Let’s face it, we’re fussy Aussie buggers when it comes to our coffee.
Regardless of your barista skills, your smooth talk, your milky jugs or fancy pouring pants, if the coffee itself you’re using is average – people don’t come back. And, there’s nothing worse than picking up your coffee and jumping on public transport before you realise your morning cup of sanity is bitter, weak, acidic or just generally crap.
This is why I have the fondest appreciation for baristas who actually know what they’re serving up everyday. More than that, they make it their lifeblood to become immersed in the coffee process and do whatever it takes to deliver the full sensory experience.
Like this guy, Yama Kim, barista at Kingswood Coffee who puts the King in coffee tasting. In the hustle and bustle of World Square with its generic shop fronts, this cute little nook stands out with it’s old fashion feel in tribute to the landmark building before it. The wood and brass finishes make it exquisite and inviting, along with their delecatble pastries, toasties and smack-bang coffee.
From wine to coffee time
When I was told what Yama had achieved in the coffee industry, I was very surprised when I met the most humble, gentle and soft-spoken person. Don’t let his game face fool you.
It all started with a coffee documentary he watched in high school back in Korea, ironically where people drink way more tea than coffee. After spending a few years studying coffee and working in a cafe, Yama took things up a notch and studied vino culture for two years.
It was this experience which made his palate more sophisticated for his return to coffee when he moved to Australia five years ago.
“I started at a roasters in Marrickville, and learnt quite a lot there, before moving to Kingswood two years ago where Mikey helped me get trained up for cup tasting, using different beans from different roasters.”
Mikey Jordan, owner of Kingswood Coffee, is a big fan of Yama’s.
“Apart from simply being very talented, he’s the most dedicated and hard working guy. But, on top of that, what makes Yama extra special is how humble he is about his skills and achievements.”
Tastebuds that need their own insurance
So what do you do with a palate like Yama’s? You put it to the test. After three months of intense training, Yama took out first place at the Australian Cup Tasting Championships.
“It’s a big competition in the coffee industry. There are eight different coffees, each round you have to choose out of three cups and pick the odd one out.”
This stuff ain’t easy people, with Yama saying each cup only having the slightest difference from the next.
“They’re all very similar. For example each batch could all be from Columbia, same plant but different lot.”
The skills used are incredibly specific too. There’s no drinking water in between to wash it all down.
“There’s two types of tasting. One is your nose, and one is using your top palate, you have to separate them at first.”
But if taking out the Australian title isn’t enough for this weapon, he went onto World’s in Budapest where he took on the best of the best, and scored 6th place.
So when you hit your peak early what’s the next challenge? Teach it. Yama’s coffee tasting classes are now a weekly sellout at Kingswood.
He says tasting is the easy part, but educating people is difficult. So prepare yourself rookies, apparently it takes up to a year to get good at it and acquire those sensory skills.
It’s Yama’s well informed background in coffee culture that hopes to have him judging world’s one day, where he can continue his love for tasting, travelling and excessively visiting art galleries.
It’s all about people pleasing
For now? He wants to keep roasting those green beans and bridge the gap between what the barista likes, and what the crazy caffeine addicts want.
“I want to find the right coffee my customers like. You get surprised when you’re the barista and you like certain coffee but customers don’t like it.
“People are looking for strength, especially Aussie guys. I love the floral tones in coffee’s but I find most people don’t. They like chocolate and caramel tones. So I look out for that when roasting.”
It’s a unique status like this in the wine and coffee industry that will surely have Yama tasting and pacing his way up. Watch this space.
You can find Yama at Kingswood most days of the week from 6am. Shop 10, World Square Shopping Centre, 644-680 George Street, CBD, Sydney
All images @darylkong
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