A Barista's Memoir

A Barista's Memoir

[Photo source: Cafe Malasia 2017]

It has been 5 amazing years since I first stepped into the coffee industry. Like every barista, my dream was to make good coffee and start my very own café.

1st May 2012 was to be the day that changed my entire career, my first day at work in one of the busiest cafés in town, The Red Beanbag. It was here that I learned about pulling espresso shots, 25 seconds per 25ml shot, frothing milk, and pouring the best latte art to showcase my talent. It was all that I had in mind about coffee, pouring the best latte art to impress customers. Within 6 months, I had learnt almost everything about mastering latte art and pulling the best shots ever, in my own imagination.

Then an opportunity came to join the national Malaysia Barista Championship in 2013. It was one of the most challenging times of my career with only 9 months experience, no clue about how the competition worked and with no one to guide me. It was purely research on YouTube, trying my best to learn how other contestants performed in competitions and emulating some of their styles for my presentation. I was determined to take part and my goal was not to screw things up and see how far I could go. Things went amazingly well and I was crowned champion for that year. It was a sweet surprise for me, which I attributed to sheer determination, hard work, will power, and dedication.

The competition opened up many opportunities for me. I finally understood that the coffee world can be as sophisticated as tea, wine or even whisky, that tastes like orange, apple, strawberries, melon, honey, etc exist in coffee!

I joined the Malaysia Barista Championship again in 2015 and was once more crowned champion. This was also the first year where Malaysia was sanctioned on the world stage and, as national champion, I represented Malaysia at the World Barista Championship. It was nerve wracking, competing amongst champions from around the world. It involved late nights training, lots of routine and repetitive practices every other day, tasting uncountable shots of espresso during every training just to get the best extraction and flavour.

Competitions contribute a lot for the industry. It encourages the coffee industry to grow by pushing ourselves to be more meticulous, to find the best way to make the best coffee to give our customers a satisfying experience.

Coffee has enabled me to travel and meet other champions and coffee professionals. Through them, I have learned new skills, gained more knowledge, experienced new equipment and learned the coffee culture of their country.  All these have made me develop to be a better barista. My goal is to inspire and be inspired.

With the skills I gained through multiple competitions, I have started to improvise on ways to train baristas so that they can learn a lot quicker than how I used to. Developing better methods of explanation to transfer knowledge, experimenting and training with fellow baristas enable them to excel with the right skills and knowledge in the fastest time. I must say it is way harder to impart knowledge than self-learning. However, there is great satisfaction in doing this, as we would have trained a great batch of baristas. As they grow and become better they can make changes to elevate the industry.

Opening my own café was my dream. With the set-up of Yellow Brick Road café I have taken up the role to train baristas. Holding the title of National Champion comes with responsibilities as there is greater expectation. Nevertheless, I continue to strive for the best and dedicate my time to making great coffee, not only by myself, but along with my team of baristas. Monthly training involves coffee tasting, refining skills, customer service, and knowledge sharing such as farm visit to give better insight into coffee origins.

Training baristas for competitions is something I really enjoy. Seeing new baristas taking up challenges, learning every detail in competition routines and achieving great results is definitely satisfying. This helps to promote the industry through a barista who shares his/her experience from seed to cup for customers’ greater appreciation of coffee.

As the industry grows and coffee knowledge spreads, we continue progressing to be on par with other countries with strong coffee cultures. My wish is to mark Malaysia on the world map showing that we do serve up some of the best coffee in the world!


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