Her name is Nopparat Arpornsuwan, but she asked us to call her “Yong.” Standing on a Seattle street corner with tears welling up in her eyes she tried to explain why the brown apron folded up and in her backpack is so precious to her.
“Is this true? Or [am] I still sleep? Is [this] my dream?” she said. And then the tears took over. “I didn’t think that I would have the chance to be here.”
Her day shift, 8 hours of training with baristas at the Starbucks Reserve® Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle, was about to begin.
“At that moment it’s ahhhh ... ooooh ... so beautiful this Roastery store,” Yong said.
Yong’s journey to the corner of Melrose and Pike began 14 years ago in Thailand, when she needed a part-time job and applied at Starbucks in Baan Chart, a tourist area called Khaosan.
“Actually, before, I’m not a coffee lover,” she explains. “Thai people, we love to drink sweet.”
So when her new boss at Starbucks Thailand combined chocolate with coffee, she became a believer. She honed her craft as a barista and later became a store manager.
“And then I develop[ed] myself up and up and up,” she said. Her eyes wide and her hands ready to cheer right there on the corner. That’s because this year, in an epic showdown of coffee mastery in Hong Kong where more than 2,000 Starbucks baristas competed and 600 people observed, Yong won the 2016 China and Asia Pacific Regional Barista Championship .
“I didn’t think that I would be the winner in Thailand,” Yong said. “To be the Coffee Ambassador in Thailand!”
Her coffee knowledge, customer service and ability to create memorable moments through storytelling propelled her on an adventure she never imagined possible. After winning in Thailand, she was invited to Sumatra, Indonesia to learn about the coffee bean’s journey from farm to cup. And then, for earning top honors, Yong was awarded a three-week coffee experience in Seattle, including time at the Starbucks Reserve® Roastery and Tasting Room.
“When I go back to Thailand, I think I will share a lot of information, a lot coffee knowledge,” she said.
She tied her apron on and got to work behind the coffee bar, beaming.
-Nopparat "Yong" Arpornsuwan,
2016 China and Asia Pacific Regional Barista Champion