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Ability to learn is key to becoming successful baristas

FHA Barista Challenge 2016 Chief Judge Kammie Hui, HK Training Manager for 18 GRAMS, shares useful tips for aspiring baristas in Asia

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SINGAPORE – Coffee culture in Asia is brewing a storm and growing in popularity as we speak. With more drinkers in Asia showing an interest in speciality coffee, the industry is gearing up to accommodate the shifts in consumption. In today’s age of coffee culture, ordering a coffee has become a lot more intricate.

A simple, standard order of coffee has evolved to become a ‘non-fat nowhip hot mocha’. Baristas are expected to multi-task; master a large variety of hot and cold frothy concoctions, and present beautifully crafted latte art on top of their creations.

The role of the barista as a result needs to be redefined for the sake of consumers who enjoy their cup of expertly brewed concoction, and for passionate individuals seeking a profession in the coffee industry.

Demand for capable baristas is expected to spike, and in tandem, a growing importance to nurture and mould them into genuine coffee professionals.

Kammie Hui, Training Manager at 18 GRAMS, a premier espresso café in Hong Kong, and Chief Judge at the FHA Barista Challenge 2016, a part of the upcoming Food&HotelAsia2016 – the most comprehensive industry trade event for the food and hospitality industry in Asia, shares key must-haves for aspiring baristas.

More consumers are taking coffee as their beverage of choice and many even consume the drink more than once a day. How does it affect the professionals and companies involved in the coffee business?


Drinking coffee is more like a lifestyle these days, where consumers have greater access to the beverage from almost every corner of where they are located, be it an independent establishment, or a global chain coffee shop. With consumers’ growing appreciation for the beverage and the coffee culture, we are in turn motivated to reinvent ourselves, by learning at a faster rate, to surpass in quality and creativity for the beverages we concoct, and in the service we render to our customers.

As a judge, what can you say about the level of excellence shown by baristas in Asia in brewing a good cup of coffee? Compared to our western counterparts, are there any unique qualities that Asian baristas exhibit that sets them apart?

Asian baristas are doing an incredible job these days, and this is evident through the growing representation of baristas from Asia in many international coffee competitions. In comparison to our Western peers, I don’t see a great difference except for the fact that we (Asia) are a younger entrant where speciality coffee is concerned. Being of a generation that is extremely open-minded and unafraid to embrace new experiences, we learn and adapt quickly. Today, I see more and more passionate baristas investing a great deal of effort to level up their skills and knowledge, value-adding to the growth of the coffee scene in Asia.

What else can be done to elevate the barista profession in Asia, to encourage more of the younger generation to take an interest?

Sharing of knowledge and skills is always a great way to incite interest. The staging of competitions, such as the FHA Barista Competition, is another effective way to promote the profession as these competing events, especially the renowned ones are highly publicised, thus playing an essential role in the promotion of the barista profession not only within their country, but also in Asia and beyond.

There is a traditional coffee culture of sorts in some Asian countries. How, in your opinion, does that enhance the experience of, or pose a challenge to the Asian barista?

I still enjoy drinking coffee in some local cafes in Hong Kong and elsewhere. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to understand the differences between all types of consumers, those who seek out local establishments and others who prefer the large coffee chains. It is also a way to develop your palate, from root to maturity. Personally, I truly appreciate that we still have very successful traditional coffee chains in Hong Kong. It serves as a great reminder of your roots, of where home is.

In some Asian countries like China or Japan, tea takes prominence over coffee. How will this impact the aspiring barista and coffee business in these countries/regions? Are there still opportunities for the coffee business?

Many baristas love both coffee, and tea. In my opinion, tea and coffee are individual beverages but in essence they are no different, where both possess a long history and have a strong influence in shaping ancient and modern culture. I would say that instead of being in competition, they actually complement each other. Businesses should use this to offer more options to their customers.

If there is one quality a barista should excel in that is more important than the rest, what would it be? What would be the most important message you would impart to a barista who is just entering the profession?

The ability to learn every day is key to becoming a proficient barista. Other qualities that are good to have are to be nimble and quick to adapt to any situation. My message to all budding baristas is to be highly passionate in what you do, learn and practice hard, and open your mind to any possibilities.

Currently with 18 GRAMS for about six years, Kammie has amassed more than 13 years of solid experience in both the F&B and coffee sectors.

Right now she is devoting her time to training baristas, roasting, consultancy work, as well as menu development in Hong Kong and overseas. She started her judging career since 2011 and has been conducting specialised workshops and seminars since 2013.

FHA Barista Challenge & CTI Latte Art Duel @ FHA – Intense competition arenas

The highly anticipated FHA Barista Challenge is hosted by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE) – Singapore Chapter and supported by the regional industry associations.

The event focuses on advancing the barista profession, and promoting speciality coffee and coffee excellence in the region and beyond. Highly recognised as an arena of the highest standards, top baristas from regional countries will gather to pit their skills against one another for the honour of being the finest barista in Asia.

Moving in tandem with the growing popularity of latte art in today’s speciality coffee scene, the new CTI Latte Art Duel @ FHA will be hosted at SpecialityCoffee&Tea2016.

Created as a bracketed single-elimination tournament, the winning contestant from each bracket will move on to the next round, until there is a sole winner in the Duel.

Certified courses for skills upgrading – NEW

Specialised courses designed for budding baristas will be held alongside the competition arenas.

  • Barista Skills (Foundation level) – This course, covering the basics of specialty coffee, is designed to introduce core barista skills to people with no previous barista experience. Students will learn to do a simple calibration of their grinders and make an espresso and cappuccino to core standards.
  • Brewing (Intermediate) – This is a hands-on workshop where students will learn to analyse their grind profile, match grind to brewing method, and to scientifically measure coffee strength and chart a coffee’s extraction.
  • Roasting Skills (Foundation) – This 2-day course will give a basic understanding of the roasting process, including the roast cycle and how to control sensory aspects of the coffee by roasting light or dark. Students will be working hands-on on roasting coffee and discover the joys of operating and roasting their own coffee.
  • Sensory Judge Course – This course is designed for participants with considerable formal coffee judging experience. The workshop aims to prepare potential new sensory judges and develop their sensory analysis capabilities and vocabulary of the coffee industry at an elite level.
  • Sensory Skills (Foundation) – This course will cover the essentials of sensory evaluation in a practical and interactive manner. It investigates the way taste is perceived and how to apply this knowledge when evaluating coffee’s natural characteristics. It also offers an introduction to identifying speciality coffee qualities.

SpecialityCoffee&Tea2016 – An immersion into the arousing realm of coffee and tea

The FHA Barista Challenge, CTI Latte Art Duel @ FHA, and certified courses all are special highlights of the SpecialityCoffee&Tea2016 trade exhibition. Trade buyers can easily navigate through new brewing technology, finest coffee and tea ingredients, and premium quality accessories.

175 exhibitors from 31 countries and regions are on board, including a host of market leaders such as Boncafe, Coffex Coffee, Dilmah Fine Tea and Herbs, Ebenezer Coffee Manufacturer, Franke Coffee Systems, IllyCaffe Spa, La Marzocco, Monin Asia, Nuova Simonelli, Santino Coffee Specialists, Spinelli, WMF – Professional and WMF Group, among others.

36 companies are new to the event. From all over the globe, the newcomers include Routin 1883 from France, Drago Mocambo from Germany, Rocket Espresso from Italy, Sweet Serenity Flavoring Syrup from the Philippines, Nespresso, Oriole and Owl International from Singapore, Iberital De Recambios from Spain and Empire Teas from Sri Lanka, and last but not least, Rockbern Coffee from Kenya.


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