Samurai Shin: The Making of a Latte Art Champion
20 April, 2020
Shinsaku Fukayama was 23 years old, filming for a snowboarding movie in the US, when a serious accident put an abrupt end to his career as a professional snowboarder. It was a rude awakening, and kicked ‘Shin’ into a disillusioned state of uncertainty. The loss of purpose was accompanied by a perceived loss of identity, “it was very hard to accept the change to my life”. It was at this point in 2013, when his life had troughed to such depths, that Shinsaku found he harboured another talent. Coffee.
"I would watch YouTube to learn how to make coffee and latte art designs and I began to fall in love with coffee"
Coffee-making is part science and part art, and the pursuit of its mastery of both shares an addictive quality with the caffeine it contains. Not long after the snowboarding accident, Shin’s father bought a cheap coffee machine which was more a means to facilitate caffeination than produce quality coffee. “I would watch YouTube to learn how to make coffee and latte art designs and I began to fall in love with coffee.” Ambitions to become a barista and own a coffee bar were catalysts for a move to Melbourne, “Melbourne has some of the best coffee in the world, the standard is so high and I wanted to be a part of it”.
By late 2014, Shinsaku was working at Sensory Lab, an offshoot of the Melbourne coffee institution, St. Ali. His proficiency to grind, extract, steam and pour specialty coffee had been fed by an obsession which took on where snowboarding left off, “coffee changed my life, and at the time it was, and still is, my life.” Latte art has long been the Melbourne barista’s visual mark of expertise, and the volume of customers at St. Ali’s provided the repetition required for Shin to refine the many intricacies and nuances of stunning milk art. Competition spawned an aggressive persona, and ‘Samurai Shin’ began stacking latte-art accolades, including Coffee Fest World Latte Art Championship event 1st and 3rd places in Dallas and Tokyo in 2016, 1st place in the Australian Latte Art Championships in 2018 and 4th place in World Latte Art Championships held in Brazil in 2018.
"nowadays, the preparation of coffee is more scientific than ever before, which is a good thing"
Samurai Shin credits his success in competitive latte art to “preparation, repetition and learning from the failures”. For a latte-artists to pour crisp and clean milk patterns, the ability to steam milk to an optimum consistency is integral. Bubbling and stagnation are the enemies of milk which should be a silky and a “wet-paint” like consistency. When asked if great latte art is indicative of a great coffee, Shin’s response is a resounding no. “Great coffee is a result of the barista’s ability to steam and control the foaming of milk, but also achieving the right flow rate”. Many factors affect coffee extraction, such as grind size, water temperature, extraction time, tamping pressure, PH of the water and how the beans were stored, and Shin addresses such factors in his basic barista course, saying “nowadays, the preparation of coffee is more scientific than ever before, which is a good thing.”
Between running a barista school, making coffee and the demands of competitive latte-artistry, Shinsaku is busier than most. He is also heavily involved with St. Ali expansion within Japan which is set to open a pop-up in Osaka, in addition to online training offerings. St. Ali has recognised signs of a changing tide in Japan, which has typically favoured dark roast and pour-over coffee, rather than the Melbourne signature medium to light roasted espresso drinks. A partiality for milk coffees; cappuccinos, lattes and even the Australian invention of the flat-white, is gaining momentum in Japan, where the class of Melbourne-style coffee resonates with a culture which has always had a discerning eye for quality.
In Melbourne, coffee is more than just a drink, it’s a culture, and a rich one at that. For Shinsaku it is a way of life, foundation of his social environment and has a certain level of spiritual attachment.