Finding the perfect blend

WHEN Esiteri Bovoro Masilaca talks about life growing up in Pacific Harbour or her travels abroad for education, one can only sit back and share in the laughter and fun experiences all the while learning about what makes her tick.

But ask her anything about her work as a marketing officer, barista or junior roaster with Fiji Coffee Company under Lawhill Group of Companies, and she’ll take you on a journey of appreciation, not just looking at the different processes involved in making the perfect cup of coffee but appreciating the work that goes on behind the scenes in the coffee industry.

At age 31, Esiteri has already built up 12 years of experience in the tourism, hospitality and coffee business. And while she admits she is not yet the expert in all things coffee, she still has that drive to upskill and learn more about her line of work.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating things about Esiteri other than wearing three caps at work is her post as a junior roaster, having completed an intermediate roaster training in Brisbane recently, to upskill her knowledge in roasting coffee beans to perfection.

So how did it all begin and why this field of work?

“I grew up in Pacific Harbour, the second youngest of five. I was a confused child growing up, really. My father was a banker and my mother was a midwife nurse for years. I decided to follow my middle sister in tourism to break out from my mother’s medicine side and my dad’s banking side of the family,” she explained.

“My first year in high school was at Suva Christian for six months in 2000. When the coup happened that year, dad had a post with the National Development Bank in Palau so we moved there, so my high school years were spent on Palau.

“I came back to Fiji for foundation studies at USP and still soul searching on what I wanted to do. Then my sister went to Australia for her tourism studies so I thought I’d try something different.

“I started work as a kitchenhand, washing dishes and waitressing at the ROC Cafe. I worked under my cousin, Loraini Borovo, who was a barista, and I would observe how she worked and occasionally became the guinea pig tasting their different coffee drinks.”

About a year and a half later, her best friend had flown in for a visit while on study break from Queenstown Resort College in New Zealand and suggested Esiteri join her at the college for tourism studies. It was a suggestion Esiteri brushed aside not realising her best friend had put in a recommendation for her placement.

She got a call from “Mr Harvey”, the principal of Queenstown Resort College a month later, who interviewed her on the phone and offered her a place at the college.

Lucky for Esiteri, this was not one of those pranks best friends play on each other, although that was an initial thought when “Mr Harvey” called until she realised it was a serious conversation.

The next step was convincing her parents to send her abroad for an opportunity she did not want to miss. A bit hesitant at first, her parents eventually supported her interest after two months of lecture, she finally made off to New Zealand for her studies.

“I completed my program, a double diploma in tourism hospitality majoring in wedding events. I eventually did my internship in New Zealand, starting out in the kitchen again as a kitchenhand then learning the techniques of being a barista,” said Esiteri, who hails from Matailobau in Naitasiri vasu Vagadaci, Levuka.

“That technique is something I wasn’t able to learn here so I learnt it off the baristas in New Zealand, and whatever I’ve learnt from there I’ve had to adjust it to the work environment here.

“During the course of the program, we were trained to do coffees, cookery and pastries. I worked at hotels as a barista then a cafe where I was an assistant manager, so I had about 12 years of experience as a barista, picking up techniques from New Zealand and Australia.

“I then came back to Fiji for a break but my grandmother had passed on and my granddad asked if I could stay back and look after him, which I did until he recovered.

“Then I applied for the job of a receptionist at Lawhill Group of Companies but got roped into the coffee part of the business. The rest was history when they saw the experience I had as a barista.”

Esiteri has spent the past three years working alongside Fiji Coffee Company’s master roaster Tomu Suliasi to produce locally manufactured coffee.

Their job entails a lot of processes from understanding the origins of coffee beans to monitoring the production environment, the picking process, washing and storage of beans and of course, roasting, blending, grinding and packaging the Fijian-made coffee beans.

For Esiteri, taking risks and experimenting while soul searching is not a bad combination as long as you “follow your mind, follow your heart and go by the word of God”.

She also hopes this line of work would also empower other young women to participate in all aspects of the coffee industry, even as a coffee roaster, to achieve a meaningful and sustainable life.

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