensorial aspects, and the opportunity to improve coffee farmers’ livelihoods by supporting them in the production and sale of great coffee. Whenever I can be involved in those aspects of the industry, it is incredibly gratifying.
CR: Can you share some thoughts about your new role at COE?
EW: In November, I started working with the Alliance for Coffee Excellence that runs the COE program. As COE’s senior manager, my main responsibilities are to manage the 12 COE competitions in 11 countries we have planned for 2018 and manage the beautiful SCA-certified lab we have in Portland, Ore. COE is a well-known program that is important to a lot of people. This motivates me to uphold the integrity and transparency of the program, and look for ways to expand upon and reinforce that mission. For the past five years I have been working outside the United States for coffee exporters in Honduras and East Timor, experiencing firsthand the hurdles and challenges producing countries face from seed to export. This understanding will help me in this new role; I’m excited to take it on and hope to bring a fresh perspective to the team.