For episode 5 of our podcast, we speak with Christine Matta about her travels to China and how she became a Q grader. We explore what motivates Christine, what she’s learned about coffee and China, where she sees coffee going in the future, and how coffee can promote equality. Most importantly, we hope Christine’s courage inspires you to take that next big step in your career, whatever that may be!
For most of us, moving to China and/or becoming a Q grader would be massive undertakings, or at least require some planning. For Christine, moving to China was almost accidental. After being laid off from her advertising job, Christine found herself ready for a new challenge, and said yes to a random phone call from a church helping farmers in Yunnan.
While in China, Christine developed a relationship with a struggling coffee grower. Perhaps without knowing how difficult it would be, she decided to become a Q grader, simply to help one individual understand his crop better. If learning Chinese wasn’t hard enough already, she now had to learn the language of coffee. And learn she did, now she’s a Q and back in the US to tell her story!
I had been connected to a group that did church planting work in China, and they invited me to come. At that time it was like “come for a year and help us out”. Because I got laid off I decided to go. I had a house, a car, everything, and I just decided I needed a change. Because I’m multinational, it was a natural thing for me to do.
Specialty cafes are popping up everywhere (in Asia). I think one reason for that is people want quality and also people in Asia love what we’re doing in the west, and so they’re taking their cues from what’s happening here and because specialty coffee is a growing scene in America, young people there are really latching on to that and bringing in this coffee culture which is amazing.
There’s a lot of incentives that the government is giving. The government sees this as a growing commodity. In the 90’s they were sending out 3,600 tonnes of coffee, now it’s about 28,000. I think that people will see that and they want in on that.
In China, a lunch meeting is like an all day event. People just build relationships over food, over tea. That’s just the culture there.
I met this coffee farmer, and he showed me what he was doing, and he was doing a lot of awesome projects with local tribal people. And I really wanted to get involved and help him. The problem was that I had no idea what I was talking about and I just didn’t know coffee enough to help him at all. So out of this desire to help him, that’s how I connected with Torch Coffee Company. And I realized the value in learning about coffee professionally as a taster. For me it kind of linked that quality of the coffee, where it comes from, what the attributes are, and linked it with being able to talk about coffee in a way that represented coffee farmers. But I really didn’t know what I was getting into!
I had the great people at Torch to really guide me and train me and mentor me. Every day we were cupping different coffees and talking about it. Improving my sensory memory. Learning about the different region. If I did not have them, I would have have been able to pass the Q at all.
On learning Chinese: Be in an environment where you’re hearing it a lot and just be brave. Talk, and even if you sound awful (which you will), you just have to pretend to be confident and have courage.
On risk: Honestly, I’m honestly not a huge risk taker. The older I’ve gotten, maybe the more and more I want that risk in my life! I’ve been doing this crazy life thing for the last 8 years. Before this I was stable, in one place for a long time. Now I’m here and I just want to kind of relax and enjoy being settle for a for a little while.
Advice for people just getting into coffee: Develop your sensory memory, use the coffee flavor wheel, use the coffee Lexicon. In the World Coffee Lexicon, you can download online and it gives you a reference for every flavor. So if they describe citric – lemon. You just buy a lemon from the supermarket and taste it. Especially the things you’re not familiar with. Developing that sensory memory, so that whey when you are tasting coffee, you can taste the thing you want to describe.
Follow Christine on: Instagram or email christine at joebeanroasters.com