Beyond the Beans: Melissa & Sunep
By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee
Let us introduce you to one of our Kean Coffee barista dream teams, Melissa Hufford and Sunep Ozukum from our Newport Beach coffeehouse! Our Newport team has been gifted with this talented couple hailing from Hawaii, USA and Nagaland, India, respectively. Sunep and Melissa shared with us their coffee journeys, favorite drinks, and more about themselves.
What started your coffee journey?
Melissa: “I’ve always loved coffee. I always thought latte art looked fun and that being a barista looked cool. Coffee first piqued my interest when I was living in Australia. They have good espresso over there. I used to come and visit my family in California, and this was my brother’s favorite coffee place so we would always come to Kean Coffee every time I came to visit. I worked as a cook at a coffeehouse in Hawaii so when I moved here, I thought I should apply at Kean Coffee since I used to always visit. Four years later, here I am! I love it.”
Sunep: “This is my first job in America. I am loving it. I didn’t grow up with coffee, but I have received so much education from the beautiful team I work with and love serving Kean Coffee.”
What is your favorite part about working in coffee?
Sunep: “Kean Coffee gets very busy. I love running a coffeehouse and the pace of the job. I feel like I’m really getting the job done and doing it well and love the learning aspect that a coffee job has.”
Melissa: “I really like the family feel. The customers and other baristas you work with become part of your family after seeing them every day. We only have two locations and it is nice working in such a high-volume shop that still has a ‘mom and pop’ quality to it. I love the moments when we get to grow more or learn more, like when Hayley takes us aside to try a new coffee and really take it what it smells like and tastes like. It’s so awesome when there’s more opportunities to learn or having a fun moment with your team like a one on one latte art competition. I really miss latte art right now. Just know there’s still love hiding underneath your lid!”
What does coffee look like in Nagaland and Hawaii?
Sunep: “Interestingly, coffee in Nagaland is just starting up right now! When we went back home last year in November, I met up with a friend who had started a coffee business out there. He is like the Martin Diedrich of Nagaland right now. It is very interesting to see him evangelize coffee culture the right way.”
Melissa: “Coffee before that was almost just instant coffee. When I went to visit and asked to get coffee, their idea was getting instant coffee and making it that way, until his [Sunep’s] friend came around. He is extremely passionate and wants to learn more about coffee and bring in the artisan, Italian traditions. It wasn’t like that before.
In Hawaii, we do have a few cafes, but I feel like the education on coffee is still developing in the area. I would say that a lot of the people might not know that much about the actual beans or not really care about the origin. I haven’t been to all the coffeeshops in Hawaii, I am just speaking from my own experience living in Maui. There are lots of coffeeshops, just maybe not specialty coffee shops.”
I heard you had a work abroad opportunity when you last visited Nagaland. How was your experience?
Sunep: *laughs and points to Melissa* “I watched.”
Melissa: “Yes, at his friend’s coffee showing. It felt very different and I was outside of my comfort zone. We are very spoiled at Kean Coffee. He had completely manual grinder…”
Sunep: “Everything was manual!”
Melissa: “There was no button for dosing, you weighed everything, tamped your espresso, and you had to watch your shot and stop the espresso shot by sight or timing yourself. We are so systematic at Kean Coffee so it forced me outside of normal procedures. I asked to stick to steaming milk since he was more familiar with the coffee, but the milk was so different too! The only milk they have is buffalo milk. It texturizes completely different! It really humbled me to see them make such beautiful latte art with this milk that I was completely inexperienced with. They were so comfortable with their craft that they were able to make delicious drinks using their senses and all their experience. It taught me a lot and made me want to get better at what I do because it brought me so far outside of my comfort zone.”
Sunep: “I have not had buffalo milk with coffee but by itself. Buffalo milk is like goat milk. Goat milk has a certain smell and the buffalo milk’s smell is very similar to that.”
What is your latest accomplishment?
Sunep: “Running the coffeehouse! Outside of work, I am building a guitar! It is almost done, and I cannot wait. I couldn’t even sleep for two days straight because I was so excited once the body [of the guitar] and the neck came in. It is time for all of them to marry together into one guitar.”
Melissa: “My fitness journey is one of my latest accomplishments. It has been about a year going to the gym and I am getting even stronger. I also completed a 24-mile bike ride! My brother is really into biking so doing that with him has been really great and getting to be outdoors.”
If you could have coffee with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
Sunep: “Martin Diedrich. He’s the one who introduced me to the coffee world. I would like to sit down with him again. That would be cool. It would be a check off my bucket list, actually.”
Melissa: “I don’t know why… but the first person that popped into my head was Snoop Dog. I just really want to meet him. He seems like a really chill person and I would like to just have a normal conversation with him and see what he’s like in real life over a cup of coffee.
What is your go-to drink at our coffeehouse?
Sunep: “Iced tea lemonade, for sure. I am a tea lover!”
Melissa: “I like so many things! I absolutely love decaf and get teased about that a lot. I am so happy our decaf coffee is actually great, and I can feel good knowing it wasn’t processed with chemicals. My favorite drink would be a small latte in an 8oz cup, almond milk, a packet of coconut sugar, sprinkle of cinnamon, and two decaf shots.”
Martin and Karen Diedrich loved hearing Sunep and Melissa’s travel stories when the pair visited their home before the pandemic to see their coffee trees and bring them a beautiful textile Sunep brought back from Nagaland, pictured below:
Martin looks forward to another sit down coffee chat with Sunep to dive further into the world of coffee. Thank you so much Melissa and Sunep for sharing your stories! Catch them behind the bar or on register at our Newport Beach coffeehouse.
Interview conducted and written by Brittany Leslie, July 24th, 2020