Interview with Jessie Chou


Jessie Chou has been voted and recognized as Vancouver’s BEST BARISTA for 2013 by you our readers. Here is my Interview with Jessie Chou who is a barista at Good Day Sunshine Cafe.

What do you love about being a barista?

I love the interaction with customers; the tangible feedback; the freedom to be creative; and not to mention being surrounded by coffee!  These things were harder to come by when I worked in landscape architecture, designing and drafting behind a computer screen.  Very often due to client demands, project timelines, funding and regulations, I would put in lots of hard working hours on something, yet not be able to see them become reality.  Now as a barista, I get to see my regular customers daily while continuously meeting new people.  I have the opportunities to get to know them and learn about their unique stories.  I can see if I have done my job well just by watching them take the first sip or observing if they take out the camera to snap a picture.  I get to dream up different specialty drinks that are built upon the base of a carefully extracted shot.  Creating syrups or sauces for fancy lattes which I can then ask my regular customers to be willing guinea pigs.  All of these are instant gratifications to me at work.  Add in the smell and taste of fresh coffee, working is really like playing for me.

How long have you been working at Good Day Sunshine Cafe?

We opened our café in October, 2011 – so two years and three months, but who’s counting!

Why do you think people voted for you in the Vancouver Foodster Awards?

The joke around here is that we beg, plead, bribe, threaten and beat them into submission in voting for me…  I think a lot of people in Surrey/White Rock area have experienced good coffee in Vancouver.  However, once venturing south of Fraser River, it becomes mostly hit-or-miss to find great coffee.  I am a stickler for quality which people can taste the difference.  In addition to quality control, I think people also notice if their drinks are made with love and care.  The motto for our café is “happiness you can taste”.  So perhaps people tasted the happiness and voted.  I must thank all of my wonderful customers, friends, and families for making my Christmas wish come true!

What’s the secret to making good coffee?

I am constantly searching for the answer to that secret!  As a start, I think fresh beans make a huge difference.  We order our beans on a weekly basis from local company, JJ Bean Coffee Roasters.  After getting good beans to work with, it’s a matter of paying attention to grind and extraction rate for espresso, or being mindful of coffee and water ratio for brewed coffee.  Of course, the variables that can affect the taste are mind boggling.  So being watchful and quick in adjusting throughout the day also help in the quest of making good coffee.

What are you drinking now?

A macchiato – my favourite drink for its espresso and tiny-bit-of foamed milk proportion.

What is your favorite dessert to have with an espresso?

There are so many because my husband Chris is a great baker!  I think you can’t go wrong with cinnamon and espresso.  Consequently there have been many mysterious incidents in our café where Snickerdoodle Cookies simply crumbled and quickly disappeared for no apparent reason…  Of course, I had nothing to do with those incidents.

What was your training like and how long have you been in this industry?

I always volunteer to make coffee for families and friends for as long as I remember, but officially joined the coffee industry when we opened the café in October 2011.  My training started with Brian at Tougo Coffee in Seattle, before we moved from there to Surrey.  He taught me to pour my first latte “art” which if you squint hard, was passable for a heart.  In late summer 2011, Grady gave Chris and I an intensive training session one afternoon in the basement of Main Street JJ Bean café.  Then, when we first opened, both Grady and Pete from JJ Bean dropped in to give me additional pointers.  Afterwards, it was lots of practice – sink or swim!  I don’t want to remember how much coffee and milk was wasted at the beginning.

What interests do you have outside of the coffee business?

Coming from a background in landscape architecture, I am always drawn to design, be it landscape, buildings, interior or graphics.  I am interested in painting, photography and music.  Knowing that once we started operating the café, we won’t have much time to pursue those interests, we incorporated them into the programming of our café.  As a result, we have a monthly art show featuring local artists, painting workshops and live music/open mic nights.  I also enjoy baking.  So don’t be surprised to find unique treats and flavour combinations to pair with your choice of drink.

What inspired you to become involved in the coffee industry as a Barista?

I have always liked the idea of a neighbourhood third place where people can stop in to take a moment for themselves between home and work.  The coffee industry is very broad.  If we just take operating a coffee shop/café as one sector and examine it, we are being that third place and building a community through our day-to-day work.  This grass root, social aspect of facilitating interactions and bridging connections very much inspire me as a barista.

Visit Jessie at the bar at Good Day Sunshine Cafe at #100-2950 King George Blvd in Surrey.

By: Richard Wolak

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