Our Journeys Through Coffee: Celebrate International Coffee Day 2023 with four of our Asia-Pacific Partners

International Coffee Day marks a moment for all coffee lovers to come together, celebrate, learn about, and be inspired by this beloved beverage.

Since it’s the connections between our partners, customers and communities that make this beverage so special, International Coffee Day is the perfect time to learn more about the personal stories behind our partners’ coffee experiences.

Kris Benny Sinuraya, Indonesia

Coffee has been part of Kris Benny Sinuraya’s life for as long as he can remember. Growing up in a coffee farming family in Medan, Sumatra, it’s no surprise that coffee became his passion – one that has only grown since becoming a Starbucks partner.

Now a district coffee master and store manager at the Williem Iskandar Medan store, Kris Benny’s Starbucks career has been full of amazing moments, such as joining 2019’s Sumatra Origin Experience trip – an eye-opening coffee farm experience reserved for Starbucks partners to understand the origin and journey of Starbucks coffee beans. During this trip, he got the chance to visit the Starbucks Farmer Support Center in his home region. “I learned so much and jumped right in to see how the coffee journey happens from seed to cup,” he says. “When the trip finished, I immediately discussed with my family how to implement that knowledge on our coffee farm.”

Beyond that, Kris Benny believes that sharing his knowledge with Starbucks customers and partners is also vital to enhancing the coffee experience. “Ultimately, my goal is to make coffee more than just a daily routine; it’s about a culture of appreciation and connection through this beloved beverage.” For him, that has involved spearheading initiatives like creating coffee seminars and holding talks with the local community.

In that vein, Kris Benny hopes to continue making a difference to the people and future of coffee. “I will advocate for fair wages and better living conditions for coffee farmers and their communities,” he explains. “I also want to share my knowledge about coffee origins, brewing methods and the importance of quality, empowering consumers to make informed choices and appreciate the nuances of coffee. I hope to contribute to a more sustainable, ethical, and inclusive coffee culture that positively impacts both individuals and coffee-producing communities worldwide.”

Vennibell Jotiol, Malaysia

For Vennibell Jotiol, coffee has been “an amazing journey of learning and growth”.

Now a shift manager and coffee master at George Town’s Signing Store Burmah Road, Starbucks’ first Signing Store in Penang, Vennibell recalls being shy upon first starting her Starbucks’ journey. However, her confidence soon mounted thanks to the support of her Starbucks partners, who “provided encouragement, mentorship, and a sense of belonging that helped me believe in myself and my abilities”.

Similarly, practicing tasks such as preparing coffees and interacting with customers daily when she was a barista, followed by expanding her knowledge through the coffee master program, further boosted her confidence and expertise. These days she finds herself guiding partners to follow in her footsteps of achieving coffee master status – offering knowledge, training, and support to “create an environment where everyone can grow and develop their coffee skills to the fullest”.

“Coffee has provided me with a means to engage more deeply with both our partners and customers,” Vennibell adds. “I’ve been able to foster stronger connections, meaningful conversations and build a sense of community among us.”

Empowering Deaf partners like herself is a cause particularly close to Vennibell’s heart and she aims to create more opportunities for Deaf partners to enter coffee competitions and showcase their skills to the public. “I hope to break down barriers and stereotypes while fostering inclusivity and equal opportunities,” she explains.

While she’s now in a position to teach others, Vennibell is eager to continue learning and hopes to achieve advanced coffee master certification across various brewing methods. She aspires to then take that knowledge to educate even more Deaf individuals about coffee, enabling them to receive the same level of teaching as hearing individuals. “My goal is to ensure that everyone, regardless of their hearing ability, can fully appreciate and excel in the world of coffee.”

Hangeul Lee, South Korea

“My role in coffee is like a tour guide,” Hangeul Lee enthuses. “I taste various kinds and study coffee from countries all over the world, then I share those experiences with customers. Although I haven’t visited those countries in person, I feel like I’m making a trip there through coffee.”

A shift supervisor and coffee master at Seoul’s Byuldabang store , Hangeul loves exploring the diversity of coffee and passing that knowledge onto customers. Part of delving deeper into coffee’s origins for her coffee master certification meant discovering more about ethical sourcing – information that she is proud to share with Starbucks’ drinkers. “Customers don’t always know how we harvest coffee and how it’s grown, but I want to let them know the importance of fair trade, so that we can be fair to both coffee farms and farmers and help them raise their quality of life.”

Given coffee’s popularity in South Korea – the country ranks second highest in the world for coffee consumption – Hangeul is thrilled to see other sustainable initiatives being adopted by her community. She highlights Starbucks’ introduction of reusable cup programs in South Korea, including at her own Byuldabang branch, with a discount or bonus star offered to customers who bring their own cups.

“Creating eco-friendly stores informs customers about sustainability and resilient coffee supplies,” Hangeul explains. “It provides an option to participate in helping the environment while buying a cup of coffee.”

Tuxsaporn Wattanayotin, Thailand

“It’s not just coffee we serve every day,” says Tuxsaporn Wattanayotin. “Our coffee is something that connects people.”

Having been with Starbucks for 11 years, Tuxsaporn is now an assistant store manager at Chiang Mai’s Ruamchok Mall branch and coffee master who finished runner-up in 2022’s Asia-Pacific Coffee Story Championship. She is passionate about telling customers the story behind their cup of coffee “to inspire them and make them appreciate the people behind it”.

Having grown up in a coffee producing area, she is especially eager to showcase “another side of the story”, telling customers about the farmers who dedicate their lives to growing and developing coffee.

While describing herself as shy, Tuxsaporn has seen her confidence grow through these storytelling moments, saying “I can make a lot of friends through coffee!” She fondly remembers one of her first coffee tastings with a customer, where she deliberately chose to showcase Starbucks’ Muan Jai Blend, which is produced in the area where she grew up.

After relating the farmers’ hard work and how profits from the blend improved their quality of life, she describes how her customer “took a sip and said it was the best cup of coffee they’d ever had”. She continues, “They said it was because the story I told them made the coffee more delicious – and to keep telling this to other customers so they’d know that good coffee makes good things happen for the people that grow it”.

It's this connection between herself, coffee farmers, and customers that Tuxsaporn values most of all. “When customers hear these stories, it’s not just about the taste of the coffee – I can feel the happiness in their hearts.”