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The siren call of coffee: one PhD student's winged tulip obsession

Yeh Chun-ting (葉俊廷), a Ph.D. candidate pursuing both academic and caffeinated fulfillment at National Chi Nan University (NCNU), has unlocked a new achievement — pouring the perfect winged latte tulip — and winning an online latte art competition organized by Taiwanese chain Junior Coffee and Australian coffee appliance maker Breville. He scored first both in demonstration, out of 200 plus contestants, and in digital fan base, receiving over 2,500 engagements and almost 500 comments during demo and generating considerable buzz on the competition's platform.

Yeh once operated a café in one of the most fiercely competitive business districts in the Taiwanese capital — Taipei Main Station. As an entrepreneur and manager of a coffee business, he fancied himself somewhat of a connoisseur, until one of his youngest employees challenged him with this question: "If you hold a level-2 certificate in mixology and beverage preparation, why is that you can only draw leaves and hearts?"
Yeh became determined to overcome this shortcoming, signing up for courses, investing in new equipment, and practicing until his arms were too sore to move. His dream tulip, however, did not materialize until years later.

"Observing others during a competition is a good way to improve," explains Yeh. As he began competing, the Ph.D. student began to recognize that his "hand-heart coordination" still required much practice, and that the realm of latte art is truly boundless. Before that rich, creamy foam even kisses the bourbon liquid, challenges include choosing the right bean, achieving the optimal granular consistency, and knowing which equipment to use and how to use them.

Experience leads the way when it comes to knowing the prime levels of steam and the natural flow of liquids, Yeh says. He learned by the fail-safe way — trial and error, practicing each step as detailed by books and instructors, learning from mistakes on his own, and building upon those experiences.

When Yeh enrolled in NCNU's "Ph.D. Program in Strategy and Development of Emerging Industries," he discovered even more resources for unlocking the secrets of the brew. Dean of Research and Development Jheng Jian-syong (鄭健雄) explains that not only does the College of Management offer academic insights on new sectors, practical aspects encompass barista courses, professional-grade roasting equipment, and beverage and mixology training.

Access to university-managed coffee farms, too, adds Dai You-de (戴有德), chair of NCNU's Department of Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management. He points out that the school's hometown, Puli, is situated amidst a brisk coffee-growing region in central Taiwan

With coffee becoming a quintessential drink in Taiwan, café customers are spoiled with hearts, swans, sea horses, and teddy bears with their morning latte. Yeh remains most obsessed with the winged tulip, however, because it was the main source of his frustration from 8 years ago. That same design now won him a national title.

To share his coffee knowledge, Yeh also served as NCNU lecturer in previous years; one student is now store manager for a famous franchise. He acknowledges that he has come a long way since his café startup days at Taipei Main Station, as fulfillment can be found in a mug and contentment in sharing the joy of his students' achievements.

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A winged tulip is an advanced latte art creation renowned for its elegance and precision. The intricate, feathery layers are created by the barista in one seamless motion.

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