Shinsaku Fukayama shares the secret to his success

shinsaku fukayama

Shinsaku Fukayama of St Ali approaches latte art with the same discipline he brought to snowboarding, and hopes to share this with the wider coffee community.

It often takes people many years to master a discipline. For Shinsaku “Shin” Fukayama, it took less than five years to go from drinking his first coffee to performing on the 2018 World Latte Art Championship stage.

“I had my first coffee when I was 29 years old. I didn’t drink coffee when I lived in Japan and had never made one before either. My father bought a small coffee machine and made me a cappuccino,” Shin says. “I asked my father, ‘what is a cappuccino?’ and he showed me a YouTube video of latte art, how to make basic patterns. I thought it was really cool and wanted to learn more.

“First, I googled ‘which country has the best coffee in the world?’ and I found Australia. Next, I googled ‘which city has the best coffee?’ and found Melbourne. Afterwards, I googled ‘which coffee shop is the best in Melbourne?’ and it took me to St Ali.”

Shin arranged a working holiday visa and made the trip to Melbourne to dive headfirst into his newfound passion.

“I met Salvatore [Malatesta, CEO of St Ali] and told him I was looking for a job. He asked me ‘what can you do?’” Shin says. “Because I was a chef and had that kitchen background, I started as a dishwasher, way back in 2014.”

shinsaku fukayama
Shin Fukayama placed fourth at the 2018 World Latte Art Championship.

After a few months, Shin graduated from the dishwasher to the espresso machine.

“At first, I didn’t know a thing about making coffee, especially the ratio and recipe, how to make it consistently, and how to work efficiently,” Shin says.

“Ben Morrow – the 2016 Australian Latte Art Champion – was training me. He taught me how to make a basic heart and introduced me to latte art competitions. My first competition was a latte art smackdown in 2015. It didn’t go well.”

His next competition was the 2016 Australian Specialty Coffee Association (ASCA) Southern Region Latte Art Championship, where he placed second on his first attempt. Shin also placed second in that year’s ASCA Australian Latte Championship. In 2017, he placed runner up in both competitions.

In 2018, however, Shin went in with increased drive and dedication. He finally achieved the results he had been hoping for, winning the 2018 Southern Region and Australian Latte Art Championships. When his name was called at nationals, Shin threw his arms in the air in triumph.

“I cried. My wife cried. My friends cried. It was my dream and it came true,” Shin says.

“It was intense. Every day I would go to practice once I’d finished work. It was hard to create new patterns. When I competed the first time, there was no pressure. The second time, there was a bit of pressure, and the third time, there was a lot more.”

Shin says the key to winning was simple: preparation.

“I practiced every single day and meditated to keep my head straight,” he says. “I was a lot more confident. I believed that I could win, which helped with the nerves on stage.”

Latte art was not Shin’s first foray into competition. In his youth, he was a professional snowboarder until a serious injury put an end to his career at 22 years old. Despite seeming very different, Shin says snowboarding and latte art have plenty in common.

“Before competition, you have to make a plan of how to win and overcome nervousness on stage. If you become nervous, it doesn’t work,” he says. “You need to practice a lot, work on your mentality, even go to the gym. It all builds your confidence.”

In the leadup to the 2018 World Latte Art Championship in Brazil, Shin continued his routine of meditation and practice every day to ensure he had his routine down pat. With so many shots pulled and jugs steamed, he maintained his equipment with Cafetto cleaning supplies.

“We use Cafetto because it is such a consistent product,” he says. “It’s easy to use – just Cafetto and a backflush – and I’ve never needed another cleaner.”

In Brazil, Shin made it to the final round of the competition, where he placed fourth in the world.

“I felt amazing, just awesome. It was really weird being in Brazil. Before coming to Australia, I watched the World Latte Art Championship on YouTube,” Shin says. “I didn’t realise when I started making coffee that I would be there myself so quickly. It was very emotional and an amazing experience.”

Despite the fantastic result, Shin faced his share of challenges performing on foreign soil.

“At the national championship, we can control everything. We know the water and we know the milk. There’re no variables onstage,” he says.
“The world championship is a different situation to nationals. The competitors are a lot stronger, because everyone is a champion, and there’s more pressure. You’re representing your country and company.”

The biggest surprise to Shin was the ultra-heat treatment (UHT) long-life milk he had to use in the world championship.

“We use full-cream fresh milk at St Ali and I’d never had any experience with UHT milk. I didn’t realise they’d provide,” Shin says. “It’s so different. The milk foam separates so quickly and it’s really hard to pour latte art like that. If I could go back, I’d practice more with different types of milk.”

For the time being, Shin has stepped away from competitions, instead training new baristas and future championship hopefuls. Shin says the most important lesson to teach them is that they can’t succeed straight away.

“You need to fail or you can’t progress. But you need to know why or you can’t fix it. When I failed while I was training, I thought about it and wrote why down and how I can do better,” he says.

In August, Shin plans to temporarily return to Japan to set up a new coffee shop and business, St Ali Japan, in his hometown of Osaka.

“I want to bring Melbourne coffee to Japan. Here, the coffee tastes good at every café. The quality level is so high, and I really like Australian customer service. It’s so friendly and focuses entirely on the customer,” Shin says.

“In Japan, the coffee is stronger. They drink darker roasts because they prefer it a bit bitter, they don’t like sourness. There’s also a lot of filter coffee, but espresso is becoming more popular, especially milk coffees.”

He says his hometown – where his father first showed him how to make a cappuccino – is the perfect place to start.

“Tokyo is growing, especially in specialty coffee, but Osaka is moving much slower,” Shin says. “I think that slowly, the coffee culture is changing, and I really want to contribute to it.”

This article appears in the April 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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