Welcome to the official announcement of The Sprudge Twenty, presented by Sprudge and Pacific Barista Series.

This is the fourth class of Sprudge Twenty honorees, part of an annual tradition honoring and amplifying leaders in the global coffee community in partnership with Pacific Barista Series. Pacific Barista Series is dedicated to championing leadership and excellence in the coffee industry, and to supporting coffee culture as it happens worldwide.

These twenty people are changing the game in coffee, doing work that challenges and excites us, from every step of the coffee value chain: entrepreneurs and coffee producers, baristas and cafe owners, career coffee professionals, and those whose careers are just starting, competition success stories, and folks working quietly behind the scenes, leading by example. All of them have been impacted by current events; all of them have stories worth championing as loud as possible, now more than ever.

From a massive list of nominees around the world, below please find the Fourth Annual Sprudge Twenty class presented by Pacific Barista Series. We hope these stories will bring a smile to your face—as they have to ours—but many also include a call to action, a way to get involved to support the various projects and causes represented by our incredible global class. Each one of these members will receive a spotlight feature in the coming weeks on Sprudge, so get ready to know them a little better. For now, read on to discover the Sprudge Twenty for 2022, and thank you.

Want to nominate someone in your community for the next Sprudge Twenty class? The nomination schedule for the 2023 Sprudge Twenty presented by Pacific Barista Series will be announced this fall. Sign up for the Sprudge Newsletter and never miss an update. 

Explore a complete collection of Sprudge Twenty features from the archive: Sprudge.com/twenty

Nomination essays have been gently edited and condensed.

Kelley Bader

kelley bader
Kelley Bader

I nominate Kelley Bader who has fought to get everyone in my coffee shop PPE, stood up to the management, taught us about unions and how to get organized, and showed us how working together is better than working separately. We were all fired from our jobs and the coffee shop closed down but Kelley helped us find our voice, and helped us keep going. We have since started our own coffee cooperative called Slow Bloom and he has been integral to that operation. He helped find contractors, he worked with the city, he worked with lawyers for our labor case, he helped find our equipment all while working a teaching job and going to school. He is a true gem and should be honored as such. We really couldn’t have done this without him. He lights up the cafe with his presence and he encourages us all with his resolve, resilience, and ingenuity. Thank you for the opportunity to share with you how amazing he is.

Nominated by Jina Imani

Marissa Yooree

marissa childers

Marissa has been instrumental in bringing together the AAPI community in coffee over the past year and a half. At the height of hate incidents towards AAPI folx due to harmful messaging from the government regarding the spread of COVID-19, Marissa launched @coffeeasians on Instagram and hosted the first Check-In over Zoom. For many of us, that was the first time we had seen just Asian faces in a coffee event, where we were centered, primary, the reason to gather. We didn’t know we needed it, and many of us verbalized how powerful it was to be there with each other. Since then, Marissa has hosted more check-ins and started a channel on Discord, which has brought us together in the day-to-day things. She carries many burdens herself—working while getting Tanbrown Coffee off the ground this year while staying socially active in advocacy to dismantle anti-Blackness everywhere. She is a true ally to many marginalized groups and a dynamic leader in Specialty Coffee. I wouldn’t feel as seen in this space if it were not for her heart, passion, and contributions.

Nominated by Joyce Yong

Valorie Clark

valorie clark
Valorie Clark

Valorie is an angel in the City of Angels (…Los Angeles). I had the idea for Go Fund Bean but without encouragement from people like Valorie, it never would have happened. Since we began GFB in March of 2020, Valorie has sat on the Executive Board and acted as our secretary. She also runs most of our programs, especially our financial aid grants, Bean Development, and our monthly Calibration Notes publication, has done most of our communications with donors and recipients and handled all of our social media pretty much single-handedly. She calls herself the cat herder of GFB who makes sure things actually happen on time. Without her, GFB would be a different and much less effective organization. She also cares too much about the people we help? She reads every single application for grants and when she has to she sends personalized rejections with other suggestions for resources to help people. (I bet she also cries but she’d never admit it.) She deserves recognition for the hard work she does to make sure GFB reaches the people who need us.

Nominated by Adam JacksonBey

Vic Esparza

vic esparza photo by gumball revue maegan kabel
Vic Esparza (Photo by Gumball Revue / Maegan Kabel)

Vic is one of a kind. As a Latinx non-binary person, Vic arrived on the DFW coffee scene like a force of nature while all their contemporary coffee leaders were predominately white males. Vic had the opportunity to live their dream when they were offered the job to create a coffee concept which became Lazy Daisy Coffee Co in Fort Worth, Texas. Vic tackled the challenges of opening a new coffee shop like a fish in water. Not only did they kick-started cafe operations off the ground, they developed a safe and inclusive cafe community while simultaneously holding space to be an ally and uplift other coffee businesses. Vic’s primary vision was to fly a flag of inclusivity completely earnestly—the team went out of their way to welcome every type of person, no matter how they identify, no matter their dietary restriction. A good example is in a simple symbol: Lazy Daisy is the only coffee shop with a pride flag on the front of the cafe. When the cafe opened, it was a smash hit and won Fort Worth Magazine’s Best New Coffee Shop in 2021. I see part of Vic’s success is in their altruistic nature, a quality that can be a double-edged sword in the coffee industry – you could expect to see Vic day and night helping around the cafe. The other part of Vic’s success is in having a protestor’s spirit: Vic is a natural leader, always willing to stand up for their beliefs, openly reject the status quo while constantly searching for ways to inspire progressive change for women, the Latinx community, and the LBGTQ community. During the pandemic, Vic was able to jump in to create solutions and raise concerns about safety in order to protect baristas in need. While working and training baristas at Fairwave Coffee Collective, they were patient, thorough, and validating. Like a true rockstar, I know Vic will find success everywhere they go.

Nominated by Kathy Altamirano

Kenzel Fallen

kenzel fallen
Kenzel Fallen

Kenzel Fallen has seamlessly pivoted from a career in finance to coffee company owner, running things with professionalism and panache that few industry veterans have yet to achieve. Mom to three kids under five, Kenzel brings the enthusiasm of a “prosumer” to her role as ops and everything-but-roasting at the company she founded with her spouse and business partner, Tio. Having traveled to origin and many coffee farms long before founding Three Keys Coffee, Kenzel brings empathy and intention to green buying decisions, focusing on buying coffee that is sustainable both economically and environmentally. Three Keys, inspired by jazz music and art and science greats of color, seeks to bring specialty coffee to communities that have historically been excluded by third-wave-type coffee culture.

Nominated by Bethany Hargrove Letoto

Korie “KP” Griggs

kp griggs
Korie “KP” Griggs

Korie is creating spaces for coffee and connection, whether it’s through her budding comic Vibranibeans (@vibranibeans), as a founding member of The Color of Coffee Collective (@colorofcoffeecollective), or her coffee-centric Instagram @koffeepersonkp. She embodies vulnerability, advocacy, and power through everything she does.

Nominated by Kat Melheim

Veronica Grimm

veronica grimm
Veronica Grimm

Veronica has unquestionably changed the coffee game. From the founding of Glitter Cat Barista, to the competition-centric bootcamps for all competition realms, to pivoting during COVID to fully online DiGiTiTioN, she has not only encouraged but EQUIPPED competitors from underrepresented and historically marginalized groups. The competition scene (and broader coffee world) will never be the same, thanks to her courage, creativity, and community focus.

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Nominated by Kat Melheim

Keith Hawkins

keith hawkins
Keith Hawkins

I first met Keith when he asked Tio and I (Three Keys Coffee) to come onto his radio show “Koffee with Keith.” Keith has had a long career in the coffee industry and is deeply passionate about bringing together a community around coffee. He seeks to increase education within a new generation of coffee professionals, particularly in black and brown communities. He’s does this through outreach programs to share knowledge about the coffee industry, free coffee giveaways at a local university, and through his radio show.

Possibly the greatest contribution thus far is his creation of The Color of Coffee Collective, bringing together voices of color throughout the coffee supply chain to build connection and community. For the past year or so Keith, he has been tirelessly working to plan the Collective’s first symposium, scheduled for May 2022.

Keith represents the deep passion and enthusiasm that I love about the coffee industry and the people it attracts. He doesn’t just talk the talk but puts himself out into the community and does the work—creating and building connections and encouraging more interest in coffee from traditionally underrepresented communities. He deserves recognition for his efforts and I would love to see him receive his flowers as a Sprudge Twenty honoree!

Nominated by Kenzel Fallen

Yasuo Ishii

yasuo ishii
Yasuo Ishii

Yasuo Ishii is the founder of Leaves Coffee Roasters. I strongly admire his passion to seek the best out of everything. When he was a professional boxer at the age of 18, his career was over in the ring by breaking his fist. A young Yasuo had to work hard from morning through night to raise his children. In 2011, he opened his first Spanish restaurant. The customer gave him a bag of coffee that was Ethiopian Natural apparently. His life has completely changed since then.

The concept of the shop is “From the town roastery, to the world.” means a lot to him and his team. I would like to send this nomination to encourage him to pursue his dream to someday become the World Roasting Champion.

Nominated by Miho Hariu

Phyllis Johnson

phyllis johnson
Phyllis Johnson

Where do I start? Phyllis’ contributions to coffee run deep into the roots, and for a while, not many recognized her work as she was busy doing a lot of it behind the scenes. Phyllis has always connected with, elevated, and given deference to those deemed less worthy by society—this is true of her work in and out of the coffee industry. I met Phyllis a lot later, through her launch of the Coffee Coalition for Racial Equity. I volunteer on the marketing team and work directly on her on the CCRE messaging and engagement initiatives. Through our meetings and events is how I’ve gotten to know the deep legacy she has been building in coffee, centering Black and Brown producers and coffee entrepreneurs, making space for Black and Brown women to lead alongside her. Phyllis lives a life true to her words. Her call of ‘Now is the time!’ from the Open Letter to the Coffee Industry (2020) is what she lives day-to-day. In creating solutions for people, Phyllis champions the reality that ‘equity is ensuring the needs of everyone are met not just dong the same thing with everyone.’ Phyllis is one of a few leaders with wide reach creating spaces for solidarity specifically in coffee, and specifically from seed to cup. She is in a league of her own.

Nominated by Joyce Yong

Carley Kammerer

carley kammerer
Carley Kammerer

Carley is the joint founder of Wildflyer Coffee in Minneapolis, MN, and is the driving force that has seen it survive and flourish during the pandemic and also the unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd. Wildflyer is much, much more than a cafe, however. They are a non-profit specialty coffee company that are dedicated to providing job stability for youth who are experiencing homelessness. They run a nine month program that helps each worker find a sense of community, while developing the skills needed to remain in employment after the program ends. Carley juggles the day to day running of a coffee company AND a social work program, and deserves huge credit for the incredible work Wildflyer is doing in the Twin Cities community.

Nominated by Barnaby Holmes

John Letoto

john letoto
John Letoto

John is an exceptional coffee professional, someone who has helped set the standard for how a barista should flow and operate while working at their respective cafes. Whatever city he lives in, he changes the coffee culture of that place. He’s truly one of a kind, and made the city of Houston a better coffee city almost single-handedly. Now that he’s back home in Hawaii, where his family has deep roots, I can’t wait to see what’s next from John as he continues a legacy of coffee excellence.

Nominated by Antoine Franklin

Candice Madison

candice madison
Candice Madison (Photo by Evan Gilman)

Someday someone is going to write a biography about Candice Madison and their career, and maybe that person is going to be me. What can you say about a person who was one of the first Black Q graders, one of the first few Q graders in the UK, and whose career has taken them from London to New York City to California’s Bay Area? Candice’s passion for justice and an equitable supply chain has led them to (finally!) start their own company, Kandake Boutique Coffees, with a mission of not only roasting coffee that’s accessible to everyone but buying coffee that pays everyone in the supply chain properly, from coffee pickers and sorters all the way through the supply chain to Candice’s own future staff.

Nominated by Bethany Hargrove Letoto

John Mbature

john mbature

John Mbature is a passionate coffee producer in Kenya, whose farm is located in the foothills of Mt. Kenya. He is the founder and CEO of Kushikama (Swahili word meaning connected), which is a group comprising small estate farmers in the region. It was out of a need to help farmers improve the quality of their coffee, that led him to form the group. Most of these coffees have found their place in the specialty market. John is a certified Q-grader and has cupped coffees for organizations such as Atlantic Specialty. John has a well of knowledge in coffee processing. By experimenting with different methods of coffee processing he has been able to maintain his coffee at the top in the specialty market. He is in the process of putting up a farm-based coffee lab and a coffee training center, which will offer much-needed information on coffee production and processing.

Nominated by Gladys Mwaniki

George Onyango

george onyango regional director we effect east africa (sprudge)
George Onyango

George Onyango is the regional director of We Effect, a development organization supporting co-operatives organizations in East Africa. His role as the regional director strives to strengthen cooperatives through membership-based democracy, long-term economic thinking, social responsibility, and transparency. We Effect’s co-operative model is prioritizing smallholder farmers toward right to food.

With a strong team cutting across the region, He is responsible for leading close to 38 partner co-operatives, associations, and community-based organizations in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania that are supporting small-scale farmers, men, and women, members of organized groups lacking housing, interested in self-management and mutual help solutions, and in co-operative ownership.

We Effect supports local partner organizations through a partnership model focusing on organization capacity strengthening to create sustainability. With over 30 years in the industry, George leads the pro-cooperative organization in strengthening co-operatives in the housing and sustainability rural development spheres.

Nominated by Catherine Waking’a

Lily Pacas

If there’s a way we can summarize what Lily Pacas has meant to El Salvadoran coffee industry, it would be to dignify coffee growers.

Coming from a well-known coffee family, Lily has achieved several highlights during her career as a coffee professional. These include becoming the first barista champion of El Salvador, co-funding one of the best coffee shops in the country, and being part of a great team of professionals that helped bring El Salvador the first World Barista Championship win for an origin country (Alejandro Mendez, 2011).

In the past few years, Lily transitioned from the private sector to take on a new set of major challenges, becoming the Executive Director of the Salvadoran Coffee Council. In this way she has continued on her path to improve the coffee industry by centering our focus on the weakest link: the coffee grower.

Her work and skills were quickly noted here in El Salvador, and she was recently named Vice-Minister of Agriculture, continuing her quest towards the sector innovation and modernization.

One of her recent accomplishments was to begin setting up a new institute for coffee research and technology and improvements on the coffee policies and the sector institutional network. She is very involved with the role women play in cooperatives, and across the coffee sector. Lily has been pushing projects that improve the participation and enfranchisement of women in El Salvador’s coffee industry, including those aiming to create higher quality and increased productivity for coffee growers.

With a complex worldwide outlook, we are certain Lily will keep proving her closeness with the coffee grower and help recover the coffee sector here in El Salvador. This means not only economic benefits for the country, but it’s a major contributor for social development and is key as an environmental services provider for the country.

Nominated by Luis Rodriguez

Leo Salerno

leo salerno
Leo Salerno

If there was an award for Cafe Manager of the Year, it should go to Leo. His extraordinary ability to adapt and execute difficult and abstract problems while maintaining a level of empathy and respect for his team is incredible. He approaches each day in the cafe as a new opportunity to create an impactful experience for the guest. He leads folks behind the bar to learn and grow from these experiences.

Managers have had it so tough this year. Many were let go. Many were burnt out and decided to quit and go to coding boot camp. Not Leo. He stayed. He saw opportunities to improve an industry that was plunged into chaos. He rose to the occasion and built a team of dedicated and like-minded individuals to operate a newly opened cafe. As Try Hard navigated pitfall after pitfall during many stages of the buildout, Leo remained steadfast and kept the entire team together– I’m not sure any cafe was able to weather the storm of covid better than our shop…because of Leo. This man deserves a damn award.

Not only does Leo continually inspire his co-workers and colleagues, he pushes the boundaries on late-stage capitalism. He always asks “what more can we do?” for both our community and our baristas. Leo organized clothing drives during the winter and covid-relief packages during case-spikes. He threw the best dang throw-down anyone had been to in years. Seriously, Leo is the bright and shining optimism that every cafe needed and still needs as we navigate this world during a pandemic.

Nominated by Raechel Hurd

Anita Ho Yan Tam

anita tam
Anita Tam (Photo by Nicolas Tanaka)

I’ve been acquainted with Anita for several years through industry events, but recently started working at her company, Slow Pour Supply, and I must say, the immense respect and admiration I’ve had for her before pales in comparison to the utmost respect I have for her now, knowing what she carries forward. The kind of space, community, and legacy she is cultivating is unlike any other. She is another leader that I consider to be in a league of her own. Innovation, Insight, Evolution are all things she holds in a delicate balance. And balance is key. From innovative designs and customizations of the best latte art pitchers in the industry, to insightfully calling all in the supply chain to do better for the market, to quickly evolving to what’s best for the next step in growth, Anita has navigated the coffee industry with grace, agility, and acuity. She was the chairperson of the first US Latte Art Competition at Expo this year, which is a goal that has taken years to bring to pass. She champions her fellow AAPI business owners to be leaders in their own right and in their own spaces. She cares deeply about the wellbeing of all of her employees. I cannot imagine the latte art community and coffee industry at large without her impact, center of gravity, and contributions.

Nominated by Joyce Yong

Binny Varghese

Binny Varghese

Binny—aka Barista on Bike—is known in the Indian coffee community for working with farmers as a coffee processing expert, additionally, he is a trainer in various coffee-related skills, also a marketing expert. Overall Binny is a complete package for advocating for coffee farmers in India. He has recently shot a documentary on Indian Speciality Coffee scenes titled “C for Coffee”, and he also has a podcast “Coffee Protocol Podcast” which brings together interesting coffee people and their deep insights. Binny is someone working really hard to bring Indian coffee to a more recognizable stance in the world.

Nominated by Neeraj Kumar Pathak

Will Wells

will wells
Will Wells (Photo by Randy Hogg)

Will is my amazing boss and owner of The Artery Community Roasters located in Ottawa. He employs people with disabilities and believes in making sure we are paid a fair wage.

He combined his passion for roasting and his love of helping people to create an amazing small business that is making difference in the lives of his employees, farmers, and the community. Will has made it his mission to educate and bring awareness to disabilities and accessibility, and push for inclusion and get other businesses on board.

Nominated by Erin Saari

The Sprudge Twenty is presented by Sprudge and Pacific Barista Series.

See a complete list of our 2019, 2020, 2021 classes, and read their essays here.