Until 2014, Emi Fukahori, originally from Japan, liked coffee “in the same way everyone else does”.
But that year she visited a roastery in an event organised by the expat meet-up group Coffee Club Zurich. It was, she says, a "turning point".
“I had no idea what it was all about but I was fascinated by the professionalism and the seriousness of the baristas,” she tells The Local.
MAME in Zurich aims to make speciality coffee accessible for everyone. Photo: Dominik Sigrist
Over the coming months, Fukahori dedicated herself to all things coffee. She continued to work in tourism – she studied hotel management in Lucerne – but gave over her evenings and weekends to her new passion.
Her intensive training included membership of a program for young coffee brewers run by a Zurich barista. He encouraged Fukahori to compete in competitions as a way to learn more, and in 2015, she was named Swiss Barista Champion.
Just three later, she has been named the world's top barista in the filter coffee category at the recent Brazil International Coffee Week.
Along the (rapid) way to the top, Fukahori met her French partner, fellow competitive barista and Swiss Barista Champion Mathieu Theis. “We got to know each other through coffee, although he is more geeky about it all than me” she explains.
Fukahori and Theis went on to open a café, MAME, in Zurich's Kreis 5 district which aims to make speciality, or single origin, coffee accessible to everyone.
“It was tough at the beginning, but we have been lucky. We happened to open at the right time” she says modestly.
“The food and beverages scene has really improved in Zurich in the last two years, and we have seen more and more people interested in what we do. Before that, it was more like people went to a restaurant because they were hungry.”
Meanwhile, MAME has gone from strength to strength. A second location has opened in Seefeld and the original venue recently came second in the top ten ranking of Switzerland's best bars and cafés by prestigious French guide Gault et Millau.
Asked for her own café recommendations in Switzerland, Fukahori gave a special mention to Zurich's COFFEE in the Kreis 4 district “which we measure ourselves against”.
“They have a nice mixture of coffee and food and a really well-done brunch,” she says of the place run by a chef and a coffee roaster.
Fukahori also recommends Café frühling in Basel where the owners work together closely with coffee producers towards sustainable production.