YOU CAN drink a cup of latte made of the best espresso, with an adequate amount of steamed milk, but why not also get your coffee decorated with beautifully poured latte art?
One person who knows how to craft such gorgeous images is 21-year-old latte artist Irvine Quek.
He won the Malaysia Latte Art Championship last year, after getting 6th place in 2016, and 4th place in 2017, proving that anything is possible through hard work and perseverance.
The full-time barista at 103 Coffee Workshop then went on to compete at the 2018 World Latte Art Championship (WLAC) in Brazil, and shocked everyone when he was eventually declared the world champion, including himself.
He successfully beat five other finalists from Greece, China, Australia, Poland and South Korea, and excelled in categories such as visual attributes, creativity, similarity in pairs, contrast in patterns, and overall performance.
Quek affably shared: “There’s a sense of satisfaction and joy when I manage to put a smile on people’s face after they see their latte, it makes their day better and in return, they make my day better.”
How supportive were your parents when you told them that you wanted to be a full-time barista?
“They were not supportive of me at all. I quit high school very quietly without my parents knowing. I was always skipping classes, and that went on for two months.
“One day, my class teacher rang up my parents to ask what was happening, so obviously, they were really mad at me, but I relentlessly expressed my passion to be a barista, and wanting to perfect the craft of latte art.
“They’ve been really accepting of me after seeing my achievements.”
Share with us your journey to be the 2018 World Latte Art Champion.
“I [have] joined the national championship for three consecutive years, and [at my third attempt] last year, I successfully bagged the title of the national champion, which gave me the opportunity to represent Malaysia on the world stage.
“I spent 10 months preparing for the world championship, slowly perfecting my craft and building confidence.
“Being the youngest there, no one was paying attention to me, but later people started noticing my skills and art, [and it] was really encouraging to hear what they had to say.
“Coming to the final round, it hit me that I [was] the first Malaysian [to have] made it to the final.
“I’m not going to lie, I was flooded with emotions – joyful yet stressed at the same time, and I cried when they announced my name as the winner.”
What does being the world latte art champion mean?
“Before receiving the title, I was told that once you’ve reached the top, you’re no less important than anyone else.
“Indeed, I do feel that way even with that title, I am at the top in [terms of] latte art but what about in other aspects?
“In fact, it prompted me to learn more, about how to run a business, and everything else I could possibly learn.
“To keep me grounded, I always ask myself, who is Irvine without the title?”
What are your thoughts on the current cafe scene?
“Four years ago, not many people would appreciate coffee. And why I decided to make latte art is because latte art is what we call ‘having a visual impact’.
“If a customer has no idea what [the product] is, but it looks good visually, it’ll automatically lead the customer to try it out.
“Right now, the coffee culture in KL has significantly improved especially for filter coffee; people are intrigued by the drinking experience and they are interested in the origins of the coffee beans and their taste profiles.”
What is one misconception about latte artists?
“Most people think that coffees made by latte artists don’t taste good, but it is not true, we do take taste profiles seriously, and we wouldn’t serve customers coffee that only looks good but tastes bad.”