Natchapat “Sonia” Srichander has worked in the coffee industry for over six years, currently working as an Educator and Trainer for Coffee Producer Groups based in Bangkok, Thailand.
SUSIE KEALY shines a spotlight on one of the many volunteers who make Expo possible.
At previous events, she has volunteered in a wide range of different roles, including Station Instructor and Cupping Exchange Monitor as well as involvement in Re:Co and as a barista at the Expo Brew Bar. Even if she takes on a role she held previously, she sees every Expo as something different. This year Srichander returns as part of the Coffee Skills education team.
Before working within the industry, Sonia worked for six years at a non-profit organization specializing in organic agriculture in Bangkok. “And that is how my coffee journey began,” she says: she was chosen to work with an organic coffee farm in the North of Thailand, assisting and teaching.
While her origins in coffee started within her home country of Thailand, Sonia discovered much more about specialty coffee while on a trip to Portland, Oregon. “Portland is a craft city of coffee as well as Seattle, where the originally coffee business began: Starbucks. There, I met Tom from Equal Exchange Coffee Company via my job and this is was the first place I learned about coffee cupping and specialty coffee.” After that, Sonia’s main focus was studying specialty coffee, coffee quality, and coffee processing. This led her to eventually enroll in Q & R Grader courses. She thought this was where she would learn everything she needed to know about coffee. “On the contrary, it was just the beginning and my life was changed forever.”
Sonia cites herself as part of the very early generations of Thai Q graders as, seven years ago, “Thai people did not know much about specialty coffee and coffee qualities. I have been using my knowledge as a Q-Grader to help the coffee industry and coffee farmers. Everything was perfect, until one day I started feeling that the world of specialty coffee is so wide and my gut said I needed to know more.” She returned to the west coast of the US to volunteer at her first Expo in 2015 in Seattle, and the event became her favorite place to learn.
“I found that I meet more people in the coffee industry [as a volunteer].”
Sonia sees her volunteering experiences as affecting her life positively in a number of different ways. She has been able to connect with a diverse range of people she would never have met otherwise, as well as witnessing industry changes regarding knowledge, technology, and community. “I have lot coffee friends because of volunteering. We are helping and sharing a good thing in the coffee business, creating a connection between countries. And I believe that the connection is very important for the world coffee business at present. I can see the coffee industry growing and there is no limit. This industry is never ending, we have a lot of information that comes up every year and that is why we have to come back and look through it.”
Out of all the volunteer roles she’s held at Expo, one role in particular remains her favorite: Sonia says she’d never miss a cupping exchange shift. “I found that I meet more people in the coffee industry,” she says, citing experiences meeting farmers and coffee organizations she never knew existed. “I feel that I have [become] more comfortable using my knowledge as a Q-Grader to help them during the show. Cupping is easy but detailed. In addition, I can taste theirs coffee afterward, talk to them, and appreciate their story behind the bean. That’s what I like about it!”
As for what she would like to do next, Sonia’s goal is to become a Q instructor. She hopes to learn even more about coffee processing so she can assist coffee farmers, especially in Thailand. To Sonia, coffee farmers are the backbone of the specialty coffee business. “Even though many organizations all over the world try to support them including SCA, CQI and some others coffee company that I knew, I found that it wasn’t enough, especially in Asia.” She hopes to take what she has learned throughout her time in the coffee industry right back to farm level.
SUSIE KEALY is a freelance communications and marketing professional based in Berlin.
The SCA was built by dedicated volunteers with a vision of an organization that promoted the values of specialty coffee and community. The contributions of SCA volunteers can be seen in the various leadership groups that support the mission of the association and in the thousands who give their time at SCA trade shows and community events every year. Please join us in thanking the many volunteers who make this year’s Expo possible!