A Big Future Brewing for the Star Barista
Jakarta. The tall, dark barista bows solemnly over the cerulean cup. His demeanor is like that of a scientist examining an interesting new life form under a microscope. Once in a while, his left hand pours some more coffee into the cup, while with his right hand he slowly stirs the concoction with a slender spoon. After a few minutes, the young barista presents his work to the audience: a cute teddy bear etched on thick latte foam to the delight of his fans.
Barista and self-proclaimed “coffee stylist” Muhammad Aga is something of a celebrity in Jakarta’s gourmet coffee scene. He won the 2012 Indonesia Latte Art Throw Down competition (apparently there’s such a thing), took seventh place in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Barista Championships in 2013, and finished second in the 2014 Indonesia Barista Competition.
Recently, the 24-year-old set up his own cafe, Coffeesmith, in Duren Tiga, South Jakarta, where he also tutors would-be baristas in the art of making a fancy cup of coffee, and where The Peak sat with him to talk about how he got started in the business and his dreams for the future.
Q: How did you decide to become a barista?
A: I started working part-time as a barista in 2008. At the time I just wanted to earn more money to pay for my studies. But then I got more and more interested in the art of coffee-making. I played around with the machines and made latte arts. I also learned from the coffee experts who I met at workshops and seminars. They were very generous in sharing their skills. They also encouraged me to take part in barista competitions in Indonesia and abroad. And it got me thinking. I can make money, make friends and win many competitions because of (my skills and knowledge in) coffee. So I decide that this was the field for me.
Do you still remember the first latte art that you made? What was it? And who did you make it for?
It was for a beautiful woman who often came to the cafe where I worked. She always came alone. I chatted with her sometimes. And I found out that she liked puppies. So I learned how to draw a cute puppy on latte foam. It took me a month. But finally I did it and presented it to her along with my phone number.
Wow. Was she impressed?
[Laugh] She was. But we didn’t go out together.
Is making latte art difficult?
It may look easy and simple, but actually it’s quite complicated. It’s a combination between pouring and etching techniques on the foam. Your hands have to be very quick and steady. And you need to have high creativity to combine basic forms to create many different pictures.
Does latte art improve the taste of the coffee?
Yes, at least visually. The more beautiful and intricate the drawing is, the more likely you are to perceive that it’s a great cup of coffee.
But for baristas, I would suggest they create simple pictures that only take one or two minutes. The more intricate the picture is, the longer it will take to create it. And by then, the coffee won’t taste as good.
What’s the best cup of coffee that you drank recently?
Malabar coffee from Pangalengan in West Java. The coffee was graded 87.5 points at the recent Indonesia Coffee Auction in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta. Until now, the grades of the world’s best coffees are around 90 plus.
What makes Malabar coffee so special?
Its acidity, bitterness and sweetness levels are very well balanced.
How do you like your coffee?
I like it black. So it can either be espresso, americano, long black or manual brew. Black coffee is very manly, I think. And I drink it without sugar. I believe sugar ruins the authentic coffee flavor.
Baristas are quite a trendy these days. Do you think the prospect for the profession will be good in the future?
The prospects are great. As we can see, there are more and more coffee shops in the big cities these days. And these coffee shops need highly qualified baristas to run them. But I’d say, don’t become a barista because it’s trendy now. Be a barista because of your passion. Without passion, it’s just like any other profession. You’ll be doing it just for the money. And both you and your customers won’t be happy.
What makes a good barista?
They should have good attitude. They should know how to make friends with their customers and make them feel comfortable. And they should always upgrade their skills. One of the most effective ways for baristas to improve their skills is by taking part in competitions.
You recently co-starred in the movie ‘Filosofi Kopi,’ about a pair of friends who start up a cafe. Did you get any great new experience when filming it?
It was very exciting. It was a brand-new experience for me. And I’m so happy to be able to influence public figures, such as (actors) Rio (Dewanto) and Julie (Estelle) to understand and love coffee more. I also got so much positive feedback about the movie. Many people said that they started drinking coffee because of the movie. And those who already drink coffee said they learned to enjoy it more because of the movie
Now that you have your own cafe and a movie credit to your name, do you have any more dreams you want to accomplish?
I just have three dreams in my life, which are to have my own coffee shop, to participate in the World Barista Championships (WBC), and to help coffee farmers in Indonesia. I’ve achieved the first and will probably participate in the WBC next year. As for the coffee farmers, I’d like to conduct special workshops to make them understand coffee culture in the cities these days, so that they feel encouraged to produce better coffee.
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Source: The Jakarta Globe