Every month, Institut finlandais highlights creatives whose work sheds light on today’s Finland and France. In November, we shared a cup of coffee with Adeline Kespi, who is our colleague from the café Coutume Institut and has won the Latte Art Championships 2018 in France and participated to the World Latte Art Championships the same year. We discussed the world of baristas – which still remains a male dominant profession in France –, the sociological aspect of coffee as well as the question of filter coffee in France.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, what is your background?

I’m Adeline, 22-year-old Parisienne. I was born in Paris, and have always lived here. My background is in music and I started my working career as a stage manager at the Opera. A couple of years ago, there was a quieter period in the work field, which led me to find something else to do. Around the same time, my friends were opening a coffee shop called Alma at the boulevard Beaumarchais and I ended up working for them. In the beginning, everything was very difficult because I was not at all familiar with the food and beverage industry – all I had done before in my life was music. In Alma, I was trained by a barista trainer Albane Théry. She also encouraged me to take part in the competitions.

Do you have any tips to give to all the home-baristas who attempt to make the perfect cup of coffee at home? What is the first thing to remember?

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making coffee. However, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible – making coffee is after all very practical, it’s physics. Even if you don’t know anything about coffee-making, you can always experiment. By experimenting, you learn to pick out different types of coffees and find the nuances. All in all, the first thing to take in consideration when making coffee is finding a good coffee ground or bean – it is impossible to make good coffee from the ones you can find from a supermarket.

Which coffee do you use at home?

I drink my coffee always elsewhere. I did this already before becoming a barista: picking up two-euro espressos from different coffee shops. This is how, little by little, I started to learn new things about coffee. Visiting different coffee shops gives you the opportunity to compare, analyse and observe the coffee making process, especially everything that the barista does, his or her gestures.

You participated in November 2018 in the World Latte Art Championships that were held in Brazil. Could you tell us a bit about the professional world around coffee?

Indeed, we see just a small fracture of everything related to coffee when we order a cup from a coffee shop. The first thing we see is, of course, the barista, who prepares the coffee right in front of our eyes. Before arriving into the hands of the barista, the coffee has travelled a long journey: to the coffee shop, it has arrived from a bagging company, where the grains that have been roasted in a coffee roastery have been packed. Before the roastery, the importer has imported the grains from the country of origin to the destination. Whereas in the country of origin, there are the gatherers and farmers: the people who take care of the coffee plants, harvest and control the quality.

There are a lot of people involved in this long supply chain of coffee production that we can not even see. For me, the competitions serve also this purpose: showcase and give recognition to the people that we don’t normally see.

Nevertheless, it can not be denied that the work of a barista is partly chemistry: we work with liquids and different variables, we do a lot of measuring…

What kind of dreams or ambitions do you have for your barista career?

I would like to be able to pass on everything I have learned to the people around me. In addition to this, I would like to – you could call this a dream – change the concept of Latte Art. In the term “Latte Art”, there is the word “art”, that for me resonates visual expression: painting, sculpture and fireworks. So for me, Latte Art belongs to this same category of visual arts. However, in the Latte Art competitions the most important criterion happens to be the technical ability of the contestants: Who can fit the most drawings into their cup? Who is the most “virtuoso”, so to say? In my opinion, this approaches more robotics than art. I hope to change this way of seeing Latte Art – or actually, I wish to change the whole conception of it. This is my big ambition.

Do you think that the work of a barista approaches more chemistry or art? In your opinion, what is the most important trait of a barista?

I think that the work of barista is a combination of these two worlds. I have to admit that I’m not particularly talented in sciences. Nevertheless, it can not be denied that the work of a barista is partly chemistry: we work with liquids and different variables, we do a lot of measuring… These are all important things to take into consideration when preparing coffee. In addition to this, it is good to remember that making good coffee takes time.

I think that it is important to have different personalities working behind the counter. For example, a barista who is concentrated on the pragmatic side of the task, a “coffee geek” you could say, is continuously making tests and experiments. Whereas a barista who is more concentrated on the social side of the coffee has an excellent relationship with the customers. These “coffee sociologists” are, in a way, bringing life to the café and are interested in sharing the history of the coffee with the customers. Both are equally important, I would say.

What are your tips for the coffee shops in Paris? Which are the most Parisian cafés in your opinion?

If we are talking about the speciality coffees, you should always avoid the brasseries. The coffee that they serve you there is expensive, bad and you have to fill it up with sugar. My advice is to discover the small coffee shops that are easily found thanks to the lists on internet.
You can’t normally find good filter coffee in France: the French even call it sock juice. However, the filter coffee in the coffee shops is often of very good quality, so it is best to go there if you desire a cup of filtered coffee. The French are just not yet used to the taste of filter coffee but prefer bitter coffees, like “allongés” and espressos. They are not really used to the acidity of filter coffee.

Last but not least: What is your favorite coffee?

I like to drink espressos, which acts for me as a base of comparison. In general, I enjoy – not so surprisingly – drinking Ethiopian coffees that have been naturally treated, which captures the sweet flavors of fermentation into the coffee bean. In this natural method, the seeds of the coffee berries are left inside the berry after the harvest and the berries are dried as a whole in the sun on these vaste drying surfaces. In this way, the seed – that turns into a coffee bean – sucks all the juicy flavors and the sweetness of the fermentation of the berry into itself.

Portrait of Adeline: Caroline Noirbusson