Barista pays it forward with a cup of perfection

BARISTA Karen Moerdyk loves nothing more than sharing her knowledge of conjuring up the perfect cup of coffee, and her staff at East London's popular country restaurant Lavender Blue are scoring.

The self-confessed coffee lover offers weekly day-long barista training sessions in a quiet corner of the spacious eatery and farmer's market where she teaches just two potential baristas at a time in the art of producing the perfect cup of coffee.

And, when there's place, her staff become her enthusiastic coffee-making students.

Moerdyk is so particular about her brew, that she can immediately tell if a waitress will be a good barista or not and she has not been wrong so far.

"The main thing is that a waitress listens to my very specific needs when I order a coffee," said Moerdyk, who has head-hunted a handful of her staff from a café at the East London airport which she frequents while on her travels to judge barista competitions nationwide.

"If they listen to my instruction about how I want my coffee, I offer them a job."

Thanks to Moerdyk's talent search, Sinaza Ngxata is now a fully-fledged barista who works the restaurant's two espresso machines with distinct flair and produces exquisite cappuccinos decorated with leaves, tulips, bicycles, angels, pigs and elephants. She can even produce an Iron Man logo on a cup of coffee – which delighted athletes and supporters a few weeks ago.

"Karen ordered a flat white when she was at the airport," said Ngxata. "I didn't know what it was, but I said ' tell me and I'll make it.' So she did and I made it exactly how she wanted it and when she liked it I was so happy," who produces beautiful cups of coffee with palpable glee.

Moerdyk has trained Ngxata – and the staff of other coffee outlets as well as home-based coffee lovers – the specifics of good coffee. This includes the roasting style, different bean types and flavours and the all- important technical aspect of how to stretch milk and how to pull a good shot and tamp evenly and consistently.

She also teaches the creative side of producing a delicious Arabica cappuccino in which charming pictures are crafted on the crema. "You do this with a free pour, drawing a latte picture with the jug and your wrist. The milk has to be stretched right for this to work. You can also etch milk with a skewer, chopstick or the back of a spoon," said Moerdyk, who judges barista competitions countrywide for the Speciality Coffee Association of South Africa (Scasa) in which two of her staff, including Ngxata, have participated.

"My heart is in training baristas because it changes their lives and if you have this training no-one can take it away from you. I want to spread the word about speciality coffee and get people into it."

According to Moerdyk, the trend among those who know and love their coffee are for pour-over coffees, a technique of extracting coffee beans for a smooth brew which brings out the true flavour of the bean.

"The good old cappuccino is always around because people like an easy to drink coffee – not too bitter or strong," said Moerdyk who serves only Arabica coffee which she sources in Durban and which, interestingly, contains much less caffeine than found in Robusta beans which are used in instant coffees.

"My supplier knows I like sweet beans like single origin Nicaragua beans and he also blends a great dark roast for me called Nonmara," said Moerdyk, who will be on the judging panel of the Scasa regional competition in Port Elizabeth at the Homemakers Expo at the Boardwalk Exhibition Centre July 24-27.

Bookings for a barista course can be made by calling Casey at (043) 732- 1172. WHAT CONSTITUTES A PERFECT CAPPUCCINO: Lavender Blue owner and barista Karen Moerdyk provides her expert tips:It must be made in a cup holding 150ml to 180ml

It should have 30ml espresso in it

It must be topped with thick texturised milk that must be poured slowly into the cup to blend with the espresso and to form a thick coffee-based drink

It must be consumed at an acceptable temperature

Art is optional.