HE CAN down up to 20 cups of coffee a day, but Mr John Ting has good reason to do so.
As head barista at Oriole Café & Bar, the 29-year-old has to put the coffee he makes through constant taste tests so that customers can get the best of their java experience.
Barista is the Italian term for a professional who prepares espresso-based coffee.
“You only want to serve coffee that tastes perfect,” says Mr Ting.
Despite his deft and confident moves at the espresso machine, the two-time champion of the Singapore National Barista Championships stumbled into the profession by accident eight years ago.
Then, he had just completed national service and was searching for his next step in life.
A chance meeting with a friend who worked as a barista inspired him to apply for the same position at coffee joint Spinelli, where he worked until 2008.
He joined Oriole after that.
Over the years, he grew to realise that making coffee was “not as simple as pressing a button”.
It is a tedious process, he says, which requires the barista to have sound knowledge of the different types of coffee beans from all over the world.
A good barista should ideally understand the different stages that a harvested coffee bean goes through — from its humble beginnings as a seed to the time it is roasted.
Such knowledge, coupled with the skilful operation of the espresso machine, optimises the drink’s flavour, he says.
“You can have good coffee beans, but a bad barista will ruin the drink,” he added.
Fuelled by the passion to create the perfect cuppa for his customers, the self-taught coffee master decided to improve his skills by watching online videos and learning from books.
It was a move that would change his life, taking him to heights he never thought he could soar to.
During the course of his research, he chanced upon a video of the World Barista Championships (WBC), an annual coffee competition that features top baristas from around the world.
Impressed by its high standards, Mr Ting had a new goal — to enter the competition one day.
Two years later, his dream came true. He won the local national competitions organised by the Singapore Coffee Association and went on to represent the country in the WBC held in Denmark in 2008.
He emerged 32nd out of 51 contestants.
“It was an eye-opener. I got to meet top baristas from other countries. Seeing the level of dedication they put into their craft motivated me to aim higher,” he recalls.
And so he did. He took part in WBC again the following year, but with even better results. This time, he was placed 21st out of 52 contestants.
Brewing the blues away
Back home at the café, Mr Ting’s duties extend beyond brewing coffee.
Doubling up as the assistant manager at Oriole, he also dedicates time to training his subordinates and talking to customers.
Once a week, he is also responsible for roasting the coffee beans at the café, which is outside of a typical barista’s duties, he says.
When wearing the barista’s hat, however, he can brew up to 100 cups of coffee in a three-hour burst.
The most challenging part of his job, he says, is overcoming mental roadblocks.
At times, making endless cups of coffee a day can seem like a routine task. If he is not careful, settling into routine may rob him of his passion, he says.
“It can get quite tiring,” he says. “And even when you’re tired, you still have to make a good cup of coffee.”
To keep his love for coffee alive, he takes steps to guard his passion — one of which is to constantly search for new and interesting facts about coffee.
He has no regrets about stepping into the coffee world.
“Coffee has taken me to places that I never thought I could go to. I’ve met so many people and learnt so much. It’s amazing,” he says.