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CQI Educator Interview: Coffea School

September 7, 2023
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Our Lecturer program includes trained educators who have a wealth of subject matter expertise and are already working in their communities to help improve coffee quality and the livelihood of coffee producers.

We had the opportunity to chat with CQI Lecturers Maria Esther Lopez-Thome and Dylan Thome about their careers in coffee, their Miami-based business, Coffea School and their experience teaching some new CQI classes.  

First let’s learn more about Maria and Dylan.

Maria is originally from Venezuela and her family does not come from coffee. She is a lawyer with expertise in custom taxes who represented Venezuela in court and dealt with many political issues in her career there. She had her own opinions about the government and stood by her beliefs, which led to threats and unrest. She decided to transition out of this lifestyle and in 2005, she began to learn about coffee. By 2010 she was already a SCAA Lead Instructor and hd fully immersed herself into the world of coffee. She fell in love with coffee and never looked back - it brought her peace. When Coffea was created, Maria had been teaching the SCA program around the world for many years, especially Latin America.

Dylan studied business administration in college and started his career in coffee in 2011 as a barista. In 2014 he was intrigued by roasting and began working for a startup roasting company. He began to take SCAA courses and eventually took the Q Grader course as well. Dylan wanted to shift over to the education side of coffee because he felt that “the more you learn the less you know.” He felt that there was always more to learn about coffee, and he was eager to teach back to the coffee community.

How did Coffea School begin?

Coffea School began in 2018 when Maria and Dylan were living in Argentina. The first classes were taught there and in Peru. In 2019 they opened a physical location in Miami, Florida. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit a few months after their grand opening – which set them back as people were not able to take classes. They weathered the storm and two years later, despite the pandemic, they grew enough to move their business next door to a larger space, with the intention of expanding the educational side of the business and the roastery as well. Maria and Dylan have been involved in many steps of the coffee supply chain. They buy coffee, roast it, and teach about it! Their outlook is:

Through education we can continue to improve the specialty coffee industry and be part of the solution!”

What quality do you like best about coffee?

Maria noted that for her, it’s the people! Coffee brings people together. Maria and Dylan come from different backgrounds – but they found each other through coffee. Coffee does not discriminate.

Dylan agreed, noting that coffee is a conduit to connect people from all over the world and all throughout the supply chain.

Coffea School visits Ethiopia

What brought you to CQI?

Maria and Dylan were both drawn to the educational offerings at CQI – but from different perspectives. Maria has been interested in coffee quality since the beginning of her coffee career. Understanding coffee flavor was a goal for her fom the beginning. She was also drawn to the Post-Harvest Processing (PHP) program, while Dylan was more interested in the Quality Evaluation program as he had read many interesting articles about Q Graders around the world.

What made you want to become a CQI Lecturer?  

CQI’s mission resonated with Maria – and the impact and work focused on producers. She admired CQI as an organization and was also inspired by instructors she met throughout her career. Maria noted that to her, the PHP program is unique, important, and it’s the future of coffee – especially when it pertains to Robusta.

Dylan also noted that the PHP program has always been intriguing to him. His dad grew up on a wheat farm – so he was taught from an early age to be respectful about where food comes from, and the hard work put into production. He traveled to Nicaragua and studied there, learning more about coffee processing.

It was on their radar to take the next steps and become CQI Educators to give back and help producers by teaching people to understand what coffee producing really is – and through this knowledge, create awareness so consumers can appreciate and understand the value in the coffee they enjoy every morning.

"Learning Flavor Standards" class in Puerto Rico.

What was your experience teaching new CQI classes such as, “Understanding Tastes and Flavors” & “Learning CQI Flavor Standards”?

Maria and Dylan thought that “Understanding Tastes and Flavors” was interesting as sensory students had the opportunity to explore the standard sensory analysis tools of aroma and flavor references and use them in the context of quality evaluation. It was a technical class with a lot of value to the students.

To them, teaching “Learning CQI Flavor Standards” was a truly amazing experience. This class took place in Puerto Rico, and it was filled with producers, roasters, coffee shop owners, Q Graders, and even people who were new to coffee. There was no pressure to pass or fail – so students approached this experience with an open mind, and they had fun participating.  Coffea School added in another fun surprise to the class – tasting Fine Robusta coffees they had brought from Uganda!

Are you working on any new projects you would like to share with the CQI community?

Maria and Dylan want to continue their teaching efforts to help with career development and educating the coffee industry. They truly believe in the power of education. They are even teaching some classes online! Here is a list of their upcoming classes:

9/16: Learning CQI Flavor Standards

9/21: Introduction to Post-Harvest Processing – Online/Spanish

9/22: Introduction to Post-Harvest Processing – Online/English

10/07: Learning CQI Flavor Standards – Spanish

10/31: Intro to CQI Cupping

Feel free to contact them for more information:

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Both Maria and Dylan see growth in their company – by providing employment opportunities, while also growing the roasting/selling side more. They want to continue teaching and traveling to origin more to deliver those classes to producers and coffee aficionados.

They also want to continue their career development at CQI. Maria and Dylan recently became assistant instructors for the PHP program.

Learn more about Coffea School.