10 Minutes With Zoey Thorson: Part Two

We close our interview with Royal NY’s Zoey Thorson by chatting about her day-to-day activities with the coffee and tea importer.

Feature photo courtesy of Zoey Thorson with permission by the SCA


Note from the editor: Last week we published an in-depth interview with Zoey Thorson about her extensive work in Hawaii and New York, and the complex cultural differences between the two. Today we learn about her duties as the director of education at The Lab by Royal NY.

Zoey is the self-proclaimed stage mom of The Lab, wanting to make everyone the best versions of themselves. Photo courtesy of Zoey Thorson.

What are you prioritizing for yourself at The Lab? 

To fulfill and sustain myself in goals, I discovered a while ago that my ideal job is stage mom. I want to give everyone the tools and platform to allow people to be the best version of themselves as coffee professionals. Doing this for anyone that passes my path at the Lab—in whatever light that is. 

My other goal is to be a Q Instructor. I love the Q. I love what CQI does. I agree the SCA form needs some upgrades, but this is standardized language that we can all use for coffee. I love it! Being a Q Instructor melds all of this together: helping to further CQI’s mission as well as giving other people a platform to grow professionally. 

What are you prioritizing for The Lab, as director? 

The current situation has allowed me to get my game together with virtual classes. Making education more accessible. Another goal I have is surrounding communication, from producers to roasters, baristas, consumers. I am working on streamlining the process in which information on quality is transferred easily up and down the supply stream. Importers are historically considered the gatekeepers of information and I can’t stand this idea. We’re not the gatekeepers, we’re the gateway. I want us to be a conduit for information.

What is your day-to-day at The Lab?

Two to four days worth of classes or consulting/custom education work or events in a given week. Courses totally range. I deal with people from all across the industry. Home roasters, baristas, flavor scientists, the whole gamut, teaching different and new things and hosting events bringing all of these people together. It is amazing. 

I also have to keep our curriculum relevant and up to date by gathering information and finding the most up-to-date resources. Patrick (education and research specialist) and I spend a lot of time validating information, sorting through mess on the interweb. We need actual, valid information surrounding coffee and tea. Then our work is to incorporate this into coursework or onto the blog. 

We write blog posts with a wide range. Both Patrick and I are the backup sample roasters and part of the QC team, ensuring coffee quality. 

Royal is a big importer. Can you talk more about the importer/education-centered model within Royal? Is this common? What’s the vision behind this? 

Royal NY has three wings: Royal NY Coffee, Royal NY Tea, and The Lab. The Lab’s role is supporting coffee and tea. I work closely with all of the traders. Even with the logistics people. This is not that uncommon for importers. 

In the U.S. there aren’t too many independent coffee schools. Many have disappeared. Usually you find large coffee businesses that have coffee schools. Education itself, although it is high value, is often not that accessible for a coffee professional living off an hourly wage, and it is hard to lower the cost of this education, unless the demand for coffee knowledge increases. Although we are seeing more value and demand for professional certifications such as SCA certifications and the Q. That’s the reason Royal NY decided to do this—to create a space for resources (current clients, people starting out in coffee wanting extra support), and general support for the coffee community. When we hosted the prelims this [past] summer, it wasn’t to gain clients or make money or anything. It was purely to create a space for people in the industry to come together, as well as to help make competitions as accessible to everyone as possible.

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A native New Yorker, Jiyoon Han is a Q Arabica Grader, Q Processing Generalist, and was a judge for the U.S. Coffee Championships 2019 Brewers Cup Prelims. As Chief Daughter at Bean & Bean Coffee in NYC, Jiyoon sources, roasts, and cups coffee. She’s a student at the Harvard Business School, where she is co-president of the Coffee & Tea Club.

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