By Puja Gupta
New Delhi, Sep 17 (IANSlife) As an international coffee expert, Sherri Johns has had an incredible presence in the coffee industry. Over the past 40 years, she has worked on educating people about the brew, helped brands set up coffee businesses, one of them being Starbucks, and opened cafes across the world.
She has now co-developed ARAKU, a certified organic, luxury coffee brand, with a group of international experts. ARAKU finds its origins in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley, where it is grown by the tribals of the Eastern Ghats.
IANSlife caught up with Johns, who was recently in the national capital. Excerpts from the interview:
How did you fall in love with coffee?
SJ: I grew up around brewed coffee. In our home, my mom always brewed fresh coffee for every meal and any time a neighbour would come by. I was not allowed to drink it, but I enjoyed the aromas immensely and understood that sharing coffee was a community event. Once at the university, I was the designated coffee brewer for my study group (with pleasure). Typically, I would have four French presses, each one with a different origin coffee, and took delight in sharing the attributes with fellow students. I was living in San Francisco then and when not in class enjoyed having cappuccino at the Italian cafes. Coffee is a celebration and it is my honour to be a part of this amazing beverage.
How did it become a profession?
SJ: I landed a job, just by chance, at the only espresso bar located on an US campus at the time and truly fell in love with coffee and brewing and sharing it. After a few weeks, the manager of the cafe asked what I was doing differently and what was all the fuss about coffee. To her, it was a line item on a menu but to me, it was a story in a cup. Exotic flavours of far away places. Soon, I trained the staff on how to brew and taste. We did not call ourselves baristas at the time, we just brewed darn good coffee and took pride in “sharing the love”. Summer came around and I was offered the position to manage a bohemian coffeehouse in a hip area of San Francisco. Of course, I jumped at the chance. There we served beans and brews of 15-20 different origin coffees. While there, in 1980, I entered and won a cappuccino competition and was dubbed “the Cappuccino Queen of San Francisco”, winning first place in 3 years out of the 4 that I entered. As a professional taster, I have lead juries throughout the world on recognising the best coffees for many countries. It was a fascination which began early in my life and continues to this day.
Tell us more about your journey.
SJ: I managed high profile cafes, I owned and operated my cafe in San Francisco, which was designated the best place to enjoy cappuccino by Travel and Leisure magazine. Then I was recruited by, what was at the time, a little company called Starbucks, and moved to Portland Oregon to help launch the company in training, retail ops, media, etc. Following a tenure there, I began to travel the world and learn more and more about coffee, people, and cultures while working as a consultant opening cafes for others to be successful. While on the board of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), I launched the World Barista Championship, defined technical standards, and launched this programme globally. Another programme that I co-authored, the Ultimate Barista Challenge, ran in multiple countries for 10 years. I was Cup of Excellence head judge for 14 years.
What is your role at Araku.
SJ: At Araku, my focus is to educate the diverse Indian market on the nuances of specialty coffee. Over the past year, I have conducted numerous cupping and brewing sessions for select consumers in various cities. I was pleasantly surprised to see the coffee boom in India, with people across cities showing interest in high-quality coffee. Araku has given me the opportunity to shake and stir the vibrant Indian coffee market by offering not just the world’s best coffee, but also introducing Coffeeology – which is the art of enhancing the coffee experience.
Tell us more about Araku coffee.
SJ: Araku is grown in the world’s largest certified organic plantations, in micro-lots and selectively harvested to fully express the richness of its unique character. Combining smoothness, balance and roundness, ARAKU coffee is pure Arabica, with a rare aromatic profile and is certified as an organic fair-trade product.
The certified organic, luxury coffee brand finds its origins in Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley, where it is grown by the adivasis of the Eastern Ghats and developed by international coffee experts. Araku offers the first terroir-based coffee varieties in the world. It has also recently been accredited the status of the first ever SCA Certified Premier Training campus in India.
How do you like your coffee?
SJ: The short answer is DELICIOUS. A slightly longer answer is… black and hot, or Iced on the rocks, perfectly prepared cappuccino is nice and a macchiato mid morning is also a treat. Must be fresh roasted and prepared with care.
Which is the best coffee you had and where?
SJ: I get asked that question a lot. And you will think I am being a politician with the answer but it is true. Many growing countries are capable to produce ordinary to great quality coffee. Depending on terroir, cultivars and harvest techniques. Roasting is key in the coffees own journey and certainly a professionally trained barista is the key. There are many exceptional coffees in the world, and many more ordinary ones. My current favourite is Araku, not only because of the care behind every cup, and the unique flavour profiles, but also because of the opportunity in front of every cup. It is the future of farmers.
Any weird demand or comment from coffee drinkers?
SJ: There are so many strange. The best comments are when those who have never tasted really high-quality coffee are shocked to learn that coffee does not need milk or sugar. In fact, we received many such reactions, at Araku’s cupping and brewing sessions that we conducted in India.
Where all have you travelled being a coffee specialist?
SJ: I am sure I have forgotten some here, but from the top of my head… Bolivia, Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Peru, Panama, Malaysia, Australia, Italy, Japan, Korea, UK, Ireland, Germany, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and of course, India, where I have spent considerable time in the South and around the Araku Valley. It is the origin countries I enjoy the most. But having the opportunity to engage with the tribals who produce Araku’s coffee has been truly enriching.
(Puja Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])