Barista training with Costa and a Flat White

I don’t remember the first time I had coffee, but I’m guessing it was probably  near my 10th or 12th CBSE Board exams, when staying up late cramming was the way to go, understanding anything be damned. 

That’s when my love affair with the aroma that coffee gives started.

So when I had the opportunity to have a short barista class and be introduced to a new coffee drink, I couldn’t say no, inspite of me having slowly weaned myself off coffee shop chains. Going to the UK was an eye opener in this regard. Before I left, I was probably supplying coffee chains with a lot of money. But I explored smaller family-owned shops, one-outlet-only coffee shops, got my own coffee machine and almost swore off instant coffee and coffee chains since then.

Back to Dubai. I toddled off to the Costa outlet at the Dubai Marina Promenade. My trainer for the day was Gihan Weerasinghe, who I was told, won the first Costa International Barista Competition in 2007. So one of the best baristas Costa had. No pressure.

We settled down with a cup of expertly produced Flat White and talked coffee. 

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I gingerly took a first sip, even though Gihan told me many people don’t need sugar with it. My best friend, who can have sugarless coffee without shuddering, deplores my need to throw in copious amounts of sugar into my caffeine fix. “What’s the point of coffee if you put so much sugar in it?!” she says. On that note, ever noticed that when you ask for sugar, most places give you brown sugar? Sorry folks, I need white there. Anyhoo, so I took that first sip of the flat white, and surprisingly enough, while I did need sugar, I only needed one sachet as opposed to when I dump 2-4 of them. An initial thumbs up from me for the drink.

Gihan, who has been with Costa for 10 years now, tells me more about the drink. There seems to be a bone of contention about whether the flat white comes from Australia or New Zealand – each claims it for its own. Gihan also tells me the difference between this drink and others like a cappuccino or a latte is the amount of time the espresso base is extracted. He said, “We want the sweetness and acidity, not the bitterness. When you do it right, you get a well balanced, rich, creamy flat white.”

The barista who won Costa’s first international competition admits, quite honestly, that he was a “stubborn” barista who loved coffee. But over a few years, he realized his potential and rose in the ranks of the company and now is a supervisor, who handles training teams as well. 

He candidly said, “Anyone can make a good cup of coffee but only the guy who has passion will make it all the time and well.” He proudly tells me that Costa is the only coffee chain, not only to launch the flat white, but also uses a Cortissimo (a shorter coffee extraction method) to build the flat white. I’m also told that it took 8 months of training, with around 220 people in the Costa chain trained before launching the drink.

I’m then taken over to the machines. It’s my turn to make some coffee!

I think I failed. Quite miserably, I might add, although Gihan was terribly encouraging about my futile attempts to make that milk froth well! He guided me through making a flat white and I was surprised to see the amount of science that went into it. I had to use a timer to ensure I extracted the right amount of espresso. When getting the ground coffee for extraction, I had to make sure it was flat, just rightly so. When preparing the milk, I was given instructions on how many cms below top milk level I had to keep the nozzle and after how much time I had to move it deeper. I even had a thermometer so I knew when to stop the milk-frothing process. In short, you have to be well-trained to make a good cup of coffee!

And then of course, there’s the latte art. Can I say I’m just really, really bad at that? Where Gihan managed lovely flowery designs and heart-shaped designs, I was left with a poofy cloud. Or maybe it was a fat dragon, who knows? This is Gihan’s wonderful latte art in progress:

I tried making it a few more times before I was dejected with the amount of coffee I was wasting (yes, that’s my poofy cloud at the bottom of the image!)

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Gihan even made me extract the espresso at different times, so I could taste the difference between the flat white’s cortissimo and the normally extracted coffee, which is immediately noticeable.

You can tell he’s passionate about coffee and ensuring everyone on the Costa team is well-trained to meet customer’s expectations. “Passion is what I’m trying to build within Costa.”

I was never a Costa fan to be honest, but *if* all the stores can re-create the flat white that Gihan made, then yes…I think it’ll do well.

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Disclaimer: I was given the barista training and tasting of the Flat White, courtesy Costa. The drink costs Dhs 16 in Costa outlets. I vote for the underdog over coffee chains, but still think the Flat White is a pretty decent drink.

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4 thoughts on “Barista training with Costa and a Flat White

  1. Sidiqa

    wow! interesting! I’m not a coffee drinker at all but I do absolutely love the smell of it and these look really good!

  2. sarah

    Learning to make a great cup of coffee is the first step towards truly loving it. When you know how to recognize good extraction, the difference between stale, wet, burnt and perfectly toasted espresso, you will finally love them. And when you know the difference between froth and foam, over-hot burnt milk and perfectly warmed milk, you will love a cappuccino like the Italians do – flat, creamy and dense – not with a frothy mountain on top. I’m glad to hear that Costa are training their staff to this level – it’s not the machine, but the barista behind it that can make a great cup of coffee. And I too have finally forgone the sugar in milky coffee – still working towards that in an espresso though!

  3. Payal Keswani

    Hi.Interesting post. the flat white is my fave blend too. One thing mentioned here may not be true..actually I’m quite sure it is not. Costa is not the first one to introduce a flat white in the UAE. It is RAW Coffee that was the only cafe selling a flat white long back before Costa introduced it. Just that RAW doesn’t advertise as much as Costa. But you should try RAW too (located at the Dubai Garden Centre) their flat white is as good as Costa’s. And has an award-winning barista too. Oh another one is Lime tree cafe. Closest to my workplace. Convenient & tastes good.

  4. Payal Keswani

    Oops, my kiwi colleague just told me that Limetree came before RAW in the ‘first one to serve flat white’ race. Correction to my earlier post.

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