The secret to a perfect latte
Need a little help steaming your milk? Two-time Australian barista champion Craig Simon reveals the secret to making a perfect latte.
Veteran barista Craig Simon has been crowned the Australian barista champion for the third time after a four-year hiatus from competition. Simon, 40, took out the national title on Saturday at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo.
Runner-up Anthony Douglas, 26, is a relative newcomer to competitive coffee making.
Both men, who are friends and former musicians, agree it takes years – and ongoing training – to become a top-level barista.
"There's only so much you can learn from slamming out coffees behind a bar," says Douglas, a manager of Axil Coffee Roasters in Melbourne.
What makes a great barista? "Intuition, mechanical rhythm, an ability to engage with customers," says Simon, a manager at Veneziano Coffee Roasters in Melbourne, who also won the title in 2012 and 2014. There was a time, back in the pre-hipster era, when a cup of coffee usually meant a teaspoon of instant perfunctorily dropped into a mug, followed by a mighty splosh of boiling water and a dollop of milk.
But Australian cafe society has exploded so much in the past 25 years – there are at least 6700 coffee businesses in Australia, worth an estimated $3 billion a year, according to Smart Company magazine – that standards have skyrocketed, along with a dizzying array of variations. Short macchiato. Long macchiato. Mocha. Ristretto. Lattes with intricate designs ("latte art") that are too beautiful to drink.
Simon doesn't have any patience with baristas who behave like coffee Nazis – refusing to serve coffees with skim or soy milk, or piping hot (the perfect temperature is said to be a lukewarm 60C). "If a barista doesn't make what a customer wants, they don't understand hospitality," he declares.
Apart from causing increased heart rate and insomnia, coffee has received a good health rap of late – as long as you don't drink it to excess or spill it in your lap. Neither of these baristas has a coffee machine at home. "The last thing I feel like at home is coffee," sighs Simon.
Simon will represent Australia at the World Barista Championship in Amsterdam in June.
Barista Angus Mackie of Canberra's award-winning Ona Coffee placed third at the Australian competition, which also covered latte art and filter brewing categories.