Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Coffee & People: Serve People, not the Product.

Sometimes, Barista gets all too technical in perfecting their craft that they forget they are first here to serve the People!

There is a line and it is not getting shorter but the barista is pouring cup after cup but not serving because the swan latte art that he is attempting does not have the perfect heart as the head. Sounds atrocious but it is true. At times we become (or try to)  the Master of our passion that we forget that we are there to serve the people that matters the most - the customer. 

Where am I driving this point to? Nope it is not about the catch-22 service situation in coffee industry today(maybe for another article) but rather, how do you find a barista who is passionate  using coffee to serve people and not vice versa. Passion pays only when we take Action, and without it, Passion is senseless. 

Coffee & People: Getting a good team player is like creating an awesome blend!

"Sourcing for great single origin coffees is (relatively) easy. Getting them to work in harmony as a blend (of 2 origins or more) is a different story altogether!"

And this phrase above sums up my emotion at work the past weeks, managing hiring for our new space but at the same time inspiring my new series of short article for this blog. (I like to call it  brain farts!)

Going through more then 300 CVs received over a period of 1.5 months, one would have thought it shouldn't be too hard to get a few in but really, we see aplenty talented people but can they really fit into a team and work together collectively. Can 11 Ronaldo (or 1 Mohd. Salah - sorry Pool fans) really makes a team?

After all, coffee is really a teamsport. Thoughts?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Do you taste your own coffee, enough?

Chefs taste their food before serving it out, Bartenders do so with their mocktails (drinking on the job and I hope they don't turn alcoholic in the process) thus it should be almost second nature for Barista and Cafe owners? Think again!

Coffee calibrations happen daily every morning, after lunch hour too in some businesses and all the time after dialling in a new coffee in the grinder but are they really tasting it or watching the shots drip to hit the 30ml spot in 30 seconds?

How many time do Barista or Cafe Owner reject a coffee after drinking it personally or even stop a bad coffee from being served out? Or do they actually reactively taste it only when a 1 star review comes in the form of social media rating? (Or when a customer leave a full cup behind and leave the premise.)

In Dutch Colony, we taste our coffee daily and with 3 shops and 1 roasting facility, we make it a point to set up a group chat as well as a calibration form just to geek it out and discuss flavours and recipes early in the morning, before the first coffee is serve out to the earliest customer. Taking time to taste our coffees also means we put ourselves in the customer shoes and asking ourselves whether we will buy and drink that coffee or reject them. (And why if we ever reject it!)

Coffee is a serious business and it will remain one, as long as Barista and Cafe Owners takes quality as seriously as they possibly can.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Third wave coffee will be dead if people continue expecting great coffee at rock bottom price!

Another of our wholesale account have bite the dust. A great cafe by measures of the kgs of coffee they served out and yet their huge social media followers cannot do anything to keep it afloat.

This follow through from another big announcement that came just before year 2017 come closing and the many more dreams that shattered the last few good years. Singapore F&B industry and in particular cafes are in the snake and ladder game. Blamed it on the high overheads of payrolls and landlord ridiculous demands but the truth is, we have been stuck selling the same coffee (which by the way gets better each year as the bar raised) at the same price of $5! How can this even be possible when kopitiams have even seen a price increase of their Kopi-O from $0.70 in 2005 to atleast $1.10 today.

As a few good cafes passed the first survival point of 5 hard years, employees that have been with them since Day One must have surely enjoyed some sort of salary increment and this definitely contributed to a higher cost of coffee per cup ovet the years but with the operator still selling them at the same price they started off 5 years ago. Thinner margins will surely mean a rocky bottomline and so, how do we expect sustainability then?

What does it take for our industry to revolutionise and raise the 'market price' together? Will we be hurt even if we increase the minimum price of coffee by another  $0.50 more? Does this 10% incremental even help cafe owners at all to survive? The low entry level will only mean more cafes will open in the future but the stagnant selling price will only mean more will close too.

Let's just  pray 2018 be kind to us.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Milk is just Milk!

Milk is important and difficult to master. Dr Faishal will agree.
It is half-time break during a football match between Manchester United and Southampton and I thought it will be a good time to prepare the coffee calendar for month of October, for Dutch Colony. Then my mind wander over a topic that I was discussing everyday for five days in a row. About milk and espresso, to 41 students from ITE College East who was attending the Barista Interest Group program.

Considering Lattes and Cappuccinos makes up the top two espresso based beverages we (in Dutch Colony) sell every month and the art and science of milk is something we talk about in every barista fundamental classes, milk definitely is an important topic. After all, as much as we fuss about parameters of extracting a delicious espresso, milk is at the end of the day almost 80% that completes a drink in any cafe. Unfortunately or fortunately though, milk is something that people in the cafe business don't usually indulge in. Too many incidents to mention but here is one; when a cafe customer provide feedback that the cappuccino is not as sweet as usual, the coffee roaster received a call and asked to investigate that roasted batch of coffee. What happen to the proteins in milk that contributed to the sweetness and liquid marshmallow texture then? After all isn't that cappuccino almost all milk? Oh yes, milk is just milk!

Here is another; five  coffee roasters (or the more the merrier) have been called upon to provide samples for a new cafe who is opening real soon. Coffee have got to be good (and cheap) and it doesn't matter what future consumers of that cafe prefer, as long as the Bosses likes it and they like it chocolaty and 'not sour lah'. When down to the wire, any roaster who can provide that comforting notes and $0.10 cheaper per kg then everyone else, congratulations the business is yours. When it come to milk, which can account to almost $4000-$5000 of cost of good every month, the boss says any milk will do. Whatever everyone is using is good. Not a single questions asked about sweetness, about amount of protein or fat and most importantly, not a question ask about custom profile and/or exclusivity. Why do we not demand the same from our milk supplier like what we do to the coffee supplier? Oh I get it again, milk is just milk.

Where is this going? No where of course but just to address the importance of milk in a cafe business.  If I  have the time to collate what I have been working on, is to address the issue of bubbles on milk foam of an espresso based beverage. This was also discussed in the blog FB  group. A topic for another day.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Yesterday's Barista Training & Calibration Exercise

I have not written for a long time but that doesn't mean I have stopped thinking about coffee. Rather, I have been fully immersed with coffee the past month, creating new coffee training slides, writing coffee handouts and rolling out programs.

Tonight is rather different though. What I saw during a short but intense wholesale training yesterday encouraged me to write down what I encountered. After a step by step demonstration, it was the trainee's turn to pull some shots but right on the first extraction, he got a little panicky and start muttering that he doesn't know then when to stop as he has forgotten to use/start the timer. (We were in a unique position. The operator has bought his equipment from Supplier A, attended coffee training from Supplier B and bought coffees from us.) I asked after that failed espresso attempt if he knows how to look out for signs of blonding or weight/volume of the espresso to perhaps decide when to cut the extraction. The answer was NO. He said, "I stop the extraction at 30 seconds. I cannot do without the timer."

Don't get me wrong. The core ideas of parameters of espresso extraction remains largely unchanged when I conduct training myself. Extraction time is something I hold dearly too, but not the ONLY thing I hold on to. There are also other parameters that I preached about but it was rather amusing to see a trainee being taught to only measure a good espresso by how long it takes to extract the espresso. Is it true that the espresso taste good only at 30 seconds? What happen at 29.5 seconds or 32 seconds?

Appreciation of coffee, expectations of flavours and consumerism behaviour have evolved so much over our specialty coffee years but it is sad if training providers out there are still holding on to that only rule book of 30 seconds and/or 30 mls to measure good espresso.  I know we are better then that.

Oh... I will take that 35gm - 40gm double shots espresso done at 22 seconds anytime. :)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Unwashed, Dry and/or Natural Process - Tasting the process instead of the actual flavours of the coffee?

Unwashed, Dry and/or Natural Process, either names but they all refer to the same post harvest process.  A process we love to hate or a love-hate process? Tasting the process instead of the actual flavours of the coffee? This article discuss the different appreciation of natural process coffees within the specialty coffee community and the flavours it brings to the table.

                                             Unwashed, Dry and/or Natural Process

A graphic from training slides that I used for Dutch Colony workshops, explaining the difference between the two main processing methods.
Hands down the oldest coffee processing method, the natural process refers to cherries being spread out in a thin layer on a patio and left to dry under the sun. Each sides of the cherry needs to be consistently exposed to the heat of the sun, so farm workers are tasked to constantly rake the cherries. This allow the cherries to get somewhat equal amount of sunshine with the outer flesh and parchments removed all in one step.

The natural process is very environmental friendly with almost no reliance to machinery and very little need of fresh water. Unfortunately with the reliance of a natural resource (the sun), there are notable drawbacks which leads to a higher room for errors while processing as well as a inconsistent flavour profile. As there is no reliable method to predict weather conditions, prolonged rainfall or excessive drying  may caused opportunity for mould, fermentation or rotting.
                                              The flavours of fermentation

In tasting the process instead of the actual flavours of the coffee, in particular the natural processing method, fermentation or fermented flavours usually becomes a point of discussion. Mostly western coffee professionals hate the idea of it  and in cupping stints with them, have heard the description of rotten animal and/or onions far too many times.

In Asia, our appreciation of food follows the tag line, "the smellier it is, the better it taste!" Think stinky tofu and even durian and thus our appreciation of Natural process coffees are more then those Americans or Europeans palate. Having said that, a point to ponder upon. What happen then to non-asian delicacies like blue cheese or cured meat, where equally #gamestrong on fermentation and why is it then those palate cannot appreciate natural process coffee the way they do with their cheese? 

Analysing the typical flavours one will get upon cupping a natural processed coffees, the likes of melon, jackfruit, banana (MJB) (which are arguably always considered as negative flavours) candied strawberries, blueberries, lychee, mango (positive flavours) are often presence. These are all yummy flavour attributes in my honest opinion but MJB somehow or rather are often linked to fermented fruit notes, which are considered tainted or defects. It beats me why melon, jackfruit and banana are considered flavours of fermentation! After all, natural process is all about taking in most of the skin of the cherries and the whole fruit into the finished beverage and when one argues 'taste the actual flavours of the coffees in its truest fruit form  rather then the process" shouldn't that mean have it natural process? 

Upon the beautiful discovery of post harvesting and turning coffee as a beverage, rather then having it boiled and drinking it as tea, it relived the moments when natural process was first discovered thousands of years ago in ancient Ethiopia, which indicates instead of calling it flavours of fermentation, it could possibly be the first flavours one get out of coffee which leads for it to be commercialised. Yet the community is pushing for the washed-method instead and lead it it to be cleaner, less complex and sweeter! 

End of Part One.