Franck baristas Josip Novačić and Zoran Trkulja share their experiences on preparing high quality espresso and Latte Art

1. Brief introductions.

Zoran Trkulja is an official barista trainer and head of HoReCa service development at Franck. He fell in love with coffee in 2004 when visiting a roasting plant in Trieste, and in 2008 to 2010, he achieved impressive results at the national barista championships. From 2011 to 2013, as a member of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), he was one of the organisers and the sensory judge at the Croatian barista championships.

Josip Novačić is an official barista trainer and head of HoReCa services development in Franck. He began his barista career in 2008 with strong results at a number of barman and barista competitions, and he is the founder of one of the barista schools operating in Zagreb.

2. Croats are well known coffee lovers. As a barista, have you observed that the appearance and serving of the coffee is just as important as the flavour of the coffee itself for Croats?

Zoran: We drink about 5.1 kilograms of coffee per capita in Croatia, which is not a bad statistic, as it confirms that coffee is almost as loved in Croatia as it is in Brazil, where the per capita consumption if 5.8 kilograms. In addition to flavour, the appearance and serving of coffee is exceptionally important to Croats. Though it is a widespread myth that good quality espresso must have a thick and dark foam. Some guests, particularly the elderly, assess the quality of their coffee as to whether the foam will withstand the addition of sugar, which, of course, is no indicator of the actual quality of the beverage.

3. It is well known that true coffee lovers take their coffee without milk or sugar, in order to fully enjoy the true coffee flavour. However, Croats most often order coffee with milk, and sweeten it with sugar. Are we doing this wrong? What are we missing?

Zoran: We can enjoy properly prepared espresso without adding anything at all. People most often add sugar or milk to cover up some of the shortcomings that can arise when preparing coffee, caused by a poorly maintained espresso machine, excessive temperatures, stale coffee and the like. On the other hand, some people just prefer coffee with milk. But if the coffee is well prepared, it will not need sugar, for if the milk is properly warmed to about 65 degrees, then the milk itself will release the ideal quantity of sugar, and then there is no need for additional sweetening.

4. Is it all the same if we add warm or cold milk to coffee? How much will the coffee lose in quality?

Zoran: I always recommend warm milk. Espresso is a beverage that is served to a maximum volume of 0.03L, and if we add in 0.1 L of cold milk, the end result is a flavourless and cold beverage. People began adding cold milk because most waiters never attended barista training. They destroy the milk by bringing it to the boil several times, and in doing so burning the sugars within. This gives the coffee an unpleasant caramelised flavour and aroma.

5. Tell us a little about the Latte Art project. What are you aiming to accomplish?

Josip: I would prefer to call it workshops on Latte Art. This is our way of presenting and teaching the basic techniques of coffee decoration. Latte Art is a supplement to the basic barista skills and creativity, and it gives every cup a feeling of uniqueness that guests love. Latte Art has quickly become popular in Croatia. Cafes are quick to recognise the advantages, as this service positively reflects on the image of the café, and guests are inclined to return. In watching professionals do Latte Art, you get the impression that that this is a form of artistic expression out of our reach. This of course is not true, though it takes months of persistence and training to achieve success. Mastering the techniques of Latte Art above all requires specific barista knowledge about the techniques of maintaining the handling the espresso equipment, the proper preparation of espresso and the properties of a good espresso, and general knowledge about coffee and the organoleptic properties of different coffee blends. This knowledge and these skills are an integral part of the education programme at the Franck Academy I run with my colleagues.

6. Just how popular is foam decoration in Croatia?

Josip: Increasingly popular, as seen by the fact that baristas with this specific knowledge and experience are sought after on the labour market. Cafes and restaurants are looking more carefully for staff with a good overall knowledge of coffee, and with knowledge on how to do Latte Art. We are passing on this knowledge and experience to the staff of our partners companies, through our free workshops.

7. When did this become popular?

Josip: The trend arose in the mid 1970s, first in Italy. Then it spread to the USA in the 1980s, especially Seattle, where the creation of micro-foam was developed as the textured warm milk that is needed to create coffee art.

8. You could say that foam art could be considered real artistic works of art. Just how talented do baristas need to be by nature in order to succeed?

Josip: Of course, talent is important to this art, but above all, persistent, continuous practice and a great love for coffee are paramount. Latte Art is a skill that demands constant training.

9. What can be drawn in the foam?

Josip: Absolutely anything you can imagine, if the barista is truly talented and well trained.

10. What are your favourite motifs?

Josip: For me, personally, it is the motif of the heart. Because every beverage, just like food, should be prepared with heart.

11. What is the most difficult thing you have drawn?

Josip: Let’s just say a swan is pretty difficult to accomplish.

12. Has it become common practice that coffee is served with decorated foam in all cafes, or do guests need to request this?

Josip: More and more locales serving Franck coffee are also serving Latte Art, as in addition to the coffee itself, we also provide constant training for staff. We ensure that cafes are raising the quality of preparation and are serving the perfect cup of coffee, including Latte Art. Guests do not always ask for this on their own, but a beautiful cup of coffee served is a service that keeps guest returning.

13. Explain the drawing technique. How is it done?

Josip: Actually, when you look at it, the technique itself seems simple. Which of course it isn’t. Not in the least. In order to produce a beautiful and tasty Latte Art cappuccino, above all, you need a premium espresso. Then an oval cup shape, a good quality barista milk jug, textured milk heated to about 65°, well training pouring technique, and a lot of love for this job.

14. Closing thoughts...?

Zoran: It’s important to stress that baristas are like the sommeliers of coffee, and without any false modesty, the most elite type of hospitality workers. Baristas have to have excellent knowledge of the raw materials, from growing to the technology of coffee processing, and must know how to handle and maintain the espresso machine in order to get a satisfactory result – the perfect cup of coffee that is sure to please people. Unfortunately, today we have many self-proclaimed “hipster baristas”, who pay more attention not to the coffee, but to how they look and what they wear – plaid shirts, sweater vests, French berets, with tattooed forearms… Unfortunately, they have given this noble profession a lot of negative attention.