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Barista Stories: Thuy Quynh Nguyen Thi aka Efi of Café Jen, Prague

Thuy Quynh Nguyen Thi aka Efi is a 27-year-old coffee professional based in Café Jen in the hip neighbourhood of Vršovice in Prague. As she says herself she's one half of the head barista, sharing responsibilities with her colleague Chris.

Efi was born in Vietnam and moved to Czech Republic with her parents at the age of three. She works in the coffee industry for 5 years already.

Efi won the 2022 Czech Cup Tasters Championship and had the opportunity to represent Czech Republic on the world stage in Milan. She got the well-deserved 9th place! Efi is definitely one of the most humble champions but don't get fooled, she has a big and bright personality.

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress.

Efi, what is your first memory with coffee? 

As far as I can remember, I was visiting my aunt and cousins for the summer holidays and she made our iced coffee in a blender. If I recall correctly, the recipe was instant coffee, milk, lots of sugar and ice blended together. The texture was similar to a slushy and taste-wise very sweet so even as an 8-9-year-old kid I could enjoy it. 

Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?

I needed extra cash to fund all the clothes that I wanted to buy, so my friend asked if I wanted to come work with him at Starbucks. I said yes, got accepted, and had fun working there. One day after our shift we went to a nearby coffee shop, EMA espresso bar. There for the first time, I had a coffee, in which I could taste something different than bitterness. The cappuccino was sweet, the milk & coffee ratio was in good balance and the foam was nothing like the thick bubbly layer we made. I realized coffee could have many different flavour combinations/profiles and got ‘addicted' which then resulted in me applying for a job at EMA. I got rejected but got a tip from their lovely baristas to try out Café Jen. Here I am five years later!

Efi at Café Jen in Prague.

What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moments?

As of now, there is nothing I can think of. As baristas, we all had our fair share of spilt coffee and milk, etc. Although I would not consider it embarrassing anymore, maybe my younger self would think it was a bit embarrassing. Now it's something I always laugh off.

Don't cry over spilt coffee but cry over stains on bright clothes.

If a career in coffee was not an option, what job would you be doing? 

Illustration and a little bit of graphic design. Drawing is one of the few hobbies that have stuck with me since childhood. If I was a bit more confident in my skills I would probably pursue that as a side career. Illustrators and graphic designers are needed in the coffee industry too. So a combination of both would be the perfect future job for me. 

Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?

I wouldn't say I love it but I have made a habit of making an omelette once or twice a month. I woke up one-day craving an omelette and failed miserably with my first attempt. That got me eager to learn a new skill. I have been really into k-dramas (Korean dramas/tv shows) too. My Thai friend got me into them during the pandemic and since then we have been watching shows ‘together'. Long distance but we have been sharing our reactions on the shows, discussing possible plot twists and such!

One of Efi's stunning omelettes.

What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?

Stay humble, and be confident but not cocky. Don't get discouraged by the ones that make you feel little and stick to the ones that you can learn from. A big part of this profession is the people making it, so find the right ones that inspire you. 

How was it to take part in the Cup Tasters Championship? And how did it feel to win it?

Taking part was fun! 😀 Honestly, I never thought about winning but more about the experience and testing my abilities among our Czech community. My teammates who have competed before have said many times that it is a fun competition so I gave it a shot this year.

Not gonna lie, winning did feel nice at first but then I felt the pressure that came afterward – competing in the World Cup Tasters Championship. Training for worlds was tiring yet fulfilling. As the training sessions went by I was more confident in my skills recognizing little nuances in each cup better than before. Of course, reflecting on how I did in Milan, I would have added more samples and training sessions into my schedule. That does not mean I am not satisfied with placing 9th at the world stage, I just wish I could have competed in more than two rounds!

How did your life change after you won the Czech Cup Tasters Championship?

Not much really! I have had one interview, was on one podcast episode and now I am replying to this interview hehe.

What is the one thing that you would miss the most if you could not work as a barista anymore?

Free coffee!!! It's so expensive if you calculate how much you would have to spend to get at least one cup of coffee each day! Also, I would be too lazy to brew my own coffee in the morning.

What are your coffee plans for the future? 

I am not much of a planner, one of the reasons being that I usually get depressed when thinking about the future. So I just go with the flow and seize opportunities as they come.

Quick Fire Questions for Thuy Quynh Nguyen Thi:

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?

Yes, of course! 🙂

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?

Yes, whenever I am visiting and sleeping over at my cousin's place. You gotta take sugar and milk with commodity-grade coffee.

Espresso or Filter coffee?

Filter.

Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

Balance.

Milky or Black?

One or two sips of milk otherwise mostly black.

Slurp or Spit?

Spit

Sit in or Take Away?

Sit in.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?

Pastry

Favourite piece of barista equipment? 

Personality!