Food and Drink

All In A Day's Work: Grinding down

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2007, 12:00am

Doris Cheu, a manager-turned barista, has found her passion and mission in the art of coffee brewing.

I worked as an operations manager of a shipping company for 20 years and then transferred to Shenzhen for another six. It was a hectic lifestyle and I wanted to slow down. I have always enjoyed drinking coffee and when my sister said she wanted to open a coffee shop, I decided to work for her. I completed my training course for beginners at The Coffee and Tea Academy of Hong Kong and China to be a barista, and I am planning to take an intermediate level course.

My passion for this addictive beverage has grown stronger with the time I have worked in Cafe Little in Sheung Wan. I start my day at 11am and finish at about 9pm. Our regular customers are local office workers and tourists. Cappuccino is the popular choice for most. But I often have customers who want a specific blend of coffee. Some like their coffee strong and need a kick to start their day.

To extract the best flavour of coffee, I use 100 per cent Arabica beans. I grind the coffee beans before I prepare the coffee to ensure freshness. I usually grind eight to 10 grams of beans for one shot of espresso. The type of coffee beans used is important. They should be roasted, not burned. I experiment with different blends, such as Kenyan mixed with Brazilian, or Ethiopian mixed with Costa Rican. I tailor coffee according to the customer's specific requirements. They may want a specific brew and I can give them the taste of that particular roasted flavour.

I clean the filter and pressure head after each use. This ensures that the coffee aroma is not ruined. It looks like an easy job, but making coffee is not, and it takes a lot of practice and patience to make a perfect cup. Many factors can ruin the flavour of coffee, such as water temperature, which is ideally at 85 degrees; a higher temperature can destroy the taste of the coffee. The cups should be warmed before serving. I am particular about getting the procedure right because if something goes wrong in any step from grinding to brewing the taste could be ruined.

More Hong Kong people realise that baristas are not just waiters but trained professionals. The job of a barista is more than just serving espresso. It is about the ultimate coffee experience in that all senses should be stimulated. From smell, to sound, to sight, to taste, it is all part of the art of making a perfect cup. For a professional barista, creativity is needed to make interesting blends. Communication skills are also important as the customers may ask you specific information about coffee beans or blends. Many times, my customers like to watch me make coffee and I am happy to show them. I operate the machine manually and I can make two cups at a time. The espresso machine I use is a state-of-the-art device. Part of a barista's responsibility is to maintain and clean different parts of the machine. That aspect is also included in barista training.

In a small cafe, it is important to maintain a friendly atmosphere and meet customers' needs. I don't like to push customers to decide on what they want to order, but if they have no idea I offer suggestions.

In this line of work, passion for coffee is what keeps me going and I take pride in what I do. A service-oriented attitude and outgoing personality are necessary to be a good barista.