This year's BOBC augurs a bright future for Malaysian Specialty Coffee

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

BOBC2015Matt from CMCR with Mel and Yong

Since the inaugural event in 2010, the Battle of Barista Championship (BOBC), created by Lighthouse Coffee, has been a key milestone in the landscape of Malaysian coffee competition.

Set amongst the beautiful beaches and colonial buildings of Penang, the BOBC allows competitors to gain invaluable experience in the lead up to the Malaysian Barista Championship (MBC), which is usually held towards the beginning of the year, whilst also providing an irresistible excuse to visit such a beautiful part of the world.

Penang’s specialty coffee scene is moving fast; taking a short stroll down one of the bustling, narrow streets of Georgetown, it’s easy to see how much potential the city has to become a regional destination for quality coffee, with such amazing architecture paired with a tropical climate and a never-ending supply of holiday makers and day-trippers. Already established are a number of coffee vendors like Constant Gardener Coffee and Spacebar Coffee, who are pushing their competitors and the market to keep pace with the other coffee hotspots in Malaysia, like Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Johor Bahru.

Regional competitions like the BOBC aim to bring specialty coffee out of Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital, to promote and cultivate collaboration between coffee professionals and the greater development of the industry in Malaysia – as well as some healthy competition. This year’s BOBC consisted of three separate competitions; the Battle of Barista event, based on the World Barista Championship rules; a Cup Tasters Championship; and, the newest event, the Team Latte Art Challenge, modeled on the World Richest Barista competition held earlier this year in Brisbane, Australia.

Out of the 20 participants competing in the BOBC, Common Man Coffee Roasters was fortunate enough to have two fantastic baristas using CMCR beans, with first-timer Yong from Departure Lounge, using the Tiga Raja single origin to highlight to substantial progress that Sumatran coffee production has made towards producing quality, specialty grade coffee. While Mel from Wanderlust, used the exceptional Lima Putri natural, also from the Tiga Raja mill, showcasing this fantastic example of the future of North Sumatran coffee production.

The first day of the competition had all 20 competitors in the action, with many a nervous tamp scrutinized by the three hovering technical judges and some creative signature beverages served up to the four sensory judges sitting in front of each participant. At the end of the first day, the competition was cut to just five remaining baristas, with Mel and Yong both making it through to the final round. As a competitor, the second day is all about how you handle pressure. The winner being the barista that makes the least number of mistakes while keeping their cool during the vital calibrating phase before the routine and during the execution of each round of beverages.

When the dust settled, Common Man Coffee Roasters had the pleasure of supplying a 3rd and 5th place finish, with Mel finishing amongst the medals, and Yong starting his competitive career off with a strong finish in the finalist group. Both Mel and Yong did CMCR and Tiga Raja Mill proud, heralding the new era in Sumatran coffee and introducing Malaysia to the notion that amazing coffee is now just next-door.

The Battle of Barista Championship in Penang, the café scene in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya, and the quality of baristas coming from Johor Bahru are all clear indications that the Malaysian Specialty Coffee Industry is in good health and has some exciting years of growth and development ahead of it.

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A Night in North Sumatra

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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What was conceived nearly two years ago on the steps of 22 Martin Road here in Singapore, came a full circle at Common Man Coffee Roasters’ (CMCR) inaugural Curated Cupping event on the 17th of June this year.

It was at the grand opening of the CMCR café back in 2013 that the idea for the organic Tiga Raja coffee mill in Simalungun, North Sumatra was first germinated. At the risk of sounding hopelessly sentimental, it was fitting that while standing outside that same café on 17th June this year, a group of us noticed the first bloom of delicate white flowers from the coffee plants that stand watch over the steps to the café’s entrance. These delicate white flowers seemed a fitting accompaniment to an evening which spoke of promise and fulfilment in the coffee world in Sumatra.

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To provide some context, Tiga Raja is the product of a partnership between Leo and Lisa Purba, Five Senses Coffee, CMCR and the local parchment supplier, CUM Talenta. Focusing on developing the local farming groups and rewarding quality practices and production, Leo and Lisa have pioneered transparency and traceability in the region through the Tiga Raja mill. They have acted as a conduit for farmer members to share in the profits of export sales, whilst giving roasters an opportunity to seek out quality all the way back to the farm.

By dealing directly with both the local parchment supply network and carefully selected mill operators with vast local knowledge who are attuned to the expectations of both specialty roasters and coffee consumers, the mill both refines the supply chain and reduces the number of middle men who usually take a cut from the parchment price instead of it going to the farmers. Coffee supplied to Tiga Raja by the parchment network attracts an above-market rate for those farmers who are willing to produce a better quality product known as Gabah Super or ‘super parchment’. This is a local term which was developed to separate the parchment supply network into different green bean categories and indicates a higher standard of farmer production quality.

Both the parchment supply network and mill are actively involved in educating farmers about how to achieve this parchment quality by offering incentives to increase quality, based on sustainability and traceability. This mission and the challenges faced in accomplishing it, was the subject of the presentation on the night in question. At the conclusion, we cupped some of the incredible coffees being processed at the mill.

The participants at the event came from as far away as Kuala Lumpur and were treated to the best that North Sumatra has to offer, including a brilliant natural process coffee called Lima Putri or ‘Five Daughters’, which was named after the five daughters of the family who work at the farm where this coffee was produced. It was in reference to this particular coffee and the family who produced it, that the evening reached its emotional peak. Lisa movingly explained that through the sales of Lima Putri, the family is now able to send all five of their girls to school instead of keeping them home to work, thus changing their lives dramatically and potentially well into the future.

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Throughout the evening, those in attendance were treated to some great insights into the trials and triumphs faced when developing a coffee mill in the wilds of North Sumatra. Many stories were shared and, most importantly, some fantastic coffee was on display from a region that we are only just beginning to see blossom.

We now look forward to our next Curated Cupping event at the end of July.

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Results from We Want Change 2015

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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Over the past few years, we’ve been fortunate to be able to take part in a positive event which has helped change the lives of many young girls looking for a better education and future. Not surprisingly, coffee was our means of participating in #WeWantChange. This event was founded and hosted by our partners at Five Senses Coffee, Australia who have been involved in sponsoring the We Want Change event for the past four years.

We Want Change supports the Nanhi Kali Foundation, an NGO which seeks to provide primary education for underprivileged girls throughout India. There’s no doubt that growing up as an impoverished girl in India is extremely challenging. With a widely prevalent dowry system, a girl can be seen as an economic burden for her family and, in many cases, one to be resolved by abandonment or childhood marriage. Education for young girls in India has been proven to break the chain of the dowry system and also to make a positive impact on the economy as a whole.

We Want Change was hosted by Common Man Coffee Roasters in Singapore on the 23rd of May, simultaneously with ten other events in inspiring cafés all over Australia (the participating cafés are listed below). All these cafés donated the proceeds from that day’s coffee takings to help enrich impoverished girls’ lives in India. With a total of over $17,000 SGD raised, the event was a huge success! With these generous donations, the We Want Change event will be able to continue to provide education for the 195 girls which the event supported last year. This is a great investment in the future thanks to your generosity.

Next year, we are looking forward to rallying more passionate cafés in Singapore and around the region to help us champion this cause. We hope not only to inspire other local cafés to join us, but perhaps even to reach a higher level of donations. This would help develop our drive to highlight the importance of equal rights and education for young girls through the choices we make when spending our dollars.

Participants

To find out more about the Nanhi Kali Foundation, please visit their website -www.nanhikali.org

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Re-imagining Nicaraguan Coffee

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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Every year, visits to Central America form a major part of my travel. In today’s specialty world, Central America’s coffees seem to be a staple in everyone’s line-up. Their ability to master processing and thus provide consistency year after year has created not only a dependency, but a general love for their coffee. Prior to leaving, I cupped samples furiously to help guide my itinerary. With many things already shifting with regards to supply, I knew it was more than likely that we would be starting a new relationship this year. The real question was — where?

Although I did travel to Costa Rica this year, I invested most of my time between the countries of Guatemala and Nicaragua. I had a rough profile and price in mind and so the majority of the work involved exploring a few choice mills and gleaning information to help me understand what a new coffee relationship might look like. In all honesty, I love Guatemala; it’s an epic country with great people, varied micro climates and beautiful coffees … However, as shocking as it might seem, this year we will not be purchasing our normal volume from Guatemala. It’s strange to be even writing that sentence and yet, as one door shuts another opens, and so for the first time this year, we will be offering a beautiful Nicaraguan coffee from a mill named La Florencia. There are a few reasons why we are moving in this direction, so let me explain.

La Florencia, despite being a good-sized enterprise, has a great vibe. It’s perhaps a bit idealistic, but I believe that great people make great coffee. So as I contemplate supply and the start of a new relationship, the people portion of the business is just as crucial as the coffee quality. I love to assess the vibe of a place and see how people treat each other. I think it often speaks to ownership and the true ethos that the organization abides by. It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone was friendly to one another here — from the patio workers to the mill manger. I am not naïve enough to think that this is always the case, but I have definitely been to places where you don’t sense this or even feel welcome.

Also, it is fairly important for me to discover if I can build genuine rapport with the mill manager and quality control personnel, as these will be the people I engage with on an ongoing basis. Lydia, the mill manager, was a fantastic individual; small and soft-spoken, she carried herself as if she had been in the biz for years. Lester, head of QC, was unbelievable. All he wanted to do was talk coffee and share their experiences with the COE. Had he been tatted and English-speaking, I swear he would have been one of your stereotypical, geeked-out Melbourne baristas.

Another selling point (and a real surprise) was that La Florencia collects a number of different varietals and processes them in many different ways. At the moment, La Florencia collects the Maragogype, Pacamara, Maracaturra, Bourbon, Typica, Catuai and Java coffee varieties. Alongside that varied portfolio, they’ve benefitted enormously from the knowledge shared by their Costa Rican counterpoint, Deli Cafe, regarding processing. Thus La Florencia processes coffee using the natural, black honey, red honey, yellow honey and fully washed methods. That is pretty incredible for any coffee origin, and especially for one which is definitely not labelled as ‘leading’. In fact, learning about their varied processing methods gave me further justification to secure this Nicaraguan coffee.

Coffee people have mixed reactions when they hear the word Nicaragua. There are good reasons for this, but I would not be honest if I did not mention that I have had some exceptional Nicaraguan coffees. So when I visited La Florencia and warmed up to the idea of Nicaraguan coffees, I began to think of this possible relationship more along the lines of a start up. The core product is solid, but the potential looks amazing.

All the big things seem to be aligned here for them to produce great specialty coffee — exceptional micro climates, good elevation and genuine enthusiasm for quality preparation via the leadership. If we can also invest what we have gleaned over our years of origin travel and offer incentives at the produce level, we might even find ourselves serving a Nicaraguan coffee that pushes the re-imagination of Nicaraguan coffees in Australia.

Let’s see what we can do. Here is to an exciting opportunity and relationship!

This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: Re-imagining Nicaraguan coffee.

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London Calling

Posted by Matthew Patrick McLauchlan on

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A visit to the London Coffee Festival provides an insight into a blossoming industry with plenty of room to stretch it's feet.

Coffee houses popping up across the city of London is by no means a new thing, they first appeared in the English capital in the mid 1600s, caffeinating those creative minds forging The Age of Enlightenment. In more recent times however there has been somewhat of enlightenment in terms of the city’s coffee quality with a Third Wave of coffee roasting giving birth to a specialty scene every bit as innovative and energetic as anywhere on the planet.

While Monmouth could certainly lay claim to being the first specialty roaster (setting up shop in the late 1970s) it would be another 30 years before standards truly started to rise on a grand scale. In 2005 Soho’s Flat White brought an Antipodean flavor to the city and, with James Hoffman, Stephen Morrissey (an Irishman in London) and Gwilym Davies winning the ’07, ‘08 and ’09 WBC respectively, the rest of the world would soon to sit up and take notice of a city’s specialty coffee scene on the march.

Today 2 billion cups of coffee fuel $14 billion worth of turnover from almost 19,000 outlets, but what’s most impressive is the pace at which these figures have been achieved. In the past 15 years alone there has been an almost 400% increase in the number of ‘coffee outlets’…and there’s no sign of this pace abating any time soon.

Nowhere is all of this more evident than at last weekend’s London Coffee Festival at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane (London’s trendy hang out in the Eastern reaches of the city). Now in it’s fifth year the festival features 250 exhibitors and represents all that is dynamic about the specialty scene in the UK today.

Make no mistake, this is not just some trade show established to provide a platform for industry folk to shift some units… this is an engaging, evocative and, most importantly, accessible window into an industry on the cusp of a wave, a way to communicate to a sometimes skeptical marketplace, a means to captivate a city constantly on the hunt for something new and exciting. ‘The Lab Space’ holds up to twelve talks per day on topics such as industry trends & the future of the marketplace, social media strategies and brewing techniques for the home. The much anticipated Coffee Masters competition (created by Rob Dunne and Victor Frankowski of DunneFrankowski) allows the heaving crowds to get up close and personal with 20 of the world’s top baristas as they are tested on various disciplines including, but not limited to, brewing, latte art, cupping and a signature drink. With Workshop Coffee’s James Bailey eventually coming out trumps it was an exciting spin on the world of barista competition, their next stop will be New York in September. As Festival Director, Ludovic Rossignol states “a festival is not a festival without music”, and accordingly the crowds were treated to an eclectic line up of world music performed live in the hall.

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A city’s coffee could be said to be only as good as it’s roasters, most of whom were out in force over the four days. Square Mile engaged on their first visit to a coffee festival, though you wouldn’t have guessed it. With a Black Eagle (matt black!) offering out exceptional espresso and a filter bench consisting of three SP9s (Marco’s latest offering) this was an ideal point at which to start you journey around the room. Union Coffee offered introductory talks to roasting along side a cupping competition, Ozone presented some of their new cold brew while The Roasting Party had a stand large enough to engage in a Mexican wave (really). All the while the crowds enjoyed appearances from the likes of Caravan, WorkshopOrigin, Notes, Small Batch and Nude. Another new roaster gaining much attention is Assembly who will seek to redefine the roaster/café relationship to collectively create new approaches to coffee and café culture which ‘best serve the needs of the independent industry’, very much a case of ‘watch this space’.

There are also many subsidiary off shoots of the industry on display, each contributing their own to the energy of the event. Minor Figures (who has recently entered the Australian marketplace) drew much attention for their cold brew while the stand out new piece of equipment was most certainly Marco’s new SP9. A revolutionary product for the world of pourover, this single cup brewer is set to transform how cafes approach their filter programme.

Should you happen to be in London on the other 51 weeks of the year when the festival is not on then you can sample most, if not all of the above, at an array of dynamic cafes across the city including Mother’s Milk, Embassy East, Brooklyn, Black Lyan (a pop up due to close at the end of the festival, but check out the mothership White Lyan for some serious cocktails) and the soon to reopen (atop Old Street Roundabout!) Macintyre Coffee.

Samuel Johnson once said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”… while that notion could certainly be debated, it alludes to the electric energy that runs through this city. Music, theatre, restaurants and sport are all areas in which London can match and, more often than not, outdo other major cities. With thanks to a number of pioneering and driven industry leaders the city is no longer left lagging behind in the field of specialty coffee and can add yet another feather to it’s already bulging hat. Mind the gap? What gap.

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This article was originally published on the Five Senses Coffee website: London Calling.

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