Few addictive substances have flourished for centuries, inspired cultural movements, and united people across borders and social classes, and are still completely welcome -- if not expected, at no cost -- in the professional workplace.
Thankfully, coffee has survived. And many of us credit it with our own survival (we’re looking at you, Monday mornings). Whether you take it light and sweet, topped with a mountain of milk foam, brewed strong in a mug the size of a shot glass, or watered down in a fish bowl, adulterated with pumpkin spices or cremated into instant-brew crystals (heathens), you are a part of a global community that understands the value (nay -- the necessity) of the perfect cup.
Though coffee is ubiquitous in the Americas, Europe, and Australia (and is consumed in ever larger numbers in places like India and China), Japan remains a country of stalwart tea steepers. So when Ryoko Iwata, a diplomat with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, found herself posted in Seattle, she had yet to experience so much as a single sip of joe.
And as Ryoko came to learn how to navigate life in her new city -- arguably America’s coffee Mecca -- she decided that as part of her cultural indoctrination, she would wrap her head around the beverage and document her journey online.
“I was in the education field for a decade, and a Japanese language education advisor for the Japanese government,” says Ryoko. As such, her inclination to share her findings was hard-wired. Newcomer to both bean and beverage, she found herself fact-hunting and flushing out what she found with the enthusiasm of a convert.
It just so happened that at same time as she was learning to be a coffee connoisseur, Ryoko was also teaching herself how to build websites. “Writing code, drawing, designing, managing a website, running social media -- everything was new to me,” she says. And, at the junction of a voracious student and an experienced educator, I Love Coffee emerged.
Ryoko’s site explores the facts and figures, as well as the fun, associated with coffee. She presents her findings by way of informative posts about the origins of coffee, the processes associated with brewing, statistics and definitions, and shareable infographics, many of which have gained viral success. She also responds personally to her readers -- when Starbucks launched their take on an oft-ordered, barista-brewed Australian drink, her fans wanted Ryoko’s take; as such she produced a clever infographic answering the question,“What’s a flat white?”
“I started the site to share American coffee culture with Japanese people because we were behind, and the third-wave of coffee culture is finally hitting Japan,” says Ryoko, who produces I Love Coffee in both English and Japanese. “I thought having English was optional, but I didn’t think it was necessary,” she shares. Entrepreneurs often find success where least expected -- and today approximately 98% of her traffic comes to the English-language site. “Now I write it in English first, and then translate to Japanese. I almost think I am writing the Japanese version just for my mom in Japan, to show that I am still working on the site and am alive!”
Her accomplishments have opened doors Ryoko never expected when she began building a simple blog about a woman new to a pervasively perked beverage that served as her adopted home’s lifeblood, one cup at a time. Her latest endeavor is a book of some of her most beloved posts, and more, called Coffee Gives Me Super Powers: An Illustrated Book about the Most Awesome Beverage on Earth.
So what’s the special brew that has yielded Ryoko her loyal, avid audience? We credit the content. “It’s just a simple, easy, and fast read,” she says. “I know people are not patient on the internet, and want to learn something fun that they can tell other people the next day, so I make really simple stuff.
And what fuels this self-taught illustrator, writer, web producer and late-to-the-table latte sipper? “I like a latte in the morning, and an Americano in the afternoon,” she says. However, too much of a good thing may lead to slightly fewer posts; “I just went to the doctor and was told that I’ve been drinking too much coffee and have to cut back. I only drink, like, eight shots a day!”
Ryoko proves that today’s successful entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily need to possess the most qualified skill set, the highest level connections, the most seed money, or even extensive subject knowledge -- grande-sized passion, audience insight, and an awful lot of caffeine can be enough.
We’ll roast to that.
Visit I Love Coffee and check out Ryoko's book, Coffee Gives Me Super Powers: An Illustrated Book about the Most Awesome Beverage on Earth, on Amazon.