Saturday, January 17, 2009

The man from coffee country

Matheos Viktor Messakh , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Sat, 01/17/2009 1:04 PM | Lifestyle

Once upon a time, not so long ago, Fajar Eka Putra was no fan of coffee.
Today, however, he is a self-described coffee lover.

Coffee credentials: Fajar Eka Putra was chosen as Starbucks Coffee Ambassador for 2009, promoting coffee and educating employees and customers on the brew. (Courtesy of Starbucks Indonesia)Coffee credentials: Fajar Eka Putra was chosen as Starbucks Coffee Ambassador for 2009, promoting coffee and educating employees and customers on the brew. (Courtesy of Starbucks Indonesia)

“A coffee lover is not the same as a coffee addict,” Fajar told The Jakarta Post recently. “I don’t just drink the beverage; I love everything about coffee, including the stories
behind it.”

Just as well, then, that loving coffee is his job; it possibly even features in his performance appraisal.

In November last year, around the same time he turned 23, Fajar was chosen as coffee ambassador of Starbucks Indonesia.

He is the fourth coffee ambassador here since the coffeehouse company introduced the Coffee Ambassador Cup in 2004, two years after opening its first store at the Plaza Indonesia shopping mall in May 2002.

As in every Starbucks store around the world, every new employee is required to go through a 90-day training program called the “coffee passport program” to become a barista – someone who is an expert in making coffees.

Next comes the Coffee Explorer test, after which you can move onto Store Coffee Master level, and then onto District Coffee Master level. The district coffee masters are eligible to compete for the Coffee Ambassador Cup. Only one is chosen every year, making it rather competitive.
Across its 72 coffee shops across Indonesia, Starbucks has about 800 coffee explorers, 206 coffee masters and 18 district coffee masters.

Anyone visiting an outlet can identify which is which: A coffee explorer wears a green apron, a coffee master wears a black apron and a district coffee master wears a brown apron.

Fajar’s meteoric rise to Starbucks stardom started when he took a job at the Starbucks Coffee Paris Van Java in Bandung, West Java, in November 2007. He worked his way up to the position of supervisor at the store and then, after passing a written test and the final presentation stage, captured the title of Coffee Ambassador.

No longer a humble barista who simply puts that coffee training into practice through the standard tasks they are hired to do, as an ambassador Fajar is out and about a lot more.

In the same way a country’s ambassador speaks for and promotes that country when abroad, the coffee ambassador’s work is to raise the image of coffee both within Starbucks and without.
“It is my job to know as much as possible about coffee – its origins, processing methods, the different flavors such as extra bold or mild, the different tastes it can have such as earthy or citrus-like, the blends available and the foods that pair well with a particular kind of coffee.”

He works with others in the company to create opportunities to learn more about coffee – coffee tastings each morning and coffee class once a week – and coordinates gatherings of coffee masters and workshops to coach employees and consumers.

“I am supposed to be an expert on [Starbucks] products and take charge of furthering knowledge about coffee,” he said.

The ambassador also conducts coffee series when the need arises. This involves a talk on coffee, and a session during which he teaches people how “proper” coffee tasting is done.
Besides that, he is also the Starbucks representative who works with the media on any event that involves, well, coffee.

That Fajar landed the position shows he has the necessary qualities, which go beyond mastering milk-frothing techniques – the role demands good leadership skills and the ability to coach others. A sound knowledge of coffee is important but also necessary is a good grasp of general knowledge too.

The best person for the job, said Fajar, is someone friendly and easygoing. “You need to be an extrovert and have the confidence to speak in public. This is because you will be constantly interacting with people, both your customers and colleagues. A willingness to take up challenges and a passion for learning are other prerequisites.”

Overall, it sounds like a lot for a 23-year-old with only one year’s experience in the business – but he’s not complaining.

“What I like about working at Starbucks is that the company is very people-oriented. I do different things from moment to the next. At one moment I could be behind the cash register and the next moment I could be chatting with people around the store, including fellow employees and customers.”

Of course, the position of coffee ambassador does not come without perks. He will be sent to Seattle to attend the Starbucks International’s Coffee Education Functional Immersion, and has already visited coffee farms in Hong Kong.

For a young man starting his career, the future looks bright.

“The position might not have so much impact when it comes to salary but it does for the exposure and the training, which can prepare me for more success later in life. It’s an honor to represent Starbucks and to know more about coffee,” he said. “It’s also a plus for my performance appraisal.”

And good practice for that unknown day when he moves to the next stage in his plans – to run his own coffee-related business.

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