Hello, my name is Shehbaz Ali, but people know me as Barista Ali. My family is originally from Attock, but I’m born and bred in Islamabad. I did my ICOM and started working part time to become financially stable, before starting my job as a barista at different commercial cafes in Islamabad. My first job was in the restaurant industry, but that’s what made me curious about coffee. I started working in the coffee industry in 2010, purely because I was inspired. I’ve always viewed coffee as a craft – making a cup of coffee is so much more than just mixing a bunch of ingredients in it. That’s what really inspired me to become a barista. It’s a science, but it’s also art. I wanted to know more, I wanted to do more in it, and being a barista allows you to do just that. Learn every single day, every single time you make a cup of coffee. Most people are interested in learning how to make coffee through different methods, or how to perform latte art, but my main priority has always been Coffee Knowledge – to learn about the bean itself. The more you learn about it, the more you realize that you know absolutely nothing. How to extract taste out of that bean, that means everything. It’s all about how well you can extract the coffee notes. I absolutely adore the idea of Cupping! When the coffee is freshly roasted, you take a certain grammage of it and you sip it, analyzing all the notes, to see which roast fits perfectly. Each bean has a different quality, a different profile. Roasting them all the same would be a shame, so we treat them differently, maximizing their flavor profile. Honestly, when I started out as a barista in Pakistan, we did not have anybody who could teach us. The industry has now started to boom here, imagine how things must be in 2010, it’s literally a decade ago. All that I have learnt, I’ve learnt during my time in UAE. People are highly serious about their coffee there. Most of our baristas have their training from the UAE. I went back in 2018, and then had to come back when COVID hit us. I came here on vacation but got stuck, that’s how I started working in Pakistan at KAF Coffee. As far as the commercial vs specialty debate goes, I think we’re past the point where people had to choose their coffee according to the pricing. Of course, specialty coffee having similar pricing as commercial coffee, definitely helps but people keep on coming back for the taste. They’re getting the best out there, why wouldn’t they? Baristas play a huge role in this. You need to converse with them, ask them what their preference is and make them a cup accordingly. If you ask me, I think now is the time in Pakistan’s coffee history, when specialty coffee has gotten the recognition that it rightfully deserves. People want to have the best and they’re more educated now. Look at all the homebrewers we have now. Companies like Nomad are not only delivering great coffee, they have a huge range of coffee equipment which people can choose from and the coffee workshops help educate the masses. COVID has played a huge role in this sudden coffee industry boom. When things shut down, people were unable to travel internationally, they started to make things at home, in their own cities, which is true for restaurant owners too. They realized that they have everything they need to be successful in their own countries. They wanted to bring something new to the table and I think they did. Previously, people used to run away from “Black Coffee”. That’s where specialty coffee steps in. It has so many notes, not just bitterness. I always tell people to try it and see for themselves. I converted too when I first had it. Now I know exactly the notes I like. I love Lime in my coffee. Citrus notes are my favorite and I make sure I make my customers try it too! The reason I stayed in Pakistan was due to two things – Specialty coffee and the owners at KAF. They’re extremely humble people and they gave me all creative liberty. They know that they hired me for a reason and we’ve had no issues so far. They let me practice my craft my way and in return, I make sure KAF is always a full house. You should see this place at night, it’s packed. People come here to have a good cup of coffee, with their friends and families. I get to converse with customers, which is my favorite thing about the job. For the next chapter of my life, I need to learn how to roast my own coffee! I already enjoy cupping. I’ll either go to the UAE to learn, or go to NOMAD and take their workshops. We use their coffee at KAF and the beans, the roasting, it’s great. How many cups of coffee do I consume in a day? I can’t sleep, with all that caffeine in my system, haha. Even if I try to avoid it, 4-5 cups a day is normal. I’m a barista after all, I can’t help it!