It’s truly a pleasure and treat to chat with Head of Coffee and Development of Sudden Coffee, Umeko Motoyoshi! Umeko is no stranger to specialty coffee and when it comes to innovating and disrupting the scene with the delectable product that’s out to democratize coffee for all, she’s your go-to expert. Today, she’s sharing more about her coffee journey and how her experiences lead an exciting future for what’s ahead at Sudden Coffee.
Emmeline Wang: Thank you for your time for chatting, Umeko! Tell me where you’re from and what your background in coffee was prior to Sudden Coffee.
Umeko Motoyoshi: I grew up on a rural island in the Puget Sound, in Washington State. My father was a Japanese tea ceremony master, and I learned a lot from watching him. It can mean so much to serve someone a drink, it can be so special and intimate. Right out of high school, I fell in love with specialty coffee - working as a barista, managing cafes, and learning how to fix espresso machines. Eventually I moved to the Bay Area and joined Four Barrel Coffee, where I was the Head of Training. Then I worked for Blue Bottle Coffee, and I learned so much from them about hospitality.
When I found Sudden Coffee, it felt like coming home. I felt so aligned with Sudden’s focus on feelings, on how we can make people happy in simple and genuine ways. It reminded me of my dad. I grew up doing tea ceremonies in the middle of the woods, and now I lead product development at an instant coffee company - it’s funny how natural it feels. I think my dad would get such a kick out of it!
E: Sudden Coffee is very much about democratizing and making an amazing beverage accessible for the masses to enjoy. Tell me a bit more about how you dance between the fine lines of creating a “comforting” coffee versus an “adventurous” one.
U: I want our coffees to be comforting and adventurous, both, and I shift the balance a little with each coffee. Blends are a great way to play with that! I get ideas from talking with our customers, and build out a calendar of profiles. Then I work with our roaster partners to fill out those profiles with coffees, and bring them to life in a cool and interesting way.
When I’m making blends, I always want to put the individual components front and center, making sure they are in the spotlight. This way, customers get to learn about the producers growing and processing what’s inside their cup. Fore! is made of two coffees sourced by 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters. The first coffee is from the Nariño region of Colombia and the other from San Jose Poaquil, Guatemala (read more about Fore! here). I’ll say that Fore! is the best coffee we’ve created so far, and our customers think so too!
E: Sudden Coffee is shattering preconceptions about instant coffee. I’d love to know more about your experiences and how it’s ultimately equipped you for this unique approach towards specialty coffee.
U: What’s prepared me for this role is honestly being biracial. Growing up half Japanese and half Norwegian, I learned to navigate between worlds that seemed binary. It’s easier for me to re-imagine, adapt and see what’s possible, because I’m used to holding many perspectives. When your whole experience has been multiple choice, it intuitively makes sense that coffee can be specialty and instant at the same time! And intuitively, you understand how to build that.
E: Wow! I was not expecting such a profound answer, but you knocked it out of the park. It’s a refreshing feeling when hearing an answer that’s real and is part of shaping who you are. People have been very receptive to the latest released Fore!. Is there anything else you’d like to add about it?
U: It’s literally the best coffee we’ve ever put out. Fore! is special because of not only the flavor profiles, but it’s the first blend we put out with Sudden Coffee’s 3.0 method. We’ve improved our brewing process, and the coffee tastes even more amazing. We’ve increased the amount of coffee in each tube, which further improves the flavor. I looked at the impact of water chemistry, and how that varies regionally, and optimized our brewing strength based on that. And we’re also rolling out compostable tubes!
E: I’m super excited to see and follow future projects Sudden Coffee has in store for research and development. Is there anything you’d like to tell our readers for what’s to come?
U: When we went through Y Combinator, we learned a lot about customer listening, and it’s really helped us to improve the experience. Before, we were basically marketing to ourselves - millennials in cities. But we learned that our most passionate customers are actually living outside of major cities, which totally made sense. They’re accomplished, they’re busy, they’re in their forties and fifties. They love quality and good food, and don’t geographically have access to specialty cafes. So Sudden makes a huge difference!
And we’re evolving the experience with that customer in mind. We’re rethinking all the details, from our packaging, to the cards we send out with each order to the little bonuses and gifts we want to include. In the near future, we’ll be offering a variety of coffees to choose from, so the subscription is super customizable. We’re super excited to have this direction and run with it!
E: Thank you so much for your time Umeko! I’m super excited to follow along with Sudden Coffee’s journey and see you leading the forefront of coffee development there.