Our Barista Stories series has been long in the making. Since our first visits to cafes around Europe, we have met many amazing baristas who have had a number of interesting stories to share. We love the speciality coffee community exactly for the people building it and are thrilled to introduce some of those individuals to you.
Baristas truly are the ones who contribute to the atmosphere in the cafe massively and are the key reason why we’d revisit.
Read on to meet Máté Kántor, brewing your daily cup of coffee at Espresso Embassy in Budapest.
Máté Kántor (24 yo) is a barista at one of our favourite cafes in Budapest, Espresso Embassy. He was born and raised in Hungary and currently lives in Budapest, working full-time at the cafe, but also helping out at Casino Mocca roastery as a part-timer. He has worked in coffee for over three years.
Máté, do you remember your first memory with coffee?
My first memorable experience with coffee happened when I was around 12, old enough to ask my parents if I may have an espresso at a restaurant. It was kind of like: “Yes, from now I can drink coffee anytime, like every adult.”. The coffee was awfully bad and I quickly realised that I don’t understand what do people like about this thing.
Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?
A good friend of mine recommended that I should go to a barista course because he thought coffee was going to be the next big trend (it actually was already). Then on the course, I strongly remember that my teacher was very precise about dosing. He wasn’t okay with 18,1 grams when the recipe said 18 grams. I loved that. I loved precision scales. Grams and the scales were my “aha” situations for becoming a barista.
What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moment?
A very embarrassing moment of mine happened when I accidentally dropped a whole portion of our chai into the pitcher washer. I thought it would go down in the sink if I poured hot water on it. But it would not. So the only thing I saw, that our sink was blocked, and the water was rising. A full house of course. I had to disassemble the whole drain in the biggest rush, in front of our customers. One of the funniest [moments] was when I discovered the fact that the coffee shop used to be a stable. The staff always jokes with the shop manager that for his birthday, we are going to get a horse for him, to queue in line like regulars do with their dogs.
What was the most memorable coffee in your life, and was there one that you’d like to forget?
One of the most memorable ones was a coffee from El Salvador, from Has Bean. I drank that coffee in the small Tamp & Pull [cafe] in Hungary, my good friend Levi pulled that espresso for me. They only got two kilograms because it was limited. That coffee was like a pure grape juice. Deep, sweet, syrup-like grape juice. It was awesome, definitely one of my most remembered shots ever. The ones I would like to forget are the “all you can eat” breakfast coffees at every hotel I’ve ever stayed at. I always give them a chance, but they always disappoint. Always.
If a career in coffee was not an option, what job would you be doing?
I would probably be a baker. I have a secret love for sourdough and baking. I would love to get up early and make some perfect croissants or kanelbullar (cardamom buns). Or sourdough bread. Or maybe brewing beer. That’s my plan C.
Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?
I’m most likely a hoarder. My fiancé always jokes about it. I collect everything coffee-related. Magazines, books, stickers, posters, coffee bags, t-shirts (that’s my favourite), tote bags. Literally anything.
Are there any bad recommendations you hear often in your profession? What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?
My piece of advice to new baristas is to pay close attention to everything that they taste. Evaluate the different details of the coffee you taste. That is how you can remember and recall coffees you had, and exercise your sensory skills. And to never give up.
Looking back, what one thing would you wish to know when you were starting to work as a barista?
That I am never ever going to meet two exactly same grinders. Never.
What qualities set a good and a great barista apart?
Good baristas are looking for the “golden cup” every day. They achieve it once or twice a day and they are very happy with it. Great baristas are looking for their worst cup and how they can manage to produce better ones and less of the bad ones. Great baristas are always trying to achieve more, never limiting themselves with the satisfaction of an easier solution. They are willing to give more energy and more of their “free” time to learn/experience/discuss and explore. And the most important thing—they are humble. They are sharing experiences and willing to give out their thoughts.
What helps you to handle a bad day at the cafe and to provide good customer service?
If I have a bad day I usually try to discuss it with my colleagues. Usually, there are minimum five of us working at the same time on the bar. Just asking around how everybody else is, and telling them what is up with me helps. Also, many of our regulars know me well, that means, I can discuss things with them too, which always comforts me enough to get back on the sunny side and to rock the good customer service.
What is the one thing that you would miss the most if you could not work as a barista anymore?
The morning dial-ins. Every time I have an opening shift I can’t wait to be next to the coffee machine, way earlier than my official shift, to start the ritual. We always have two different types of coffee at the coffee shop. We dial in the first, then the second. After that we measure, then we gather data. Finally, we have a nice cup of espresso with the final results.
What cafes and roasters make the top-five list of places to visit in your city? Where would you take your visitors?
First things first, Flow is definitely a must. Always changing coffees, different, limited brews, and pretty decent all-vegan food. Kontakt is my other favourite place, seasonal, always changing selections of different roasteries and with their very own little brunch place called Szimply. Another one is the small Tamp & Pull in Czuczor street. And of course Ébresztő with their cosy and minimalistic shop. These places contain all my very beloved and trained barista friends, with a beautiful background of very nice coffee shops. I love the bakery of Freyja, who opened up recently, and they are doing some of the best croissants of the whole city. Big up for Oriental Soup House, where I found the best pho in Budapest.
What has been the best experience you have had in the speciality coffee industry so far?
This year, I finished third in the Hungarian Barista Championship. Very very happily! This experience was one of my best ones, ever since I have started ‘browning water’. The training was very exhausting but it was worth every second. I enjoy every cupping, or coffee debuting, limited-quantity-coffee tastings, or just simply trying out something new. And also, I love meeting my role models, or icons in the coffee industry. Meeting and getting to know Dale Harris or meeting and assisting Cory Andreen while he was assembling our RO system, or just working with/for Várady Tibor was and is all fantastic.
Quick Fire Question
Would you serve filter coffee with milk, if asked for it?