Editor’s Note: We love and value each of our team members and are so very blessed to have such a devoted and skilled group of individuals that have contributed so much to make Café Virtuoso what it is today. Therefore, we thought it was high time that you got to know these amazing people with whom you often likely interact. This week, Mary Jhun Dandan, one of our lovely baristas and an extremely talented artist who has completed multiple murals in our café and roasting facility tells us about herself and her strong relationship with coffee and art.
| By Mary Jhun Dandan |
There isn’t a time I remember as a child that my family didn’t go without at least one cup of coffee in the morning. In the Philippines, where I was born, many people start drinking coffee very early (around 3 or 4 years old). I was no different, and as a child, would drink “coffee milk” whenever my parents would allow me to have it.
It was always just one delightful part of our daily routine, but I didn’t fully appreciate, think about, or really understand coffee in general or even as a culture until I was much older, years later, working in a coffee shop in Downtown San Diego. That was the beginning of my love affair with coffee. After I began working at Café Virtuoso in July of 2014 I started to understand why coffee and being a barista was so intriguing to me. It’s extremely complex, and in a lot of ways, translates directly into how I also view art. In order to master your own craft, you have to clearly understand the basics, take care of each individual component, practice daily, and most importantly, take full ownership of your creation.
I paint everyday, not just because it’s cathartic for me, but also because I know I have to continually work to master my own craft through constant practice and education. The same applies to coffee. At my previous position, before coming to Café Virtuoso, I noticed a few coworkers who just flat out didn’t care and it was evident from the results of how the coffee drink would turn out. That was unacceptable to me, and thankfully here at Cafe Virtuoso, everyone understands that we are all responsible for the quality that people see and taste, so it better be the absolute best you can make it.
I’ve found for myself also that by allowing my art and coffee skills to influence each other, I’ve actually become better and have a greater understanding of both. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to paint various murals inside Café Virtuoso, but now I’ve also realized that by actually studying the detailed anatomy and painting these specific subjects, such as the coffee tasting wheel, the coffee plant, coffee cherries, brewing methods, etc., I have been put into a position that allows me to learn even more about coffee in order for me to correctly portray it in my art.
To sum it up, everything I’ve learned about coffee ends up in some shape or form in much of the art I now create, and in turn, the focus on intricacies and my overall understanding of art helps me to be a more well-rounded barista.
What I find also very interesting and rewarding for me personally is that these murals inside Cafe Virtuoso have become not just an artistic expression, but have actually become education pieces for customers who also want to learn more about coffee.
People typically don’t pay attention to a poster of the coffee wheel or the coffee plant, but when it becomes much larger than the actual object and also the subject of art, the real importance emerges for the viewer. I actually find myself, and also my co-workers, pointing to specific aspects of my murals to help further illustrate and answer questions from customers, such as the stages of the coffee plant, or to highlight a certain brewing method. When this happens I usually see a lightbulb go on when they can relate my answer visually to what they are seeing in the mural.
Looking back to my childhood, I always knew art was going to be important to me, but I never imagined that I would also be so involved in the world of coffee. Now that I understand how much coffee parallels art in the fact that there is always something new to learn and it’s always evolving, I can’t imagine now ever having one without the other in my life.
If you’d like to see more of my art subjects about coffee, please visit my coffee art web page, and if you’d like to see more of my art collections and keep up to date with my newest projects, follow me on Instagram.
Favorite Drink: Two shots of Virtuoso Espresso with a side of soy milk.
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Working as a barista in the morning and as a muralist in the afternoon, Mary’s love and passion as a talented artist and a highly-skilled barista are deeply intertwined. Mary moved from the Philippines to San Diego when she was 7 years old and later studied fine arts, painting and printmaking at SDSU. Not a day goes by without her drinking coffee and painting with watercolor. You can also find her mural art inside Cafe Virtuoso, in various locations around San Diego and also in Downtown Seattle.