A boy who fell in love with coffee first encountered a job called “barista” when he was 18. His hometown Sangju, a remote city located in North Gyeongsang Province, had no proper cafe at the time. By roasting coffee beans on frying pan in a kitchen and making a coffee machine on his own, he took it step-by-step to become the coffee expert.
The boy, South Korean barista Lee Kang-bin, is now on a roll in the nation’s coffee scene. Lee now runs his cafe located in downtown Seoul, where he has been spotlighted by global and local media outlets.
(Shot and edited by Park Ju-young / The Korea Herald)
“It was ‘Cremart’ that brought me fortune and fame as a barista,” Lee said in a recent interview with The Korea Herald.
“Cremart” is a form of latte art, but way more colorful and delicate compared to the ordinary latte foam. With the use of food colorings mixed with thick cream, the “Cremart” features various drawings and paintings on the foam.
Lee created the concept in 2014 while he was developing a new menu in a cafe’s empty kitchen. The first painting he drew was a cherry blossom tree, which he depicted with chocolate and strawberry sauce on the Einspaenner Coffee’s cream.
“After finishing the drawing, I intuitively knew this could be a special business opportunity,” Lee said.
Since the day, the barista has etched over 1,000 intricate designs on coffee cream and named the paintings “Cremart.”
Lee re-creates famous works of art on coffee. (Lee`s Instagram)
The most popular designs are Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” which Lee re-creates the same on the small coffee cream canvas. From famed artworks to simple characters such as Nintendo’s Super Mario and Pokemons, Lee draws everything that customer’s request.
The amount of time he spends on drawing can vary from 30 seconds to 30 hours depending on the designs and his devotion to the artwork, Lee said. Sometimes, relentless practice can help him to shorten the crafting hours.
“As I have drawn ‘The Starry Night’ so many times on coffee, I can now finish it in 6 minutes. It took me over 50 minutes in the past,” Lee said.
To keep the hot latte from cooling down, Lee uses cold brewed coffee as a base. Also, the barista carefully blends the coffee beans to create the ideal taste for “Cremart,” which is not too acidic or bitter.
As soon as he revealed the menu, the series of his artistry went viral online. Lee has garnered over 239,000 followers on Instagram, where he regularly uploads his artwork, making his name as one of the iconic coffee masters in the country.
Baristas from other countries, as well as foreign customers, come all the way to Korea to learn and taste the secrets of “Cremart,” according to Lee. The baristas have spread the menu in various countries, including the US, Canada, China, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines.
“This cup of coffee just looks beautiful,” said Michelle Loketi, a customer at Lee’s Cafe who came from California to taste the ‘Cremart’ coffee. “I took a picture of the drink to share it on my Instagram. That’s why I came here. The coffee itself also tastes very smooth, creamy and sweet.”
Barista Lee said he feels great whenever he serves the coffee and sees customers’ astonished and happy faces.
“I wish people from all around the world could enjoy the ‘Cremart’ one day,” Lee said.
The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation
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