Barista Champion of Korea: Youn Joo Yu

Everyone makes mistakes, but we were dismayed to see a big one we made in the new issue of Barista Magazine: we ran the wrong photo in the World Barista Championship ‘yearbook’ spread in the August/September issue for the Barista Champion of Korea.

Youn Joo Yu, the Barista Champion of Korea, in the photo we should have included in the August/September issue of Barista Magazine

All 50 of the baristas representing their nations in Vienna at the WBC in June are true ambassadors for the specialty coffee industry worldwide, and Youn is no exception. Youn deserves as much of a shout out as any of the champions, and since we messed up with the photo in the magazine, we thought we would give her special recognition here.

I got to know Youn a little when we were doing interviews with all 50 baristas for the Official World Barista Championship Event Program. So I thought I’d share some of her thoughtful responses here. She’s really a pretty awesome barista.

“Hi! I am Yeon-Joo Ryu (note: she spells her name two different ways) from South Korea. It has been 5 years since I started doing coffee. I work at Coffee LEC with Jae-Hyuk Ahn, who is a well-known barista in Korea and has been an excellent coach for me. Last year, I competed at Korea Barista Championship for the first time. I learned many invaluable lessons throughout the event as well as from the stage experience. Based on the lessons, I have prepared this year’s competition for months, and I was able to gain even more valuable experiences. I always try to focus on essential elements of coffee, which are not immediately visible in the cup. An opportunity to share the idea with many people has been a great motivation for me in joining this competition. I am trying to focus on the fun and joy of preparing and serving coffees throughout the competition as I believe that the process always outweighs the result.”

We at Barista Magazine extend our most sincere apologies to Youn for the photo mistake. Now we invite you to enjoy her answers to our interview questions for the event program. She’s really pretty terrific!

How did you get started in coffee?
It was my mom who first recommended me to get coffee training at a small academy. There I found my interest in coffee. Since then, I have been doing coffee.
What was your first amazing experience with coffee?
I still remember the day when I had Ethiopia Yirgacheffe coffee for the first time. Until then, I thought that coffee tasted just bitter. However, the cup of Yrgacheffe coffee changed my mind — I finally believe that coffee can be fruity!
Who has been your greatest influence in coffee? Why?
My coach has been the greatest. He helped me think of coffee from a different perspective than before. He puts a higher emphasis on the basics than applied techniques
What would you like to see change about the coffee industry/community?
I hope more coffee people care about all the essential elements and process involved in bringing coffee to customers. Barista only takes care of the last step. There are much more behind the scene. I think baristas should try to learn more about all those behind the scene and deliver the information to customers. Exploring such essential knowledge sometimes gives me creative inspiration, too.
Name a coffee luminary (famous person) you would like to meet, and why:
I look forward to meeting Alejandro, the WBC champion of last year. I think it is interesting that we have a few things in common. We both are the same age and have the greatest coaches.
Name a barista you admire, and why:
Definitely, I admire my coach, Jae-Hyuek An. I have been training with him for three years, and I am still learning from him about coffee as well as many others outside the coffee.
Do you have a favorite customer? If so, tell us about him or her.
Sure. I think most baristas have their own favorite customers. I have one who likes all aspects of my service — coffees that I prepare, attitude I have for coffee, and even every detail of my service. The customer comes back very regularly, and I feel that we trust each other. Having such a customer helps me continue to pursue my belief that I had as a barista from the beginning.
Besides your own cafe, what cafe do you think everyone should visit?
I do not think that there is a must-visit cafe. I believe that people should try to visit various cafes to have better coffee experiences.
Which coffee producing country you would like to visit, and why?
I wanted to visit Ethiopia. As I said earlier, the first cup of coffee that really impressed me was Ethiopian. Ethiopia is also the origin of coffee.
What are your interests outside of coffee?
This one is not easy to answer because even my most hobbies are related to coffee. Before the competition, when I am not working, I liked reading books. Half of them were related to coffee though.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I will be exactly 30 years old in 5 years. I hope to be a mentor for junior baristas then. I hope that I also continue to work at the bar as a barista, too, likely for the next 10 years.

About the Author

Sarah

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.