We close our conversation with Fritz Coffee Company’s Geunha Park on green buying and his background in music.
BY SUNGHEE TARK
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
Cover photo courtesy of Daewoong Song
Sunghee Tark: Would you say that what consumers demand in Korea has an impact on how you make the purchasing decision?
Geunha Park: To a degree, yes, but I think I’m more inclined to say that as a green bean buyer and a café owner, it is also our responsibility to make the “right” choice—a sustainable, more impactful one—and then to persuade our customers. We may use design, hospitality, and other elements here, but it really comes down to that as a shared responsibility for all of us in the industry.
I also see it as an extension of the coffee education that many of us do for our customers. Often we get customers who may have a different perception of acidity or other characteristics of coffee, and baristas are trained to guide the customers to give them the best experience. Likewise, we take a similar approach to the relationship and traceability aspect of our coffee. We introduce and do our best to convince our customers why it matters to build long-lasting relationships with producers. When they start believing in our shared vision, they are more likely to also be understanding of the potentially fluctuating outcome of an agricultural crop—coffee.
Switching gears a little bit here. You have a background in music. How are you blending your two interests: music and coffee?
I wouldn’t say I’m perfectly blending them (laughs). I’ve definitely prioritized coffee over music. However, to date, I’m responsible for curating the playlist for all of our cafés. I think music plays a key role in setting the tone for any space, and for us, it’s the café. There is so much good music out there and we cannot consume all of it. I try to introduce as many songs as possible to our customers. We often got questions for our playlist so we started posting our playlist on our social media as well. If BK is responsible for the visual and spatial design element of our cafés, I am responsible for the audio element of your experience in our cafés. I also want customers to be cognizant of the fact that there is music in the background, therefore, pay close attention to set the right volume. The café culture does not only involve the product that we serve—coffee and bread—but also the atmosphere that space has.
As we conclude, what’s the future that you dream of in the coffee industry? What are you looking forward to in the coffee industry?
In terms of our organization, we want to sustainably thrive. I want to keep fostering a culture within Fritz, that everyone that belongs here can have the pride to be working at Fritz.
Another, perhaps more personal, goal is that I want baristas to be able to have a better and fulfilling life—where their livelihood is not threatened for doing the job. I’ve been a barista for more than a decade and there has been barely any industry-wide improvement in terms of where baristas stand.
While acknowledging that it requires nation- and industry-wide efforts, we are trying what we can do to help our staff feel more satisfied and fulfilled doing their jobs at Fritz. For one, there is a shared car service for everyone in our company. They can sign up to use the car at no cost. There is also an additional fund for baristas in their salary to express their unique fashion sense. Self expression for many starts with their fashion and we support that. Additionally, in the fifth year of being with us, baristas receive a “thank you” bonus in cash. It may be a small step, but it’s our effort to care for our colleagues and community.
I don’t even know if it’s worth including here, but we assure that all of our baristas can use all of the paid leaves mandated by the government. I say that I’m not sure if it’s worth including here because that’s the basic rights, but as you may know, in our industry and Korea, I have seen so many cases where it is just impossible for the baristas to take all of their paid days off.
My dream is to continue exploring and showing our industry that even though we follow the law, and continue to stand “for our collective well-being,” we can thrive. As much as our industry peers aspire to grow their brand identity as we have, we want them to also aspire to embody good practices that employers must have to truly care for their colleagues/employees.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sunghee Tark is the co-founder of Bean Voyage, a feminist organization that collaborates with smallholder womxn coffee producers to build an equitable coffee value chain. She is also a freelance coffee writer, Specialty Coffee Association LEAD Scholar, and Re:co Fellow.