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 Nobuaki Matsui, brewing your daily cup of coffee at Democratic Coffee Bar in Copenhagen.
Nobuaki is a 36-year-old barista, and also, a roaster at Democratic Coffee Bar. Originally from Japan, Nobuaki now lives in Copenhagen. Nobuaki has gained a lot of experience working in hospitality, having spent the last 15 years behind the bars. Six of those years were working in speciality coffee.
A few questions for Nobuaki
What led you to coffee? Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?
First of all, I just simply thought working as a waiter at a cafe looks really cool and I should try to get a job at a cafe. And then I got a job somehow at the cafe where I had an espresso machine to work with for the first time. When I started working at the cafe, I also started exploring many cafes and restaurants around my hometown to get inspired. At one of the cafes that I visited, I encountered a single beautiful heart on the surface of my cappuccino which was really really rare to be found back then. I was so surprised by the fact that it’s possible to make a latte art consistently as you want to if you are good. And then I started practising hard to be good at Latte art. That was how I got into coffee.
However, I felt like I was stuck on my career as a barista after I had been working for 6 years behind the bar in a couple of restaurants because I couldn’t see any big difference between professionals and beginners except for Latte art. And then I started thinking that I wanted to focus on coffee more and travelled around Europe to explore European coffee scene back in 2009, bought Ethiopian coffee at The Coffee Collective in Copenhagen. I made some espressos with it myself and was blown away by one of the shots, but I couldn’t replicate the same shot that I was amazed by for some reason. It was an eye-opening experience for me and then I finally came to the realisation that coffee is surprisingly interesting and I want to be a professional barista. It even brought me to Denmark.
What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moment?
It’s not really a funny story, but I don’t remember how many times customers were staring at me wiping the counter that’s flooded with milk after knocking over the milk carton.
What would you do if you were not working in coffee?
I wanted to try to become a comedian because there is the fact that many famous Japanese comedians are originally from Osaka which is my hometown. They were my heroes when I was younger. I don’t know whether or not I could have become one though.
Working as a chef and a pastry chef is also really interesting to me because I have worked with many talented chefs who inspired me in my career. They are really intense and extremely serious when it comes to work, but that’s how I learned a work ethic. I wouldn’t be who I am as a barista if I didn’t work in the restaurants.
What is an unusual habit or hobby that you love?
It’s staring at the roast curves at this moment. It’s not fun, to be honest, but it’s interesting.
What are some bad recommendations you hear often in your profession? What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?
Firstly I need to say that a lot of people tend to romanticise working as a barista and not realise how tough it is until they actually start working behind the bar.
It is not easy to deal with a lot of customers constantly, brew loads of coffee and optimise the extraction efficiently at the same time.
But I would like to say that it is absolutely a fun, dynamic and fantastic job that can make a customer’s day by making just “a cup of coffee”. In order to do that, I would say that It could be a nice idea to work as a waiter in a restaurant, to begin with, because you could learn many things: a sense of urgency, how to enjoy dealing with customers without just taking orders, how you should make a presentation about what you would like to showcase without offending customers. They are definitely some of the important things that baristas in speciality coffee industry need.
Looking back, what one thing would you wish to know when you were starting to work as a barista?
I wish I could have started working with light roasts earlier. I’m not saying that it’s always better than medium roasts. It’s just more interesting to me.
What qualities set a good and a great barista apart?
I think great baristas have an ultimate curiosity, integrity and passion to be ridiculously serious to dial-in coffee to make the best brew possible with given coffees for customers. Many baristas have a skill and knowledge for sure and it’s absolutely crucial to learn coffee science these days, but that knowledge without a passion doesn’t really work behind the bar if you are not desperately trying to make the best brew possible.
What I always try to remind myself about is that I make hundreds of coffees a day, but one of those coffees might be the only cup that they have for a day. So I need to do my best for every single cup.
What is the one thing that you would miss the most if you could not work as a barista/in coffee anymore?
I would miss customers who come back to the counter to say “thank you for the great coffee!”
What do you consider some of the best experiences you have had in coffee so far?
It was great for me that I made a decision to move from Japan to Denmark to do coffee. I met so many coffee people from all over the world, I brewed coffees for different people in different cultures. It boosted my creativity and changed my perspective on coffee.
Coffee is traditionally something that customers choose to drink almost always, but here it’s a little bit easier to have something that I would like to recommend in my opinion. When people still love the coffee that tastes in a different way from the one that they expect, that’s always the best experience. And last but not least, I won the roasting championship recently. I’m still learning all the time, but that was by far the best experience so far.
Quick Fire Question
Would you serve filter coffee with milk, if asked for it?
Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?
Espresso or Filter coffee?
Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?
You should be able to have everything when you maximise sweetness.
Milky or Black?
Slurp or Spit?
Sit in or Take Away?
Cake or Pastry with your coffee?
What is your wifi password in a cafe?