Dine 11.5

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Coffee Project The Coffee Ambassador

There’s a reason so many of us have such positive associations with coffee. Sure, it tastes great— but it’s not as if that flavor surpasses everything else you’ve ever passed over your taste buds. So what then? “It’s not so much about the coffee,” Bryan Chiem reveals. “It’s about coffee being the glue that brings people together.” He elaborates: “We can sit in a lab all day and talk about how it tastes or the science behind the coffee, but if we have no one to share it with then it means nothing.” Chiem, founder of Tōno Coffee Project, acts as a sort of coffee ambassador. He’s one of the baristas who understand their impact reaches beyond the counter. “The farmers put in their work, they ship that over to the roaster; the roasters put in their time, then they hand it off to the baristas—and the baris70

Dine 11.5

tas hand it off to the consumers. Anywhere along the process, things can go terribly wrong,” Chiem explains. “The barista’s very much the front line of that. If I’m not making something as good as I think it can be, then, not only am I not doing a good job, but I’m doing a disservice to everyone before me.” But beyond his commitment to represent the coffee he serves well, Chiem also brings specialty coffee to unreached demographics by opening his pop-up in all sorts of unexpected locations: warehouses and weddings, barbershops and thrift stores, even the Rose Garden. “I like spaces that facilitate more conversation and curiosity,” he explains. For instance, “I think people who thrift are from all walks of life, and they have a little more time to hangout and talk story and ask about what I’m doing.”

For him, this industry is so much more than profit. “I try my best not to be a coffee schlepper,” he states. “My goal is always to contribute to a concept so people feel welcomed to hang out and talk to their neighbors or people around them. That’s how coffee transforms a space.” One of his favorite pop-up experiences was selling Vietnamese coffee out of a 10 by 10 space in the parking lot of Eastridge Center during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Festival. He considered it an honor not only to source and support this emmerging region, but to serve a demographic with a pride and connection to that particular country. “The East Side community doesn’t see much of the type of coffee services that I put on,” he adds. East Side, the neighborhood of Chiem’s childhood, is

Written by Johanna Hickle Photography by Daniel Garcia Tōno Coffee Project tono.coffee Instagram tonocoffeeproject