Korean Baristas Impress Coffee Trade Show

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Barista Ji-hoon Kim, who is running a South Korea-based café Wooden Temper, finished runner-up in the latte art competition at the Coffee Fest Anaheim 2016.
Barista Ji-hoon Kim, who is running a South Korea-based café Wooden Temper, finished runner-up in the latte art competition at the Coffee Fest Anaheim 2016.

Inside of the Anaheim Convention Center at 11 a.m. on Oct. 2, a resounding smell of coffee beans filled the large space. It was the last day of the Coffee Fest 2016.

Since 1992, the Coffee Fest has played a large part in the popularization of specialty coffee around the country. Three separate shows are held annually on the West Cost, Midwest and East Coast.

At the West Coast event in Anaheim, held between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2, various competitions, including roasting and espresso, hosted about 200 coffee-related businesses before a total audience of approximately 10,000.

The highlight of this year’s show in Anaheim was the last day, as the finals for three different competitions were held.

Among the 64 finalists at the Latte Art World Championship Open, several of them represented Korean cafes. Two of them, Ji-hoon Kim from South Korea and Kyu-ho Choi of L.A. Koreatown’s Document Coffee Bar, later advanced to the quarterfinals.

Kim even managed to qualify for the final, which began at 11:30 a.m. The winner is judged on speed of completion, distinguished colors between coffee and milk, pattern of the art as well as its symmetry. Kim says that he was too nervous for the final and could not finish his first cup as well as he wished. The win instead went to a Japanese barista.

“I competed in Tokyo, New York and Dallas since 2014,” Kim said. “But this is the first time I made it to the final. I didn’t really expect myself to get this far because there are so many skilled baristas, but I felt more confident as the tournament progressed.”

In the cold brew competition, Korean-owned café Coffee Code made it to the quarterfinals. Unlike other competitions at the event, the winning competitors in the cold brew event are chosen by judges who directly taste the coffee.

“We beat a renowned coffee business like Intelligentsia in the first round,” said Angie Chun, the president of Coffee Code. “We came into the competition with a blend of Kenya and El Salvador. The reaction was really good.”

There were even a Korean judge in the espresso event. L.A. Barista Academy’s Eung-ju Yeon was among the judges.

“I noticed that a lot of Korean coffee businesses participated in this year’s event and gave themselves a voice in the American market,” said Yeon. “Nitro coffee has been gaining popularity recently. Coffee drinkers are also preferring sweeter drinks over traditional espressos. I feel like this trend will only take over the mainstream faster.”

The big attraction on display at the event this year was “Ripples,” a latte art printer. Visitors also seemed fascinated by Kyuemon Ceramic Filter, which makes coffee without a paper filter. Among Korean businesses, K&Lab introduced Muglid, a specially designed cap on coffee cups.

Barista Ji-hoon Kim, who is running a South Korea-based café Wooden Temper, finished runner-up in the latte art competition at the Coffee Fest Anaheim 2016.

By Soo Yeon Oh