A barista's brief

Varun UdhinVarun Udhin won Barista of the Year and explains what it takes to be the best.

I had to impress four well-seasoned judges, who are the ultimate coffee connoisseurs and renowned in the industry.

First challenge
I had to present a photo of my latte art design and then replicate the pattern for the judges, not once, but twice! I was judged on contrast, symmetry and harmony in the cup, as well as the difficulty of pattern. I’ve been practising the perfect design for years – I even have my own jug with an ultra-sharp spout so I can create more intricate patterns for customers; it’s better for precision pouring too. My signature design was a rose on a stem with two leaves.

Second challenge
This was my favourite: create an alcoholic-coffee-fusion drink. I took inspiration from a trip to my home country, Mauritius, where I tasted the local honeyed rum. I brought some back because I recognised that the sweetness of the rum would create something special when combined with my favourite coffee from Costa Rica. I brew the drink over ice to enhance the delicate fruity flavours. After all of the practising, the rum had run dry, so I hunted all over Europe to find more. Eventually, I found some in Prague to create my signature coffee for the competition. I think the judges really appreciated the originality of the cocktail and the harmony of the flavours in the cup.

Final challenge
 had to spot the odd cup of coffee out of three seemingly identical cups in multiple rounds. I know the importance of the balance of flavours in a cup of coffee – a good-quality cup should have a fruity espresso with a pleasant acidity. The process of coffee cupping is the best way to assess coffee and to develop your palate. I really enjoyed the challenge of this round, as it required me to trust my own judgement.

My top tips to be the best barista

1. Passion
The best baristas are not just doing a job; they are obsessed with what they do. Every cup of coffee served must be the finest it can be. You’re setting the tone for dozens of people’s days with their ritual morning beverage. Putting passion into your process really comes through in the cup you serve.

2. Focus
Working behind a coffee bar can be busy and it is easy to get distracted with so much going on. It is imperative that you have the skill to remain calm and focused on what you are doing, even when it’s really busy.

3. Willingness to learn
Never think you know it all. The best baristas I’ve met keep on challenging themselves and want to continue learning. Coffee has evolved so much since I started my career five years ago – flavours are constantly improving and customers have more knowledge than ever about what makes a good-quality cup of coffee. There is no room for complacency. It is important to continue perfecting your craft to be the best in the game.

4. Customer service
Putting the customer first is just as important as the coffee. You must be able to deliver warm and friendly service while multitasking behind the counter. Happiness is contagious – deliver it alongside an impeccable cup of coffee and you will be sure to brighten anyone’s day.

5. Respect the craft
The best cups of coffee have been handmade with love in every cup. Throughout the bean-to-cup process, there are lots of stages that can affect the end flavour of the cup. You don’t want to undo the hard work that has gone into the growing and roasting of the beans. A good barista should respect the quality of the ingredient and do it justice. Also, become best friends with your equipment. You must know how to tweak and nudge your machine to get the perfect texture of milk and the all-important silky finish. 

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