Senior Bill Tsui stands by a fully functioning coffee roaster inside the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan, the chain's "first store in Italy and the most beautiful Starbucks in the world," according to the company's website. (Photo courtesy of Tsui)
CAVS AROUND THE WORLD: Senior studies coffee-making in Italy
In the “Cavs around the World” series, students discuss their summer internships, jobs, volunteer work and classes.
After studying in Trieste, Italy, for three days and traveling for two weeks, senior Bill Tsui interned as a barista in his hometown of Hong Kong for a month.
Q: How did you get the opportunity to study in Italy?
A: My parents are distributors. They are in the coffee business and work for an Italian coffee maker (illy), so I got an opportunity to go there and learn about coffee.
Q: What did you do?
A: We worked on all kinds of coffee: cappuccinos, espressos, macchiatos — even some with alcohol. We tried out different machines, and we looked at how coffee was roasted (and) coffee history (and) culture.
Q: What was your favorite part of the experience?
A: We got a factory tour of the whole company, so we got to see how coffee beans were made and sent to the different distributors around the world.
I got to work with one of the top coffee scientists in the company. He’s been studying coffee for 40 years and is probably the most experienced coffee maker in the world.
I went to the University of Coffee, which people around the world visit. I didn’t have to pay for anything since my parents work with the company.
Q: What was your day-to-day routine at the University of Coffee?
A: On the first day, we were first taught the history and coffee culture around the world, then we did simple things like making espresso and practicing the tamping procedure—that’s what you call for flattening out the coffee. On the second day, we used lever machines, tried out the steamer and made some cappuccinos. The last day we went over (coffee types that need) slow preparation, like French press and mocha. We tried out different drinks like mocha and coffee with alcohol.
Q: What was the most interesting coffee recipe that you saw?
A: There’s a recipe that’s basically a martini with ice and chocolate. It’s a macchiato, which is basically a small cup of cappuccino with ice, some martini and a piece of lemon on top. It’s more toward the alcohol side.
Q: You’re underaged, so how were you allowed to handle alcohol?
A: I can handle alcohol inside the university, though I can’t distribute or drink alcohol in Italy until I’m 18. However, they don’t really care. Italy’s just not strict about it. If you’re about the age and you don’t drink a lot, it’s fine.
Q: Did three days of learning teach you enough about being a barista?
A: Yeah. It taught me quite a bit since I was working with the best in the world.
Q: How different is the culture in Italy compared to here?
A: They really care about their food. In America, you would have a burger for dinner, and it’s whatever, but in Italy, they eat the finest things. They really care about food quality, so going there is different because they really care about perfection.
Q: What was your favorite food?
A: Lobster Scialatielli. Scialatielli is a really thick kind of spaghetti, and when you bite into it, it feels like biting into something tender. (With lobster and tomato sauce), it tastes really good.
Q: Did you need to adapt to Italian culture?
A: Nope, I feel like I could just go there and live there for the rest of my life if I had to. There’s good food, good coffee and some alcohol. You live by the seaside, and you have trees and everything you’d want. Sometimes I do miss Chinese food, but there are a few Chinese restaurants, so I’d be fine.
Q: Did you do any traveling?
A: We had a trip to Croatia, and we also went to Slovenia and Bosnia. It was a two-day trip. Since I lived near the border of Italy and Slovenia, I could drive to all the places and drive back in a day. I got to see the coast, a waterfall and Eastern European scenery. The water was crystal clear; it was just beautiful.
Q: Do you plan to go into the coffee industry?
A: Yes. I’ll probably go into the industry if I don’t own a company of my own.