“My name is Blue, and I am an addict”..
When I was still a coffee cherry-boy, back in the days when all I knew was instant Nescafe (I still shudder when I think of those times!), I always used to scoff at the self proclaimed coffee habitués that loved to tell everyone within earshot how they couldn’t get through their morning without (insert number here) coffees. I was introduced to real coffee at quite a late stage in life, I guess when I was around 20. It was in Kyoto at Gold’s house actually, and I have never forgiven him for it..!
I am now as hooked as any of those junkies that used to preach to me, and I now want your sympathy for my caffeine addiction..!! Only joking, but I am hooked, and am the proud owner of one of those fancy espresso makers which make reasonable milk foam in the comfort of your own home. It is a Saeco Magic model, a little expensive, but damn it is easy to make a pretty reasonable cappuccino. You can click here to view it on Amazon.co.jp and buy in English, or just click on the image to the right. That is the machine in action.
Anyway, I don’t want to waste your time boring you with my addiction. I want to let you know about a little known but nevertheless cool coffee related event on in Tokyo a little while ago, which all coffee lovers should know about. As news, this may be a little old now, but this is a story which should have a close affinity with many readers – after all its about coffee!
In August, the Specialty Coffee Association of Japan (SCAJ, there are some wonderful associations around aren’t there?) held the World Specialty Coffee Conference & Exhibition 2006 (SCAJ2006) from Aug7-9, 2006 at the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho. It was – according to the SCAJ homepage – “The Biggest Independent Coffee Conference & Exhibition in Japan”, and they estimated “5,000 Coffee Professional Guests” would attend (I hope I was considered one of the five thousand, although I am not sure what makes one a coffee professional guest).
Perhaps the most interesting part of the show for most though, was the “Latte Art Exhibition”, where 6 professional barristas from all over Japan showed their flair in a competition where they had to whip together 6 cups of fancy coffee within a set 8 minute time limit. They had the following guidelines, and apart from these, how they created their art was left to their own style.
They had to make 2 café lattes, 2 café macchiatos, and 2 original beverages, using at least one non-alcohol ingredient.
Well, what a performance! In spite of the fact that this is a heck of a feat to carry out in 8 minutes, all the participants kept the crowed on their toes with excitement as they whirled their cups around the coffee makers and milk steamers under the heat (and pressure) of TV cameras and lights. There were only a hundred or so chairs set out, and by half way through there were twice that many people again standing stretching their necks to catch a glimpse of the performers and their pizzazz.
They were judged on aesthetic quality based on:
- Whether the pictures they drew in the top of the lattes were smooth, and identical in both cups
- The creaminess and quality of appearance of their milk foam
- The contrast of the white fluffy foam vs. the coffee brown espresso art on top
And also on the taste and aroma of the beverages covering:
- Balance of espresso and milk
- Smoothness of drinking
- Taste of the milk foam
If they finished within the 8 minute time limit, they were rewarded 5 points for every 15 seconds, and stripped the same amount for every 15 seconds of overtime. The whole exercise being focused on how fast they could make a consistently good cup of coffee that pleased all the senses! This according to the SCAJ is the 使命 (mandate) for every aspiring barrista.
How is that for a coffee lover’s spectator competition! The winner was Miyuki Miyamae of Cafféra (a coffee shop inside Daimaru Kobe). She is also the holder of 4th place in the 2004 World Latte Art Championships.
Miyamae started her bout with her macchiatos. The crowed was engulfed in the tense air of the competition, totally gripped by her speed and fluid movement of her hands which were clearly visible on the massive TV screens projecting from behind her. The clarity of the heart shapes she drew with espresso wowed the crowed as they were formed in perfect identical shapes on top of the shaving cream like milk foam on both cups. She was careful to clean the espresso machines as she went (cleanliness of the whole process was also under scrutiny), and on she proceeded to her 2 cups of latte.
Her original piece was also exquisite. She again pulled the crowd off their seat with anticipation as she poured hot espresso on top of smooth white chocolate and coconut syrup topped with rich marshmallow like milk foam. In this, she swiftly painted the face of a teddy bear with waves of espresso and a flick of her spoon on top of both cups, and she was done. The bears appeared like magic in what seemed to be only seconds. It was easy to see that this is not something that one could not easily perform at home without years of practice – the sign of a true pro. This fantastic finale once again drew an awestruck「ほぉ〜」(wooow..) from the crowd in unison.
2nd place was taken by Kumiko Saito, and 3rd by Dominik Majdadzic from Australia (go the gaijins!). The competition was a fresh chance to see something (that I now take for granted as a relaxing caffeine “hit” each morning) being created as artwork with speed and dexterity that demonstrated just what it is to be a pro in your field. These people obviously love what they do, and enjoy serving up the best cuppas in Japan. Their attitude was something for all of us to aspire to.
Think about the part coffee plays in your daily life, and in the lives of hundred’s of millions of people around the world daily. Have you ever tried to give it up? I don’t like your chances – It’s a tasty drink, and powerful but thankfully legal drug!