At first glance, seeing Defne Ceyda Okay in her black platform Chelsea boots and countless tattoos all over – you wouldn’t suppose that she once dreamt of becoming a ballerina. Perhaps it is exactly this early experience of hard, passionate practice that provided her with the power to become a coffee rebel.
In just a couple of years, Defne managed to not only be Head Roaster for Seven Fortunes in Dubai, but also the youngest female SCA Turkey Sensory Judge. Recently, she started working as a roaster for Istanbul’s iconic specialty roastery, Kronotrop. In her daily life, Defne loves reading, decorating windows and café walls with various shaped fonts, and experiencing different tastes, challenges and –needless to say– coffees.
Defne was born and brought up in Istanbul. As happens to many future coffee lovers, she got into coffee unexpectedly, by running into a specialty coffee store.
“In 2015 I found out about a specialty coffee shop in my neighborhood called Walter’s Coffee Roastery. At the time, I was just a regular black coffee drinker type of person. Every time I visited there I ordered Aeropress just for the sake of the big yellow coffee mug.”
After a few more cups that tasted different and a couple of chats with the barista, she let herself be seduced and she started working at the café, soon becoming a barista herself.
“I’ve got to a point where being a waitress and observing the baristas wasn’t satisfying anymore. After a year, I started working as a barista at a pioneering specialty coffee roastery in Turkey – Kronotrop. Entering the specialty coffee world, I figured the bean to cup journey was far more interesting than I’d heard.”
Her coffee story sounds like a dream come true, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy ride.
“At the time, there were only two well-known females in the coffee industry and I wanted to be +1. With that energy, I joined the SCA Turkey Brewing Championships in 2017. Unfortunately, I didn’t have many supporters at the time and a combination of stress and anxiety made me freeze on the stage. With all the effort, training, investment, and many more, I came off the stage having only uttered one sentence. The day I failed the brewing competition was a life-changing one. It didn’t stop me at all, just the opposite, it encouraged me to be better at what I do every day. Every time I feel blocked, I recall what my judge Alexandru Niculae said at the time: ‘keep smiling’ ”.
It took Defne no more than two years to make the next big step on her coffee path. It was 2019 when she decided to move to Dubai and start working as Head Roaster. Despite initial setbacks and doubts about living far from home as a young woman on her own, she stayed in Dubai for two whole years.
“It was an amazing experience, full of knowledge and new challenges. Observing and being part of this lively coffee community was really great fun. I believe being the only barista from Turkey in the UAE was one of my biggest achievements”.
Today Defne still works for Kronotrop, now called The Whirl Roastery. She trains baristas and does Quality Control. This year she had the chance to be a part of the judges’ team at the SCA Turkey Championships once again. A genuine team player, Defne enjoys working with groups on a daily basis.
“Trying at least one new recipe a day and my lovely team is what keeps me going daily. I am super glad to be a part of a coffee community. I believe we evolve together and together only”
As the youngest woman in the Turkish coffee industry who ever made it this far, she wishes to inspire more women to join the community.
“Our specialty coffee scene is dominated by males. There are quite a lot of female baristas but they don’t participate in the events and competitions as the guys do. There is always this question in people’s minds, how can she carry all that hard work, stress, etc. But when you get used to the dynamic of the work, it just flows, especially with good teamwork. There are already some great female flowers in the Turkish coffee world and they keep shining.”