Sunday, April 10, 2011

Barista Academy!

Koreans are good at stuff. Play any Korean at a game of skill (pool, bowling, darts), and you will likely get your ass handed to you. As a friend of mine once explained, many Koreans don't participate in any of these activities publicly (even outwardly among friends) unless they have practiced the activity behind closed doors for sufficient months to come off as a professional. Hence, a hagwon for just about everything, it seems. Here, if you want to be a good at anything, an industry probably exists for you to be formally educated in it.

Cafe Infra is located about a 15 minute walk from Seoul National University of Education station. This is somewhere in the heart of one of the richest neighbourhoods in the city. The store front is relatively modest as it sits directly above the entrance to an underground parking lot, but its location - on the first floor of an accredited International K-12 Academy - is fantastic for what it is. Parents rich enough to send their kids to that school can wait for the pick-up while they sip a fairly pricey cup of hand-dripped and freshly roasted and ground coffee.

The guy who operates the cafe is also running what seems to be about 75% of the shop's area as a barista academy. There are four rooms, each designed specifically for a specialized course. It's like a Hogwart's for people who get the caffeine shakes. There is a roasting room, a latte art room, an espresso room, and a hand-drip room - each equipped with high-end trinkets for the 8-10 students who can attend a class.

Business is booming. I know rent is high in the area, but the guy can't be doing too badly. Each 3 hour course is 75,000 won per person, so I am once again very thankful for the rabbit's coupon-finding skills. We were able to take the course for only 25,000 won each. Based on the amount of designer clothing worn by the other students in the room on our night, I'm guessing that we were the only ones who needed coupons. This is a great opportunity to impress your date... if you are a high level Samsung employee. We did feel a bit like economy passengers who got upgraded to first class at the last minute, but we had a lot of fun.

About the class. The rabbit found a coupon online for Latte Art - you know, the little foamy hearts and things you sometime see in your latte in fashionable districts of town. When the rabbit told me about it, I have to admit I was a little bit apprehensive, but that feeling was soon overcome by my curiosity - "Really? A class in latte art?"

Why not, though? I suppose that if you're going to be a professional Barista, this would be a useful skill to have. It's also kind of fun to see how the other half lives from time to time.

The 10 students were seated at a table - each of us with a tray filled with all of the accoutrements required for the evening: a litre of milk, spoons, cups, bowls, milk steaming pitchers, etching tools, etc.

The teacher began by showing us his own funky method of hand-dripping his coffee: extremely finely ground coffee convexly piled into a filter, then wet in a spiral design by boiled water from a copper pot with an extremely thin nozzle. He spiraled in and out and the mound of coffee was never once over-taken by the water - it almost took-on the appearance of moss being moistened from the bottom. I threw that word in there for Ed, but he'll never read this.

That was just to give us a taste, then he moved onto explanations of how to properly steam milk before showing us how to use the espresso machine. I had learned some of these things on the fly from a brief stint as a server in my friend's specialty bakery before coming to Korea, but it was fun to get the expert's opinion on these things. The teacher of our class is also the cafe's owner, and a Barista champion, so I suppose it was kind of like getting taught to make filet mignon by Chef Ramsey on a good day.

For the 3 hour class, the first hour was mostly instruction and demonstration of milk-steaming and espresso making. For the Korean-speakers in the room, I'm sure it was very enlightening stuff as there were frequent and enlightened expressions of "ooOOooh!", but for me I would say that I got a very small percentage of the details that didn't involve some sort of visual aide or body language. Still, it was easy to hold my interest when the smell of freshly ground coffee filled the room.

Hour two was all about getting the right consistency of milk, creating the perfect pour, and beginning to design pictures in the foam.

Hour three was all for us to experiment with our supplies.

Well, what can I say about my latte art class? I suppose I should first say that I never thought I would ever be in a place in my life to be taking a latte art class in Korean, but there I was. It was fun to be learning something new, it was interesting to be exposed to a side of Seoul city life that I rarely see, I got to make a pretty sweet little latte rabbit for my lady, and the teacher complimented me on my technique. My only regret was drinking the better part of 4 foamy lattes and feeling rather flunk afterward.

I also learned that latte art is indeed an Art, and a delicate one - albeit one that seemed a bit simpler than I thought it would be. For the finer points, give this a brief read. Of course, if I had to do every step without the guiding hand of a champion barista to help me along, I'd probably be screwed, and there's no way I would be able to even begin to approach the perfectly poured "rosetta".

The latte art in the above photos are all courtesy of the rabbit and I - not bad, right?


Anonymous said...


George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Oops... should I have pluralized? You know what I'm talking about, right? I'm talking about the tools required for some serious latte art mayhem.

Anonymous said...

No, you're good. I was trying to reference that Winnebago Man video I sent you in a previous reply.

Douglas said...

How much does it cost to be able to do this at home?

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

Hey, Olivier - did you know that there is a recently-made documentary on our friend, Winnebago Man? You should check it out.

Douglas - it wouldn't cost much, if you have an espresso-maker. Most don't come with milk steamers, but the dude showed how to froth it all up in a french press. It's not ideal, but it apparently works.

I can't see myself working on perfecting this art, but it was a fun introduction.

Rock Steady said...

wowwwww~ i want to take this class~ i can do the general barista type stuff.. but latte art... !!!! looked like fun :)

George Bailey Sees The World! said...

It was fun. I think I might have a knack for it, though I don't know if I could be bothered to "pursue it further" ;) A very fun and unique opportunity though.