Hoony Chae

Latte Artist & Barista Champ Interviews

The team at Meadow Fresh were lucky enough to sit down and have a chat with the masters behind our milk – Hoony Chae and Dove Chen, New Zealand’s own barista champions.


Tell us a little about yourself and your journey with coffee 


Dove: Having always loved coffee – from my younger days sneaking into my parent’s kitchen and stealing their instant coffee and mixing it with condensed milk, to moving to New Zealand in 2002 and trying the coffee here and it completely blew my mind, to now owning my own coffee shop and winning the Barista Championships. It’s been a journey.

I was originally a banker, having a degree in economics and soon realised that I didn’t want to work for someone else counting money. In 2007 My parents helped me get a loan from a bank to buy a franchised coffee shop, following this in 2013 I decided to sell and start my own so I could have a bit more freedom of choice within the café., which I still have – Grey St Kitchen.

I’ve worked in the coffee industry since 2007, thirteen years in the industry! I’ve always been fascinated by the barista championships; my interest slowly grew over time. In 2011 I started to get into speciality coffee, and had an amazing coffee from the Barista Champion of that year which made me think “I want to serve this coffee in my café”.

I began competing myself in 2015, and I found there is just always so much to learn, I really enjoy it – each year I come away having learnt something new.

In 2017 after years of practise I won the National Barista Championships, following this I took a year off and decided to travel overseas to watch the world championships in Amsterdam. When you’re competing, you don’t have the luxury of watching other competitors and learning from them. Sitting on the side-lines meant I could learn even more. What inspired me the most was a Japanese barista and his incredible passion for making good coffee, I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying but I could pick up on the flavour notes and be able to watch his actions so clearly.


What’s your favourite part of owning a café? 


Dove: It’s like a community, it’s not just about selling food and coffee. You get to know and see regulars every day, provide them with a great experience and make them happy, it’s really rewarding.

I don’t get to be behind the coffee machine much these days, but it’s incredibly rewarding having a team that’s so amazing at what they do; we’re lucky to have two award-winning chefs, a fantastic manager and a barista, Dennis who recently came second in Latte Art, and Jung who came third, I’m very proud of my team.

Recently, I fulfilled a dream I’ve had for a while – starting my own coffee company, it’s called Grey Roasting Co – sourcing the best coffee I can and serving it to my customers.


What are some secrets to making your coffee at home? 


Dove: There aren’t many good secrets these days with Google and YouTube, but it always helps to have some good gear, if you’re passionate about coffee even a scale could help!

It helps you measure the right ratio and weight for the coffee, just like baking a brownie – if you put about 20g of coffee into the basket, you’ll be able to extract 40g of coffee out in 25 seconds that’s the recipe, the only variable is the time. Running your coffee for longer can result in a dryer or more bitter coffee – you’ll know to make the coffee a bit more course (ground the beans less).

And then on the contrary, if you’re extracting quickly – the machine is only running for 10 seconds you need to look at grinding the beans for longer so they are finer.

Having scales helps remove some of the guessing!


What are some top tips for steaming milk at home? 


Dove: Choose the right milk – Meadow Fresh, of course, there’s a good makeup of protein, fats, sugar and it’s creamy and consistent.

- When you’re just getting started, a thermometer is super helpful with knowing when to stop stretching the milk and move onto the next step

- Do your stretching right at the beginning (this is where the tip of the nozzle goes in just a small way), you don’t want it to get any hotter than 30 degrees.

- Once you’ve reached 30 degrees you can lift the jug up so no more extra air gets in beneath the milk

- Holding the jug up, tilt it, to create a whirlpool

- You can let the temperature increase to about 65 degrees – if the milk is hotter it can help bring in more sweetness to the coffee


What coffee do you drink? 


I drink it all – but from a café mostly flat whites and long blacks. I also really enjoy filter coffee – it’s nice and light, and often floral.


How many coffees do you drink a day? 


Dove: normally three or four, not too bad! But if we are tasting on the other hand it’s a very different story!


How did you get into latte art? 


Hoony: Growing up I loved playing a lot of sport, and thoroughly enjoyed the physical side of it. With latte art, I find it somewhat similar so naturally drawn to it - there’s a physical side when you’re crafting the coffee, and then there’s the piece where you need to practise


Why do you love being involved with latte art? 


Hoony: handing over a coffee with a beautiful design to a customer and seeing them smile or it provoke a happy feeling makes me happy as well! There’s something really satisfying about a customer being happy with my coffee – knowing that they enjoy looking at it and drinking it.

That’s what drives me to keep practising and trying, so I can always create new art for customers.  

over and over until you’ve got the best-looking design. I fell in love with that, the process.


What are some of the best pieces of latte art you’ve created so far?


Hoony: During the 2020 National Championship I created a theme which was New Zealand iconic animals – I created the face of sheep, penguin and a fantail



Latte art, where to start? 


Hoony: I started with simple hearts, then moved onto tulips, swans, roses and then I started competing in the national competitions.

After lots and lots of practising, and coming away from competitions learning something new each time I could start doing free pours – these are often animal shapes or unique flowers


What are some tips for creating your very own perfect coffee? 


- Honestly, it’s not that hard you just need to practise a lot!

- It’s best to start with cold milk, straight from the fridge, room temperature milk will not get as good results

- It all starts with the milk, dipping the nozzle into the milk about half a centimetre, only frothing (aerating the milk) the milk at the beginning for about 3-5 seconds. This is also known as stretching.

- Next, you move on to spinning the milk, which is where you place the milk wand further into the jug or tip it on an angle, to create a whirlpool, this is what gives the milk a smoother texture. It’s important to create a whirlpool as this is what helps separate the foam from the milk beneath but still encourages the milk to be silky smooth and easy to pour.  

- Ideally, you wait for it to reach about 65 degrees, or if you’re not quite fancy enough to have a thermometer – until the jug is just too hot to touch

- If you’re looking to get into pouring art as well it’s best to start with a heart and then move up to some of the more difficult ones.

Fun fact – it’s common to spend too much time at the start stretching the milk, which creates bigger bubbles and often means you must wait longer.