One of my New Year’s resolutions was to learn at least one new skill before 2012 ends, which was how I ended up in a barista course at Universita del Caffe dell’Indonesia in Jakarta.
I decided to enroll soon after I learned the Italy-based institute offers a packed syllabus of theory and practice over four days. My eternal love of coffee shops — not necessarily the coffee itself — added extra motivation. Or maybe I just like the idea of sitting in a warm classroom, learning new things, making new friends and being stimulated by a new experience.
Like any other first day of school, we started off with introductions to the course, teachers and each other. The head of UDC, Michael Gibbons, was on hand to lead us, accompanied by senior baristas Ronald Purba, Arief and Adi. Students were then shown slide after slide on the history of coffee.
With 28 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, Gibbons’s knowledge of the subject is extensive. The Universita del Caffe di Trieste graduate didn’t only talk about coffee as a drink, but explored the subject from a philosophical perspective. That must be what it’s like talking to Mitch Albom. Only Albom probably doesn’t joke around as much as Gibbons.
There were about 20 students in the class who came from all over Indonesia with different motivations and experiences. Lia Hassan, the woman sitting next to me, flew in from Samarinda, East Kalimantan. She has an eatery there and is thinking of turning it into a coffee shop.
“Coffee has become trendy and hip among the locals in Samarinda. We see it as a good opportunity,” Lia said. “We are also thinking about starting a similar barista course back home.”
Another classmate, a Surabaya-based restaurant owner named Fransiscus, said, “I’m planning to open a cafe for middle- to lower-income people. I’m into giving the best service at a low cost so more people can enjoy my food.”
My favorite part of the course was when we discussed how preparation can determine the level of caffeine in a coffee beverage. As a rule of thumb, the body can tolerate 1.5 to 3 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight over the half-life of coffee. So if you weigh 50 kilograms, you should limit yourself to 150 grams of caffeine every 2.5 to 4.5 hours, which is how long it takes for caffeine to get flushed out of the system. Knowing that can come in handy for anyone watching their daily caffeine intake.
We also talked about some of the so-called health facts associated with coffee that have been debunked, such as the popular belief that coffee causes sleep disorders. The truth is coffee stimulates the brain. When the caffeine is gone, the brain remains overstimulated and people put the blame on coffee. Drinking milk or eating a banana will help slow your metabolism and induce a sleepy state.
After the crash course in coffee theory, we got our hands dirty, so to speak, making espressos. Espresso is the basic foundation of most coffee-based drinks, such as cappuccino, latte and freddo.
Under Gibbons’s supervision, I started working on the coffee beans. Every student’s biggest challenge was the tamping phase. You have to make sure that the ground coffee in the grouphead — where the water passes before hitting the coffee — is pressed under at least 20 kilograms of force.
“Espresso should be infused and elegant. It shouldn’t be brutal like a punch in the face. Like everything in life, it’s got to be balanced between bitter and acidic,” Gibbons reminded the students during our first attempt at making an espresso.
Voila, my first espresso didn’t look so bad at all. The body was intense, the right amount of “white tiger” stripes appeared on the surface, the crema was lovely and solid and it smelled wonderful.
The second day, we learned about a milk-based coffee drink: cappuccino. Gibbons demonstrated a perfectly heart-shaped cappuccino created with only espresso and foamed milk. But foaming the milk turned out to be a rather complicated business. Transforming cold, fresh milk into a silky and foamy 70-degree body requires practice and a high pain threshold as you need to check the temperature by hand. Basically, if it’s hot enough to hurt, then the milk is all set.
Pouring milk on to the espresso while creating an attractive foam design is another thing. Although the first cup of cappuccino I made was surprisingly beautiful, I failed horribly during my next attempts; and I quickly came to the conclusion that the process is 10 percent science and 90 percent luck. A common rookie belief, I suppose.
The third and fourth days were all about practicing more coffee recipes and coffee art. Students tried their hand at decorating their coffee with the shapes of butterflies, spiderwebs and even the Taj Mahal. There was also time to use social media and upload photos throughout the whole session.
“It’s not only making coffee, but you also have to understand the quality of the product you serve. It’s good to live a quality life. Whether you’re a barista or a restaurant manager, everyone is playing their part. Teamwork is extremely important,” concluded Gibbons, while handing out certificates of completion.
Hundreds of espressos and meticulously decorated cappuccinos later we left the classroom with a smile on our faces, a certificate in our hand and knowledge that will last forever. In the end, I was rather sad that the experience had only lasted a few days.
Universita del Caffe dell’Indonesia
Jl. K.H. Hasyim Ashari No. 1D
Tel. 021 6386 4152