Umeko Motoyoshi (Photo by Evan Gilman)
Welcome to The Sprudge Twenty Interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring our 2019 featured class of Sprudge Twenty honorees, each one changing the coffee game worldwide. For a complete list of 2019 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty.
Umeko Motoyoshi is an entrepreneur, coffee professional, technologist, social media provocateur, whistleblower, and advocate for the marginalized. They are the founder of Umeshiso.com, the VP of Technology at Sudden Coffee, and the creator of @wastingcoffee on Instagram, among other ventures. They are the Sprudgie Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence for 2018, and the founder of CHANGING STRUCTURES in collaboration with the #CoffeeToo Project. In 2018 Motoyoshi was a named whistleblower in the Four Barrel Coffee sexual harassment scandal and subsequent legal action.
TBCH that’s roughly half of what we could have listed here for accomplishments related to Umeko Motoyoshi, who exemplifies the spirit and intentionality of the Sprudge Twenty through their multi-faceted work across the specialty coffee industry. Read more in Sprudge co-founder Zachary Carlsen’s recent interview with them here.
Nominated by Kat Melheim.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
Balancing distribution of resources (especially financial resources) throughout the value chain, improving worker conditions throughout the value chain, and modeling positive change for other industries throughout the value chain.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
Space for growth, because I believe that the specialty coffee industry has the potential to radicalize into a social and political movement to end colonial norms within supply chains across the world.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
The imbalanced power between different genders compounding with imbalanced power between customer and hospitality worker, and how that compounded imbalance is both constructed and supported by current hospitality standards. It’s been written about brilliantly and still is not taken into account in any well-established hospitality ethos.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
I love there are a million new things that I can learn about it every day. It moves through such a broad range of systems at micro and macro scale and can be examined through infinite lenses.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your career?
My interest in coffee began during childhood as an appreciation for ritual, while I watched my father perform Japanese tea ceremonies.
The sensory component came later. I’d worked in coffee for about six years before I experienced a coffee that really amazed me—it was a Colombian superblend from the Andino association.
That coffee, the first coffee I ever felt dazzled by, was roasted and brewed by Four Barrel Coffee, and I’d just started work there as a barista. About five years later, I co-organized a multi-complainant lawsuit against that company for sexual harassment and assault.
This is just one example of the ways that my experiences within specialty coffee as a taster and learner hold tension with my experience as a femme person within structures of shockingly enabled misogyny.
And because both realms have deeply impacted me, I work to reconcile them—both externally and internally.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
A rewarding value chain that is accessible and positive for everyone from pickers to consumers.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
I think I have the job I want. I’m a writer, consultant and inventor, and I sell gay spoons.
Who are your coffee heroes?
Everyone who uses their knowledge and skill set to connect with and support others in their learning.
Every barista who has never competed but works floor shifts every day, shows up for their co-workers, looks out for their customers, knows how every coffee is tasting, and lowkey covered every item on the shift change checklist so everyone could leave on time.
The people who don’t necessarily get a spotlight on them but they’re doing the damn thing and they’re doing it with incredible skill.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
My dad, who passed away in 2012, because I miss him. I never got to make him a pour-over. I never got to make coffee for him when I actually knew what I was doing. I wish I could source and roast a really nice coffee just for him, based on the flavor profiles he enjoyed, and serve it to him in a small, handle-less cup with a ceramic carafe, paired with Japanese pastry.
If you didn’t get bit by the coffee bug, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I’d be an herbalist and performance artist.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
These are people who I look up to a lot, that I continue to learn from all the time: Jenn Chen, Michelle Johnson, Kim Elena Ionescu, Jen Apodaca, Candace Madison Zachary, Laura Perry, and Mayra Orellana Powell.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
TRUST YOUR GUT.
Name three coffee apparatuses you’d take into space with you.
Ok, so I’m going to assume I’m inside a space station for this question. First, probably an AeroPress (I’m counting filters as part of the AeroPress). On Earth, I don’t normally use an AeroPress that often, but in zero gravity a pour-over system wouldn’t work, and I couldn’t commit to drinking a French press every day. Other brewing systems that might work in zero gravity involve too much user complexity or power draw to be my daily go-to on a space station.
I just don’t know how I would get the coffee and water into the AeroPress in zero gravity. So I might try to rig some kind of seal with valves so that I can force coffee and water into the brewing chamber, then place the AeroPress plunger on top, and then slide the seal out. So that might be the second apparatus. I might try agitating and ensuring even saturation by gently shaking the sealed AeroPress.
Also, I’m assuming I’d be in a space station where the internal atmospheric pressure is regulated so I could boil water at a high enough temperature to brew coffee. But I don’t know enough about that.
I would store my coffee outside in the cold vacuum of space for ultimate freshness. So I guess I’d take a string to tie my bag of coffee to the outside of the space station. The string would be my third apparatus.
Obviously, if this were the Star Trek universe I could just get a raktajino from any replicator.
Best song to brew coffee to:
“Pour It Up” by Rihanna
Look into the crystal ball—where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Probably on the space station with my string and my AeroPress.
What’d you eat for breakfast this morning?
Water, vitamins, more water.
When did you last drink coffee?
Around 11am today.
What was it?
An espresso flight.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Zachary Carlsen on Sprudge.