Life after the WLAC: Umpaul Um shares his winning experience

When the emcee announced Umpaul (Sung Jin) Um the 2016 World Latte Art Champion, taking the reigns from Australia’s Caleb Cha, there was only one word that came out of Umpaul’s mouth – Jotta.

“I screamed out saying: ‘Jotta,’  which means good in Korea,” Umpaul says. “The final announcement was the most amazing moment. [The emcee] called out the top three baristas, then the top two, then the last one. I stopped when I heard that I was the winner. It was a tremendous moment. I literally paused for about 10 seconds. It is still so clear in my memory. Then Caleb Cha presented me with the trophy, that’s when I realised I had achieved something special.”

Caleb, also born in South Korea and based in Melbourne, was the 2015 World Latte Art Champion. “He’ a great dude. We have our native language and cultural experience in common as Koreans, but his [2015] performance was obviously a very important motivation to me,” Umpaul says.

Umpaul waited six “desperate” years to hold the World Latte Art Championship (WLAC) in his hands. On three occasions Umpaul placed second at the Korean Latte Art Championships (KLAC), and on two occasions placed third.

He says the biggest lesson he learnt from the experience was to sing while completing his routine, as a way to help his nerves. An aspiring singer-songwriter, Umpaul says as soon as he started to sing his songs on stage, his results improved and he went on to win the KLAC.

For this year’s WLAC competition, Umpaul trained for five solid days leading up to the event, but says it took more than two months to develop the ideas for his patterns.

“Once the idea was clear, I practiced more than 10 hours per day,” he says.

The patterns Umpaul selected for the WLAC were ones he describes as “familiar designs” he was used to pouring. He says the biggest challenge was maintaining concentration, more so than beating the ticking clock.

The first design he produced for the judges was an Angel. Unpaid says the wings and dress were the highlights of this design, and also the most difficult to perfect during his preparation.

“I start the pattern from the wings then continued down to the dress without pausing. I intended to show new skills as well as express the beauty of lines,” he says.

The second design Umpaul presented for the judges was Tinker Bell, inspired from a childhood paper toy.

“This pattern requires a rapid etching skill to do the magical sketch, and colour on the yellow shoes and hair. Putting [Tinkerbell] in a green dress with a spoon is the most important part,” he says.

Umpaul’s final pattern was a Baby Swan. He says the key with this design was to demonstrate the movement of wings by highlighting the ripples of water under the swan.

“All three designs were bound to the concept of wings,” Umpaul says. “I even did my presentation on the stage singing I believe I can fly (by R. Kelly).

“It is normal for baristas to only concentrate on the expression of latte art in a competition, but I like to think of the competition as my stage, and I, as an artist, a musician or an actor. I designed ‘my stage routine’ thinking about my dialogue, singing songs, and even considered actions when the highest level of concentration was required to pour my latte art,” Umpaul says. “I hope the audience, judges and even competitors enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Since winning the WLAC in April, Umpaul has been living the life one would expect from a newly-crowned champion, keeping busy writing coffee books, customising milk jugs and coffee tampers, and getting ready to present at various coffee seminars, but Umpaul says technically, he’s “unemployed”. Eventually, he expects to be back behind the coffee machine, doing what he loves most, making latte art.

“[Making latte art] is happiness to me. I’ve always thought of it in that way,” Umpaul tells BeanScene. “I always imagine happy faces before I serve my coffee to people.”

After six long years of working on his latte art, Umpaul says his winning performance was a result of hunger, passion, and showing the judges who he was.

“I wanted to show the world that there is a barista out there who makes people happy with coffee,” he says.

Now that he’s a World Champion, Umpaul says he’s giving deep through to his dreams and future, but the sky’s the limit.

“It is such a privilege to be a World Champion, working with people from all over the world. However, I’d rather go back to my everyday life making coffees for customers,” he says. “I want to travel many places. I want be an author, continue my career as a singer-song writer and a teacher so that I convey my dreams to the world.”

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