This is what we call “What a service!”

Asiana Airlines offers hand drip coffee by barista flight attendants.

Imagine you are a traveler, weary from a long work or leisure trip in a foreign country. On the flight back home, however, you smell the hot, fresh aroma of coffee, which surprisingly relaxes you. That’s one of the healing powers of a cup of coffee, according to a senior Asiana Airlines flight attendant.

If you’re on an Asiana flight and you’re lucky, you can get hand drip coffee from a flight attendant specially trained to provide the relaxing experience.

Asiana is the first and only airline in the world to offer a hand drip or pour over coffee service. The idea came from senior purser Shim Jae-beom, who also leads one of the carrier’s five barista teams comprised of 15 flight attendants each.

Shim became interested in coffee five years ago after reading related books and taking lectures on coffee and hand dripping at cultural centers here.

“I felt that I was treated well whenever I saw a person grinding the coffee beans and pouring the water in front of me to offer me a cup of fresh coffee. I thought passengers might like it, too,” the 43-year-old said.

So, he proposed introducing hand drip coffee as part of Asiana’s various in-flight services, an idea that the company accepted. Passengers welcomed the service as well, and the company has since expanded the number of barista teams.

As a team leader in the airline’s hand drip coffee service, Shim studied the service in more detail and obtained barista certificates from coffee associations in Korea and Australia, as well as the Q-Grader license, a certificate given by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) after passing various tests.

But even during that time, Shim said he was still more an in-flight service manager than a genuine coffee lover; he was not yet fully immersed in the world of coffee.

However, one special experience changed him.

After arriving from a very tiring flight in Sydney, Australia, Shim learned that a coffee house there offered Geisha, a rare kind of coffee found at a farm named Esmeralda in Panama.

“Waking up early in the morning and taking a train to the coffee shop, I couldn’t understand what I was doing. But I was very excited,” he said.

As he ordered the coffee, a young rookie staffer came to make the coffee. “He made five cups of coffee and threw them away before making the best coffee he could and offering it to me. I could feel he had a coffee lover’s heart, one that wants to serve the best coffee.”

As he sipped the coffee, Shim could smell and taste all the flowers and fruits in the coffee.

“It seemed that the coffee was telling me, ‘I know you had hard day. But just hang in there.’ I was very moved.”

He said drinking that coffee made him feel thankful for the efforts that the coffee farmers, distributors and coffee house staffer put into that single cup of coffee. “From then on, I became a real coffee lover and felt I could serve coffee to passengers in a way that brings them more comfort.”

Coffee up in the air

For Asiana’s hand drip coffee service, Shim prepares several types of specialty coffee, which are grown in special climates and have unique flavors and tastes. Specialty coffee is one that scores at least 80 out of 100 points according to the SCAA, currently the world’s most renowned coffee grading group.

When selecting coffee, Shim considers the environment where the coffee would be served ― on the plane. “Coffee from Ethiopia is suitable. It retains a good aroma and taste even when the water temperature is a little bit low, such as up in the air. It is not as easy to heat the water to the same temperature in the air as on the ground.”

He said he usually picks coffee from Brazil and Colombia, too.

However, what he emphasizes more when choosing coffee is the season ― whether the season involves either more tourists or more businesspeople.

“Tourists are ready to try new things. They enjoy trying new types of coffee, so I introduce coffee with unusual flavors. Businesspeople are rather conservative and prefer what they are used to having, so I usually serve them Brazilian coffee, whose flavors they are accustomed to.”

The hand drip specialty coffee service is only available on certain Asiana flights and mostly in the business and first classes. Shim said the availability of the service depends on the number of barista team members, costs, necessary equipment and flight duration.

“A flight has to have at least four hours between takeoff and landing for the service to be available. The service is basically for the business and first classes, but in the winter, it is sometimes offered to the economy class,” he said.

As a flight attendant, Shim has had good opportunities to visit famous coffee houses around the world. With his experience, he wrote two books ― one introducing coffee shops across the world, and another introducing those in Seoul, which include Coffee Libre, El Cafe, and Cafe Namusairo.

Asiana’s unique in-flight services

Besides providing hand drip coffee, Asiana Airlines offers many other unique in-flight services, making its passengers’ flights special and entertaining.

In the carrier’s Flying Magic service, flight attendants perform a magic show in-flight. Asiana is the first airline in the world to offer this entertainment service. For this service, Asiana won a tourism award from the Korea Tourism Organization in 2002 and a gold for on-board service at the Mercury Award presented by the International Flight Service Association and the International Travel Catering Association in 2004.

The carrier also provides passengers high-quality wine through its certified sommelier flight attendants. They decant the wine in front of the passengers,provide some background information about the wine and serve the wine with snacks.

The sommelier flight attendants also recommend wine that goes well with the in-flight meals. The sommelier service is available in the first and business classes.

Asiana gives passengers a chance to write a handwritten letter to their loved ones.

In the carrier’s OZ Love Letter service, passengers can write letters to their loved ones using letter papers or postcards provided by the airline. The letters or postcards are sent from the passengers’ destinations. In today’s digital world, where emails have become the most common method of long-distance communication, the service hopes to impress not only the senders but also the receivers.

The carrier also provides beauty treatment services in the summer, including nail art, makeup and facial masks, through its cosmetology-trained flight attendants.

While more than 80 percent of Asiana’s passengers use the facial mask service, it is provided mainly to male passengers who need to soothe their sunburned skin or who want to keep their skin moisturized while in the dry airliner cabin.

(Font: by Kim Rahn)

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