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Hannah Cho, Kōkako Quality Controller : The magic’s in the details

February 04, 2022

Hannah Cho, Kōkako Quality Controller : The magic’s in the details

20 Years, Community
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Twice a week, Hannah Cho drives from her home in Ngāruawāhia to our Mount Eden roastery. She gets up at the crack of dawn and hits the road at 4.45am to skip the northbound traffic and make it in on time for our daily coffee cupping, where she tests the brews with our head roaster Sam. 

Our longest-standing staff member and our much-loved quality controller and barista trainer, Hannah recently moved to the greener pastures of the Waikato to raise her daughter Rua with her husband. 

We spoke to Hannah about her journey at Kōkako, what makes a good cup of coffee, and team resilience. 


You’re a long-standing, valued employee. Can you tell us what’s kept you at Kōkako for the last eight years? 
I like the whole vibe of Kōkako. It’s not just about working; I like the company and where we’re going, plus all the customers. 

And what did your journey through the company look like?
I’ve been working with Kōkako for so long, I started as a weekend barista, then went full-time, then became head barista. I went knocking on Mike’s door and said “I want to do a training job”. Now my actual role is barista trainer and roastery quality controller. 

So coffee’s a big part of your life. Why coffee as an industry? 
Coffee doesn’t come out the same every single time, which is quite fascinating. Even though you’re doing exactly the same thing, every shot is different. Same with roasting – even though we’re using automatic software (called Cropster) and monitoring every second, it comes out differently. So our Header Roaster Sam and I do tastings every morning for every batch, as coffee can taste different with every grind change and different temperature. That excites me. And then as a trainer, sharing my knowledge with baristas and cafe owners is so fun. 

Would you say the role you’re in now is originally the way you envisioned your career going? 
I think I always wanted to learn more from each step. So I started as a barista, then I wanted to do good latte art, and then from that point I wanted to actually make a good espresso, and to make a good espresso I needed to understand origin. So I didn’t have a final goal that I wanted to reach, but it was little steps at a time. Still, I don’t have specific goals that I want to achieve from this industry, but just learning every day. 


What tips and tricks would you share to make a perfect cup of coffee? 
I would say simple is best. I’m quite big on using scales, so to make a perfect cup of coffee I’d usually use a 1:16 ratio coffee to water. When I’m feeding Rua at home, I actually use scales to weigh the formula! Coffee doesn’t really affect me, so I can just drink as much as I want! When we do the quality control cupping in the morning, we don’t drink a whole shot but we’re tasting a good eight or 10 samples of espresso filters, and we’re doing the cupping during the day. 

Manual labour jobs are often held by men. What has been your experience being a woman working in a laborious role? 
Not in a bad way, but I’m quite small and short and you have to carry a lot of coffee sacks… the first day, I definitely struggled. The first couple of weeks, my whole body was so achy, but that’s just a small part of it and the other parts are so fun. Every single person at Kōkako is so strong, not just physically, but mentally. 


With training baristas, are there particular skills you look for in an up-and-comer? 
There’s no one way of being a better barista. Somehow at junior level, some baristas think that skimming good milk and doing latte art means you’re a good barista, but that’s not everything. You need to understand how to maintain your machinery, how beans react, how the freshness of coffee will affect extraction and then also affect your latte art. There’s so many different factors and no one thing that’s more important than others. I start from actually making a coffee, as you need to have a really good espresso to actually make latte art. A lot of people are surprised how a little change can make a huge difference to the final result. 

With training baristas, what challenges do you think lots of them face in the early years? 
Obviously there’s a standard guideline with what I’m doing for the training, but when I’m doing the training for the baristas, every training is different. Some trainings I don’t even make any coffee, I just sit down and talk with the baristas, especially some of them who have a bit of an attitude! They’re like ‘I’ve been making coffee for years, I don’t need the training.’ So they just stand there and are like ‘I know, I know’ and don’t listen.’ So I need to understand where they’re at and how to make them care. All of the details of their coffee making is coming from their attitude; if they really care about it and have a good attitude, it makes a good coffee. 

When I’m doing training at Kōkako in Commercial Bay, because the standard there is so high, I’m focusing on customer service and making sure our team's wellbeing is high. Their mental health is so important. So I touch base on a lot of customer service parts, how to deal with difficult customers, since it’s such a walk-in space, how to look professional, how to deal with stress. Obviously when we’re hiring baristas at Commercial Bay, they have really high skills with making coffee, so I need to touch base on the customer service and attitude and how to deal with stress. 

And finally, after maternity leave, how has the transition back to work been?  
Mike [Murphy, our MD] always encourages the staff to prioritise their life. That’s the number one priority. He helped me come back to work and create a balance with my home and work life. I’m 100% happy, apart from driving really early in the morning. I love my time at home with my baby, but at work I feel alive and like I’m achieving something. Working is actually much easier than looking after a baby! 


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