Great Coffee in Common: Andre Chanco

Posted by May Espino on

Andre Chanco - Green Buyer and Co-founder of Yardstick, Manila.

 

How do you usually drink your coffee?

Now that I really think about it, I definitely miss drinking and enjoying a good cup of coffee from the other side of the bar as a customer. For hot coffees, it’s usually an espresso in the morning or a filter coffee in the afternoon. Because of the climate in our part of the world, cold brews or iced black coffees are my go-to refreshments. 

Who inspired you on your coffee journey?

Prior to joining the coffee industry, the social interactions that occur inside a coffee shop or a cafe always amazed me, be it with the barista on shift or meeting random people. What surprised me even more was the willingness of specialty coffee professionals to engage and share. At the beginning, it was very intimidating but everyone’s openness made it a lot more comfortable. The specialty coffee folks who I met along the way definitely piqued my interest and got me inspired.

On a day-to-day basis, my team is definitely my biggest inspiration and motivation. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by like-minded, talented people and seeing them succeed and do their best is what drives me.

How did you get started in the coffee business?

In 2010, I got introduced to Alan Nietlisbach from Olam’s Specialty Coffee division in the US. He was very kind to setup a month long itinerary from me across the US visiting roasters, the SCAA, the Roaster’s Guild retreat and meeting various people along the way. That was definitely an eye-opener. Back in Singapore, Leon, Mel and Ivan from Papa Palheta showed me the ropes. It was a great deep dive into what it is like to run a coffee roasting business. At Yardstick, working alongside me are Kevin and Jessica, who are equally capable and interested in this world of Specialty Coffee. Yardstick won’t be what it is without both of my partners.

What is the most exciting part of what you do? 

What’s great about running Yardstick is that coffee crosses paths with various subcultures, industries and also our personal interests. Therefore, we really get to do what we love as well as learn new things by meeting new people from different fields. As mentioned earlier, developing a team is what inspires me daily because we’re only as good as the people that we surround ourselves with. Lastly, discovering new and tasty coffees on the cupping table is always exciting. It brings me back to that first day when Specialty Coffee blew my mind.

 

Among the countries that you had coffee at, which is the most memorable. Why?

Ohh this is a tough one to answer! Enjoying the coffee ceremony (and some popcorn) in Ethiopia definitely tops the list! I have an affinity towards the Melbourne coffee scene because of how simple and yet how progressive it is. It’s great that it’s so easy to find really good coffees paired with great service around the city. I also do have to mention Koppi from Helsingborg, Sweden as something that was very memorable. They are definitely one of the pioneers in Specialty Coffee and the people that run it are nothing short of sweet and amazing, just like their coffees.

What recommendations do you have about coffee equipment?

Keep it simple and within budget. Buying the latest and greatest is not always the best idea. Knowing how to use a set of equipments and understanding how they impact operations are important considerations. I’m personally a fan of batch brews. I understand the misconceptions with the process, but if executed to a tee, coffee can be consistent and delicious at the same time. 

How do you decide who will be a good baristas?

We have never hired based on technical skills from day one. It has always been about someone’s character and soft skills. Obviously, it’s easier said than done as Yardstick has also gone through several manpower changes and challenges over the past four years. It’s a bonus if the candidate loves and understands specialty coffee, but first and foremost we constantly remind ourselves that we are in the hospitality industry. People who are able to engage, show empathy and give it their very best daily are traits that we look for in a good barista.

If there's one thing that people do not know about Yardstick, what would that be?

 Prior to starting up, the entire design and brand was developed outside of Manila, without any due diligence or research being conducted. This was to avoid seeing what’s currently being done and executed in the local market and introduce a brand that’s fresh. Obviously, this can backfire but we did enjoy that process thoroughly. We worked with the guys from Acre who still remain friends until this day. 

Thanks Andre! 

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Great Coffee in Common: Joachim Leong & Shean Tan

Posted by Sarah Rouse on

Great Coffee In Common
Joachim Leong & Shean Tan
Owners/Baristas of Ome Space, Penang

 

Describe the perfect setting to enjoy a coffee. (Joachim)

The perfect setting is not limited to one. Over time, for me, it has transitioned from café hopper to home brewer to barista. Sometimes, I forget which hat I am wearing and I find myself geeking out on coffee, raving about my favourite cafe or new cafe in town to discussing better ways to manage cafes with other owners. Heck, I even find myself helping greet customers or help clear dishes at friends' cafes. All over coffee of course! As you can see I have gone deep down the rabbit hole of coffee!

It started with discovering new and unique settings or coffees, to having that first sip of coffee of the day (always the best!) be it a home made brew or a morning calibration espresso alone behind the bar.

These days, it's not just the coffee but being with fellow coffee lovers, catching up and trying new things. It's about the people, really. 

2a. How did you get started in the coffee business? (Joachim)

It started from drinking way too many coffees and visiting way too many cafes. Eventually, I caught the attention of a consultant helping start up a cafe (now he has his own café, Sudo Brew) and he roped me in to be one of the founding baristas at VCR. I didn't throw any money in but after exploring law, sales and marketing, I thought now this, coffee is something I should take full ownership of. (Job-wise)

It was a lightbulb moment to take ownership of the work for most people after working at a few places or jobs. 

2b. How did you get started in the coffee business? (Shean)

I guess we can call it an accidental career choice. When I return from UK to KL, I happen to hang out a lot at VCR / around Pudu area. They needed help at the bar when they first started out so I jumped in to help out with cashiering. They eventually hired me as a trainee barista. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

3a. What's your relationship with coffee? (Joachim)

It's been many things to me; it's helped me fuel up, inspire me, gotten to know so many people with a similar love for it, at times I've hated it after a hard day of tasting or training with it, it's opened up the world of food, crafts beers, cocktails and other culinary delights and also gotten me interested in countries and cultures I would never haven gotten into without coffee.

3b. What's your relationship with coffee? (Shean)

I drank a lot of coffee back in my university days, perhaps more so than I am consuming on an average day. I used to be that customer who would sit at a cafe for hours working on my laptop and move on to the next one and then the next one. I’ve visited almost all of the chain coffee shops regularly in the small town of Nottingham. Eventually, after moving to London, my ‘drinking’ habits and my love of exploration within the walkable city got me slowly navigating the cafe scene there, which finally brought me from sitting on a cafe chair to standing behind the coffee machine.

  1. Who has been the biggest inspiration in your coffee life? (Joachim)

 It’s a bit clichéd but James Hoffman no nonsense yet self-aware approach to coffee. I didn't get to meet him when he visited Malaysia but from experience, it was probably for the better. Getting to know your idols up close rarely ends well. 

  1. In your opinion, what makes a good coffee? (Joachim)

I've always believed in the holy trinity of coffee. Freshly ground, not stale coffee and freshly brewed. This rule even applies to local kopitiam coffee! One of my favourite kopitiams in Ipoh serves wonderful traditional white coffee and you don't get any stale, rancid or burnt flavours. In fact you can taste the natural sweet flavours of the locally grown Liberica varietal!

Also, if you find yourself somewhere looking for good coffee, always look for a barista who really knows her/his stuff then the equipment then the coffee. A barista is usually able to turn decent coffee into something better.

  1. As a barista, what do you think about competitors in industry? (Joachim)

From my experience in sales and marketing, it's never good to knock the competition down. Working in F&B is a tough line, no room for negative energy and we are all in this together. If you know something that may make someone's life just a little easier, why not share?

Of course, it's best not to take advantage of others and it's a two way street. Always try to give back more than you take and recently I am sad that more and more people move away from the community or go overseas for greener pastures. While I respect their decisions, it just means fewer people to share that love for coffee as we go further down the rabbit hole that is coffee.

Ultimately, I believe in kaizen which means we should always strive to improve and be our better selves each day. The only benchmark is yourself, really. To be more patient, open and better at enduring challenges. Everything else is noise.

  1. How do you decide what defines a good barista? (Joachim)

Being a barista is harder than I thought it was. It's not just the physical nature of the work - I enjoy that.

I remember making the jump from home brewer to barista and the weight of expectations of guests and others start to weigh on your shoulders. The first year is difficult as we can be our own enemy, really. By 'we' I mean our minds, as we may think the worse of others around us but instead, I find time and time again that people in specialty coffee are open-minded, friendly and eager to share. Similar to how the Melbourne coffee scene matured thanks to that sharing culture that existed among the indie cafes.

I think being open minded, always learning and having a good attitude plus good hospitality skills go a long way. The rest you can pick up along the way and as they say, when the student is ready, the master appears!

  1. Wait for the right timing? Or just go for it? (Joachim)

I firmly belong in the timing camp. Some exceptions are if the reward is worth it or if it's a friend in need. I believe in probability, careful risk taking.

One pet theory I have is that the Malaysian café boom in 2013-2014 was thanks to Facebook pages. Back then, you didn't need to pay anything to reach the audience your café built up so it made marketing for indie cafes then far easier. And back then, Facebook was a more pleasant place to be. So timing (whether we realise it or not) does play a role. 

Spontaneity works well for some things but other things require some planning and timing.

  1. What would you like to see happen in the coffee industry over the next ten years? (Joachim)

Robot baristas! I jest but we see the rise of automation in specialty coffee maybe we will see throw downs among human and robots or automated brewing. It's happened before!

Over the next ten years, my crystal ball is looking rather murky. Like my french press. But I believe in cycles, up and downs so we will see people come and go but I rather take it one day at a time.

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Great Coffee in Common: Grant Rattray

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

Grant Rattray - Green Trader at Mercanta Asia/Pacific and all-round awesome guy.
Who influenced/inspired you on your coffee journey?
Back in 2004, my beginnings in coffee were the result of a very conscious decision to enter the industry and not really influenced by any role model or acquaintance. I was seeking a complete change from my career in pharmaceutical research and data analysis and wanted to trade in a more tangible physical world where I could travel, continue to use my Spanish and explore and learn in a new sensory environment. Coffee offers all of this…and a whole lot more.
 
Best ever coffee you have ever tasted?
Of course, there are many but for me they all share a few common characteristics that always stop me dead at the cupping table. Clean and sweet are the absolute fundamentals but those coffees that can balance this with acidity and body and also bring exemplary flavors such as stone fruits and florals are for me the true standouts. I’ve no problem awarding these 90+ points and I’ll make an immediate decision to buy. When you consider the price of Panama Geisha (that’s 10 times more expensive that a good Brazil estate coffee) then most other standout coffees are really not at all expensive, especially in a roaster/retailer environment. For me, my perennial favourites are washed Ethiopia, the very best Kenya and also some of the lots in the past year from Colombia, Guatemala, Rwanda and even PNG.
 
Describe the perfect setting to enjoy a coffee:
A few years ago, on an early morning hike before work up the Sentinel in Missoula (Montana, USA) with John Lewis – we both worked then at Cup of Excellence – we took along a Primus camping stove, grinder, scales, Aeropress and bottled water and brewed up one of the Cup or Excellence winning lots at the summit at sunrise.
 
What has coffee taught you? 
No one individual in coffee – save perhaps for the farmer – can claim genuine ‘ownership’ of quality. I’m not comfortable when anyone else claims a coffee as their discovery or whatever. To get the most from the green beans, the coffee still needs expert roasting and brewing and these cannot be underestimated. Everyone has their role to play and adds value at every step. Bringing coffee from the farm to the consumer requires that many people do their best to protect quality. Knowing and trusting your partners in the supply chain is critical to ensure you source, ship and take delivery of the best qualities.
 
What opportunities has coffee given you?
Along with a global network of friends in the industry, the biggest rewards in my career have come since returning to Mercanta and setting up the Asia regional office in Singapore. Our company functions exactly the same as the larger UK office and we manage our own inventory of specialty grade coffees which we ship at the start of each season from many producing origins direct to Singapore and then supply locally or export to roasters throughout Asia. Balancing the needs of a diverse range of clients while maintaining the widest selection of fresh in-season coffees is a continuous challenge.
From your perspective as a trader, what is something you wish coffee drinkers of your coffee knew about coffee?
Seasonality! This still seems to me like the biggest missed goal in terms of honest and easy-to-explain marketing. Seasonality is espresso means managing your shipments and inventory and carefully selecting the right origins to offer genuine year-round freshness and integrity while maintaining the profile of your blend. Seasonality in single origin coffees for espresso or brewed drinks means having the knowledge and skills to react quickly to select coffees based on samples, cuppings or reliable recommendation. Too many roasters overthink this small but important aspect of their green coffee inventory and miss out or play it safe. A confident green coffee buyer will buy a great coffee straight off the table and know if the price will work for his or her business.
 
What’s your favourite story to tell from origin?
I was lucky enough to visit Tanzania several years ago to meet with Michael Gehrken at Blackburn Estate on the fringes of the Ngorongoro park. The farm is unfenced and is full of wildlife which makes it a Garden of Eden during the day. Michael has built a small viewing platform in one of the large trees at the top of the farm where the thick jungle starts. We took a picnic and a few beers and a rifle and the farm dog and headed up the tree at sunset to wait for the animals to emerge. We were hoping so see elephant and Michael has spent many nights stuck up the tree and unable to get down. But that evening a pride of lions emerged. The dog was shaking and we had to jump out of the tree and get back to the Land Rover before the lions got to the tree!
 
What do you see being the biggest challenge facing coffee farmers?
If we think of coffee farmers in general (and not the few who have found fame and accessibility to international markets though initiatives such Cup of Excellence and more recently ‘direct trade’), there are many major challenges that coffee farmers continue to face and over which they have very little control. These are primarily coffees diseases such as leaf rust, climate change, the supply/demand balance, a reliance of fluctuating commodity markets and, to a lesser extent, access to international marketplace. These are perennial challenges and none is about to disappear.
 
What is the most exciting thing about [what] you do?
As a green coffee buyer, the process of selecting, cupping, approving and then matching a coffee with a buyer’s requirement is a fascinating and highly rewarding part of my job. All the cupping we do is blind so we don’t know exactly what we’re cupping. This makes the whole exercise more objective and allows the better coffees to show themselves. And it’s not always what we’d expect or necessarily the more expensive coffees on the table that stand out. As an importer, our challenge is to continue to seek out great coffees that also offer value and not slavishly follow patterns of simply buying from the same suppliers, regions, or even origins year after year. Of course, continuity and relationships are important but coffee is an agricultural product and crops vary from year to year. This ever-changing landscape keeps our work interesting and challenging with every new crop.
 
Who has been the biggest inspiration or mentor for you in your coffee life? 
That’s an easy one – my boss Stephen Hurst at Mercanta in London. Stephen started Mercanta in 1997 – before Cup of Excellence even existed – with the vision of bringing high quality green coffees direct from origin and making these available to the then nascent specialty roaster scene in Europe. Stephen has doggedly stuck to his guiding principles of cup quality above all else while still ensuring sustainable prices to producers in all market conditions, strict seasonality and long-term relationships and has never been distracted by passing trends in the souring and supply of high quality coffees. We’ve seen all these trends come and go but throughout Mercanta has always backed quality above all other considerations. Stephen’s philosophy and that’s testament to his vision and convictions in building a leading globally green coffee sourcing and supply company.
 
What are some of the trends have you observed in coffee roasting throughout your career?
Since I began working in the coffee industry in 2004, there has been a genuine ‘professionalisation’ of many positions that in the past were valued little more than roles such as waiter or wholesale supplier. This has been underpinned by the education of the then SCAA and SCAE (now the SCA) and supported and expanded with the emergence of many dedicated training schools and independent consultants. Coffee is now a genuine career with well-defined paths for development and growth. It’s a lot easier to get involved now that it was 15 years ago. The specialty industry is much bigger and skills are genuinely transferable and this is propelling the industry forward and creating opportunity for individuals who have ambition and drive.
 
What would you like to see happen in the coffee industry over the next 5 years? 
So many things and all are absolutely achievable. But most of all I’d like to see quality at the lower end of the market improve. This will have multiple benefits not least for values for green coffee at the farm gate. For the consumer, it will mean good coffee is easier to find and should spark their interest in learning more about what they’re drinking. This is turn will push quality in the middle and higher ends of the market.
 
In your opinion what makes a good coffee?
In the cup, good coffee needs to tick the usual boxes: in-season, well-sourced, freshly roasted, correctly brewed. But for the green coffee itself to be good in the first place, that’s the result of so many elements including skilled agronomy, favourable weather and environment, careful processing, packaging, shipping, roasting and brewing. Quality can fail anywhere along the line and being able to trust the others players in the supply chain is critical in safeguarding quality and protecting freshness.
 
Why do you think people love coffee?
Ritual, routine, stimulation for some, relaxation for others, I guess. But for most I think simply represents a slightly habit-forming but essential start to the day.
 
How do you like to drink your coffee?
At home and at work, just black. In a sense, every cup I drink is ‘work’ and part of a continuous learning process. But if I’m in a coffee shop in the morning, it’s usually espresso with milk – just however the barista recommends.
 
 
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GREAT COFFEE IN COMMON: BENNY KURNIA WINSEN

Posted by May Espino on

Any advice for someone who wants to start a café business?
Willingness to serve is a must because Food and Beverage is a hospitality industry. Be your own self and calculate your costs carefully.
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GREAT COFFEE IN COMMON: ELYSIA TAN

Posted by Sarah Rouse on

 Elysia Tan of Homground Coffee Roasters, certified Q-grader and maker of excellent brews!

Why did you choose coffee as a profession?

I love making coffee everyday. Everyday. It frightens me to imagine a day not doing coffee. That fear of tells me that I can do this for a very long time. Coffee makes my work extremely enjoyable because even the simplest cup involves so much effort, skill and technique involved . The draw to coffee me for me is this; the more I study, the more I discover uncertainties or questions and there are so many different aspects in coffee yet to be improved. I feel that is this makes a life in coffee a long, exciting and meaningful journey. I believe we have to challenge ourselves day to day to make a break through.

What/Who inspired you on your coffee journey?

Many people. I have met so many inspiring people along the way. Firstly, the truly passionate and avid coffee consuming home brewers like Issac, Yuko and Kai Ren, who put in their absolute 100% into every single cup of coffee brewed. When they share stories about their brewing, it inspires me to work towards a better cup and then to be able to exchange new and exciting ideas with them. 

Secondly, the customers who acknowledge and appreciate the effort you put into the cup. 

Thirdly, coffee professionals such as Marian, a coffee roaster at Cata Coffee originally from Venezuela I met. It excites me to see their eyes instantly light up and sparkle when you talk coffee with them. Damn it I just love that feeling. It is so hard not to get stimulated by them. Often we forget how difficult it is to 'perfect' a cup of coffee. Marian constantly reminds me to recognize all the collective effort so many people put into a cup. This starts all the way from the origins of the coffee. A little under/over-extraction should not overshadow all the hard work put in. This makes me want to work harder for every cup of coffee I make. 

She was the first person to make me realize the “sweetness” in coffee. I can never forget this one espresso from her. It was SO. DAMN. SWEET!

What has coffee taught you?

Firstly, that there is no end/final destination to it . You can only be constantly learning. Be it a new discovery or learning from a mistake. Every day someone out there is working hard to discover or to improve on our current technologies/techniques. It is also very important to keep oneself updated. 

Secondly, coffee knowledge is not limited to learning specifically only coffee. Many times, you can apply your experience and skills from other industries to coffee. That is what makes it more interesting! 

Thirdly, that there are so many different aspects to it. Many of us constantly struggle to communicate our love/care/understanding/stories of coffee to our customers day to day. Along the way, I picked up soft skills to better help me communicate with the consumers. Understanding the need /want of the customer is as important brewing a cup of coffee. 

Finally, staying positive and persistent. You will only get better. That’s what I believe.

What is the most memorable experience you had with coffee?

This year both Homing and I participated in SNBC (Singapore National Barista Championship) and SNBRC (Singapore National Brewers Cup Championship). We were looking around for greens for the competition. We encountered a particular coffee we liked from a Taiwanese trader. However, they did not ship out from Taiwan to Singapore due to importing license issue. So I travelled to Taiwan single-handedly to collect the coffee (50kg of greens). That was pretty scary. I was so afraid that I couldn't manage them. To carry them from the shop back to my hostel and then again to the airport. It. Was. Crazy. I doubt I would do it again anymore  hahahah!

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Still brewing coffee.

What are some of the trends you observed within Singapore's coffee community?

There is definitely an increase in the number of coffee drinkers/coffee appreciators. You would also be very surprised with the number of home brewers and home roasters in Singapore. Personally we haven't yet have the pleasure of encountering a vast majority of them. The demand is not super high but surely growing. Coffee has now been incorporated as a lifestyle choice rather than mere caffeine habit.

What is your favourite coffee bean and where did you have it?

I do not fancy any particular region/farm/country. I enjoy pleasant coffee of all sorts. I like it when the coffee gives me a full retronasal and orthonasal experience. I love to smell taste things. I have had too many “best" coffees to name them all down.

 

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