People: Interview with Umpaul, 2016 WLAC Champion

In the World Coffee Events All Stars, we finally met UM Paul first time after winning the World Latte Art Championship 2016. In this 3-day event, we could strongly feel his passion, work ethics and talent that he won it all with.

Here, we sit down with UM Paul and talked about coffee, latte art and himself.


Q: Apart from Coffee, what are your hobbies?

A: I sing, I love to play the guitar, and I write some songs. In 2015, on a train ride to Rome in Italy, I was so inspired that I wrote a song called "Different and Same". (you may listen to it on youtube). I also play Rubik's, and I ride single wheels.


Q: Which city are you from in Korea? Ever thought of changing location?

A: I now live in Seoul. I thought of going to Australia, but I met my girlfriend in Seoul so I had to stay here. ☺️☺️☺️☺️


Q: What did you study in school? What was your dream before becoming an latte artist?

A: I studied automobile engineering in university. I love to draw, and I thought I would be drawing a lot in this major, but actually it was more about numbers, which I wasn't very good at. 😂😂😂😂😂

So then, I move on to study English. I thought of being a chef because of my passion on food. I love to share the goodies with friends and family.



Q: I am your follower on Instagram. You have loads of followers, but you only follow 1. Who is it? Do you care about social interaction?

A: LOL, the only person I follow is my girlfriend. I love to chat and share laughters at the same time. Just like now in this All-stars event, I can chat with anybody about anything.

But I admit I am not a big social media guy. I think making friends is more than that, I can't be friends with someone just because we 'follow' each other. I believe friends should be sharing all the time, experiencing the same thing and understand each other.



Q: When was your first coffee experience? How did you become a latte artist?

A: It was in 2005. I went to an independent coffee shop on a regular day, and that cappuccino I had, inspired me to become a barista. I thought of being a chef, and I love to draw. Latte Art got me both, I can draw on food! And the rest is history.


Q: When did you start to practise? How was that journey? 

A: When it was less busy in the shop. I would spend the entire time watching youtube videos on latte art. When I was out of milk, I switch to water, or I let the milk glide in my mind. 

In the melting summertime, I still go hard at it. At that time, the material available was very limited. Now, you get the social media, the video channels, you can basically watch the world class artist pour in front of you. In 2005, I could only find my own way, practising hard myself. It was a lot more difficult back then.

So now, I have done it for 12 years already. The past 6 years, I kept doing the rabbits, bear, piggies, dogs and babies, etc. Not until Latte Art Championship finally came to Korea, I had to focus in free pour.  


Q: When did you start competition?

A: Ever since 2005, I start to compete in different competitions. In 2006 I started a small coffee shop, and I sort of slow down a bit in competition because of the schedule. 

In 2010, I did not operate that coffee shop anymore and it was the first year we had the latte art championship in Korea. So I almost was in every major competitions, and I won 14 regional championships. I was 3 times Korea 1st runner-ups, 2 times 2nd runner-ups. In 2016, I finally won Korea's championship and compete in the worlds.



Q: Feeling of winning it all? 

A: That was unbelievable. Its still hard to describe the feeling at the time, and I can only say it was amazing. 

I have been watching competition over and over online and finally I was the one in the picture. I was standing there, and they called my name, UM PAUL FROM SOUTH KOREA.

I sang "I Believe I can Fly". when I performed. I finally fulfilled my dream, winning it or not, I was very happy already. And I am glad I won.



Q: What equipment you use in your competition?

A: Lots of different tools. I switch around different brands and I also custom made something for competition. Jug, stick and spoons are the major tools. I also carry around lots of steamer nozzles to control the foam I want. I also bring my own tampers around for the best taste and ease of work.


Q: What attracts you the most in Latte Art?

A: Latte art to me, feels like a close friend who's always looking at me and think about me.

My latte art style very much depends on feeling, it flows with me. I cannot stop loving it, and I would like to connect this love with others. Being a baristas, our job is to make the customers happy.


Q: Whats the most common pattern you do? Any favourites among them?

A: In free pour: Swan, Tulips, Heart. I like simple flowing lines, and the patterns express the feeling at that particular moment. But because they are simple, achieving the detail could be troublesome and I also have hard time dealing with them. 

In sketching, I love the head of Indian, the Fairy, and the Lover. I would take this opportunity to thank those who love these patterns over the years, which kept me moving. 

My personal favourite is the Indian. I never thought it would be so successful, and its kind of my signature pattern that people know me of. This Indian pattern reflects the inner UMPaul, the facial, the grill, and my age as well.



Q: Whats the most difficult pattern or you?

A: Rabbit. Everytime I do this, it makes me really nervous. The rabbit ears, believe it or not, is the most difficult parts. Sometimes its too big, or one is missing, or both are missing. To make a rabbit thats proportionally beautiful is super hard. 


Q: Any new patterns you are working on recently?

A: 😠😠 I am practising a technique often mastered by Japanese and Taiwanese artists, "the hollow hearts". To me, there are certain difficulties. Also I have been trying to incorporate political views in some of the patterns. For example I am designing something related to the accident of sinking ferry in Korea in 2014. 


Q: You are already a world champion, anything else you want to learn?

A: I love B.B. King, Gary Moore. They made their own music. And for me, I want to make my own coffee and latte art. I don't want them to be flashy, I want them to be simple and timeless, but you can feel the love in the pattern. I want my artwork to have soul, and people can feel it.


Q: To the fans who also want to be a latte artist, what would you like to advise them?

A: Always stay a child, and think like children. Be curious on everything, and the willingness to learn. Do not give up and don't be afraid to lose!


Q: About latte art, any advise?

A: Just because I failed a million times, I never give up. I actually come back to try again, fail, and try again. My curiosity kept me trying all the time until I get there.

I always asked myself, why I fail, what did I do wrong. I always asked myself why, why why? I was interested in the foam, the protein content in the milk, the reason why some are more bubbly, more texture, I always ask myself why. And I think this curiosity kept me trying, find out the answers, and relentlessly try again.


Q: Living in Seoul, what cafes would you recommend to us?

A: Cafe One Way. They have amazing latte art there. I love Dash, he nicknamed "hand of the god"

the other one is Kaleo Coffee Roasters. I think they are the best in town.




#Loveramics and share your story.