Welcome to The Sprudge Twenty Interviews presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2022 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty.
Marissa has been instrumental in bringing together the AAPI community in coffee over the past year and a half. At the height of hate incidents towards AAPI folx due to harmful messaging from the government regarding the spread of COVID-19, Marissa launched @coffeeasians on Instagram and hosted the first Check-In over Zoom. For many of us, that was the first time we had seen just Asian faces in a coffee event, where we were centered, primary, the reason to gather. We didn’t know we needed it, and many of us verbalized how powerful it was to be there with each other. Since then, Marissa has hosted more check-ins and started a channel on Discord, which has brought us together in the day-to-day things. She carries many burdens herself—working while getting Tanbrown Coffee off the ground this year while staying socially active in advocacy to dismantle anti-Blackness everywhere. She is a true ally to many marginalized groups and a dynamic leader in specialty coffee. I wouldn’t feel as seen in this space if it were not for her heart, passion, and contributions.
Nominated by Joyce Yong
Do you have any coffee-making rituals?
So, I guess this is all to say it really depends if I’m at home, in the shop, or if I am having a high or low stress day. I would say that if I am in the shop I will make myself iced coffee or an iced pour-over for easy drinking and longevity. When I am at home, I like spending time studying and appreciating all of the beautiful coffees, so I take time to manual brew coffee and sometimes make sure I make enough to force either my roommates or anyone who is around me to try it.
What is the quality you like best about coffee?
For coffee, I am fascinated by microscopic changes. I am a BIG NERD, so something that engages me is the fact that the same coffee can taste completely different when brewed even slightly different, the seemingly microscopic changes in time and grind really make me think conceptually about what’s happening, and I think that makes me really excited. Outside of the exploration aspect, I am really driven by the social aspects of coffee whether it is rooted in social causes or the fact that it is the root of a global supply chain, the amount of systems put in place to think about coffee locally versus global is infinite. I am very passionate about the room for growth in the coffee industry and am interested in seeing how we continue to stretch and bloom together.
Best song to brew coffee to at the moment.
Anything that’s not Tame Impala or Mac Demarco. Probably anything Janelle Monae (my true love)
Do you have a favorite item of clothing to make coffee in?
Typically, I like brewing coffee in shorts and a huge baggy t-shirt and if I am out, my platform, yellow Crocs have been making me smile.
What was the last cup of coffee you enjoyed?
Honestly, recently I have been enjoying cups of coffee people make for me, the way they like it. I love to see what makes people excited or what they end up feeling the most comfortable drinking day in and day out. If we’re talking about beans, I would say, I really loved a koji process coffee I tried in a class, it was just novel to me, so I liked it because it felt like I was learning.
What is your idea of coffee happiness?
Making an iced pour-over, splitting it into four or five cups, handing them all to different people, and telling them to taste it. My idea of happiness is sharing with others and watching people describe coffee in ways they had never described before and watching their faces light up. It is magic.
What issue in coffee do you care about most?
This is a LOADED question. I think I personally care most about having a more inclusive coffee future. I believe the coffee world needs to be led, fostered and cared by black and brown people and queer people. Right now, the scope I am focusing on is bringing more visibility to the Asian coffee community. However, though we make up a large part of the companies, we are still scattered and need a semblance of solidarity. I really care about breaking stigmas people have about Asian coffee, Asian people, and Asian people in coffee. We are so vast and have a lot of different backgrounds, it is a shame that many companies whether explicitly or implicitly see us as a monolith.
What cause or element in coffee drives you?
I am driven by the pursuit of education, community growth, and fostering paths that demonstrate diverse pathways within the coffee industry rather than the hierarchical ladder. Many people have been spoon-fed. I believe education and agency allow folks to grow and flourish in the ways they need and allow for stronger futures. Because so much of coffee in the west is gatekept, there are few outlets for baristas on the floor to feel motivated to stay in the industry so many leave and I want to see that change. I know part of the battle is showing up and the other part is figuring out ways to make these moments passionate open to all because this industry in particular is FILLED with people who just crave access, how can we do better to provide that? Because I have experienced a lot of community care in the midst of having a lack of access to education in my city, I have seen how it has allowed me to learn and grow as a coffee professional and I hope more folks have the space to receive the education they need to thrive and make a difference for the better of the industry.
What issue in coffee do you think is critically overlooked?
Truly actively listening to see what people need and want. So much can be fixed with a conversation that leads to action.
Did you experience a “god shot” or life-changing moment of coffee revelation early in your life?
Honestly, I have sense memories of drinking raspberry white chocolate mochas when I was younger and that was something that made me feel comforted and happy. When it came to the switch into specialty, it was after I willed myself to drink only black coffee because milk was hurting my stomach and I just tasted a lot of things from different shops.
If you could have any job in the coffee industry, what would it be and why?
I would love to head an education program. I LOVE EDUCATION. I am a big nerd and have found that I am skilled at teaching and making people feel comfortable, so I would love to continue to learn about the things I don’t know to be able to share concepts with people around me. I also would love to just roast for the rest of my life because that magic has not faded from my heart yet.
Who are your coffee heroes?
I don’t know if I have coffee heroes anymore! I have had the chance to get to know and love a bunch of folks I never thought I would have the chance to. I think if I were to name coffee heroes, I would probably say at the place I am in, my coffee heroes are the baristas working on the floor and the producers putting in the labor to grow and tend to the roots of this plant that connects all of us.
If you could drink coffee with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
My biological mother, deeply personal, I know. I don’t know her and I think it would be a moment either good or bad, but it would really solidify the power of coffee to connect people.
Do you have any coffee mentors?
Joel Ballard who was the person who was most impactful to me in my early coffee journey is someone I still consider a coffee mentor. Sum from Coffee Project NY has also helped me with learning to roast and Tio Fallen from Three Keys has also been integral to my growth in coffee.
What do you wish someone would’ve told you when you were first starting out in coffee?
I wish someone would have told me how there is no ladder in coffee and that people can and should fit into roles based off of their interests and skills. I also wish someone affirmed me in my interest in sensory development and how to improve!
Where do you see yourself in 2042?
I see myself trying to take care of myself and others and succeeding. I also see myself hopefully continuing to be curious, explorative and hope to be caring through all of it.
The Sprudge Twenty Interviews are presented by Pacific Barista Series. For a complete list of 2022 Sprudge Twenty honorees please visit sprudge.com/twenty.