25 September 2017Last updated

Features | People

Cleia Junqueira: the roastmaster

Coffee Planet’s Cleia Junqueira tells us of the lengths her team goes to in order to source the best beans and flavour for your brew

Sarah Gibbons
9 Sep 2016 | 12:00 am
  • Cleia’s job requires strong senses of smell and taste, which coffee helps with, so she ensures she has numerous cups of coffee a day.

    Source:Supplied Image 1 of 2
  • Source:Supplied Image 2 of 2

What led you to the coffee industry?

It all started around 10 years ago when I owned a small coffee shop in São Paulo, Brazil. Not realising my passion for coffee at the time, I started by training my own team of baristas, and offered free training to young people who were keen to work with coffee but were unable to fund the courses. I did this in partnership with an NGO.

From 2007 I started presenting lectures on coffee, and produced my own DVD in Portuguese on how to enjoy a good coffee. By that time, my love for everything coffee had grown, and I started judging latte art and barista competitions.

For around four years I was the director of the Brazilian Association of Coffee and Baristas, where I organised competitions and talks on coffee with other professionals from the industry. I honed my barista skills in Santiago, Chile, and spent time as a judge for quality-coffee contests before joining the Brazilian International Women’s Coffee Alliance, where I continue to help women who work directly with coffee farmers.

What does it take to be a good roastmaster?

A roastmaster has to be a strong leader to train and educate a team. It’s essential to have a great knowledge of coffee and the industry, and to be able to maintain good relationships with farmers to uphold the quality of the coffee used.

I have a Q-Grade Coffee Cupping Certification – a speciality course to train professionals in coffee tasting. It’s a very difficult grade to achieve and is currently held by less than a thousand people, five of who are part of our team here at Coffee Planet.

What brought you to the UAE?

I was always keen to move to a different country. Dubai is a city that embraces us in its grandeur and like a cup of coffee, it has its complexities and secrets… I’m here to try to unravel them!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I start with a tour of the roastery to make sure everything is in place and that all of our equipment is clean. I then brief the team on what we will roast and cup that day. Some days involve training for the team or tours of the roastery for clients to show them around the facility and what we do, while other days include team meetings as well as planning for the orders we have coming in.

How hands-on are you?

I like being involved in every part of the roasting process, from sourcing to cupping and creation of blends. We roast the green beans in our Dubai-based roastery to maintain the same quality and taste (another part of my job that I love).

Visiting coffee farms teaches me a lot about coffee and it is something I really enjoy. I travel at least three or four times a year around the world… South and Central America as well as Africa, Indonesia and India from where we source our coffee, 
as I’m looking for specific beans with unique characteristics that best suit our blend profiles.

What makes a good bean – and how many types do you have in your stores at a time?

Good beans are the ones that pass the cupping session, a tasting process where we check the taste and smell of brewed coffee. In our roastery we have beans from over 20 origins in around more than 26 varieties to cater to different taste palettes.

How do you relax in your free time?

I am part of the Reebok Running Club, which is something I enjoy very much, and I read and go horse riding – all between slurping coffee!

How much coffee do you drink a day and how do you take it?

Around five to six cups. I start with a cappuccino, then I have a few espressos, a latte and brewed coffees throughout the day. My job requires strong senses; especially smell and taste – coffee helps very much with that!

The UAE is very cosmopolitan – which nationality is fussiest about its coffee?

People from different nationalities have different ways of enjoying their coffee and different blend preferences, which I have been very fortunate to learn. For example, back home in Brazil, people love brewed coffee, and I’m a big fan of it. Here, people tend to enjoy Turkish coffee, rich espressos and lattes.

And your plans for the future?

I am working on a book in Portuguese about coffee with two other friends who are also passionate about coffee.

Sarah Gibbons

Sarah Gibbons