The Coffee & Art Fringe Festival Asia 2015

Saturday, September 12, 2015

by Cy Chong

The coffee scene is abuzz this September as CAFFA returns once again with its commitment and promise to bring both the coffee and art communities closer together, filling the avenues of Publika with the heady aroma of fresh brews as well as many other tantalizing reasons for coffeephiles to gather around and crowd the event floor. Despite the worsening haze that threatens to choke up our city, the Coffee & Art Fringe Festival Asia is expected to ignite a passionate dialogue on coffee with followers that ranges from business owners and professional baristas to home brewers for three consecutive days, kicking off from the 11th to the 13th of September 2015. This event was highly anticipated months ahead due to its renown for its unwavering independent spirit which encourages appreciation of any art form, especially in coffee.

The event, now in it’s fourth year, has become a pit stop for all things coffee, which allows opportunities for businesses to improve their food and beverage systems. Should you plan to open up a cafe of sorts, you will be spoiled for choice in terms of gadgets and equipment - case in point, let me throw you some names: Anfim grinders and Rancilio products can be seen in Degayo’s booth. Classic Company displays their series of Moka pots and a beautiful La Marzocco Linea. Monin and DaVinci syrups are displayed gracefully as their sales representatives are busy gleefully handing out samples and chatting up the prospective customers. Alpha Dominche Steampunk, parked at Dankoff’s booth, has sparked much interest within the crowd for its recent and consistent appearance in many coffee events. And the list goes on. Many company representatives are seen engaging in over-the-counter conversations with potential business partners and coffee drinkers. So leave your shyness at home, these guys are more than thrilled to share their extensive knowledge and sagely insights with you.

Most brands present at the event thrust their products into the front line in an attempt to push their key products into the limelight. A Slayer espresso machine with beautiful wooden finishing is seen at Coffex’s booth, crafting manually-controlled espresso based drinks to the crowd. Dankoff’s staff pulls shots from the Victoria Arduno espresso machine (a machine widely used in barista championship tournaments). Most booths endorse their own coffee beans, passing out samples everywhere, resulting in a veritable frenzy of caffeine that awaits your indulgence.

Still on the subject of free coffee, CAFFA is one of the many events throughout the year that herd roasters together in one venue. This equates to more choices of coffee beans for your cafe or home. Many are giving out free samplings of their own roasted beans for visitors to try. Single origins and blends are found in most of these booths. The Roast Things is purveying some delicious single origins (Specifically, Ecuador, Kenya, and El Salvador) and Awesome Blend 2, a coffee blend that awes your espresso-based drinks away. Coffea Coffee has an impressive set of single origins that may tease out the curiosity in the crowd. Will Jung, a Korean roaster, has secured a booth to sell his flavorful and delicious bottled ice crips and coffee beans, along with an impressive array of ice-drippers that are standing tall and proud in Will Jung’s booth. SLO Atelier makes its first appearance in an event, bringing with them their myriad selection of single origins. Their friendly staff are eager to engage and assist with any queries and requests the event-goers might have. Lighthouse joins the party with their singles and blends at a corner of Dankoff’s booth. So as you can tell, there are many overwhelming choices of samples for you to satiate your whims and fancies.

Going as a home brewer? Some booths are hawking domestic-grade espresso machines.
Welhome espresso machine and grinder, which can be found in Dankoff’s booth for instance, is bundled for the customer at an affordable price. Coffex is selling Breville double-boiler espresso machines and their smart grinders, which has recently received much attention from many first-timers. Be sure to get it here as many are giving away bundle promotions for home machines. Nescafe marks its presence in CAFFA with many activities for its guests. They are giving away hand-drawn classic Nescafe mugs (remember those red mugs in Nescafe advertisements?) and free coffee to participants.

Exhibit Cafe greets the crowd with its minimalistic installation, filled with beautiful Japanese coffee tools like Torch and Kinto products. They offer Torch drippers with Pitchii servers at a discounted price. Exhibit Cafe is also selling some of their Maruyama coffee, sure to put smiles on their customers when they bring home their new coffee and charming coffee tools.

Besides coffee tools, gear and gadgets for baristas can also be found in some booths - special edition Rattleware pitchers, Acaia scale or Bona Vita kettles etc. Coffee Icon is displaying Tiamo products and some home brewing necessities such as thermometers, paper filters, coffee pots and hand-grinders. Their booth is worth paying a visit to but do be warned that you may walk away with a lighter wallet. Just around the corner at Coffee Icon’s set-up, booths that sells hand-made marshmallows (Huey & Wah cafe) and wild honey (The Honey Hearts) may surprise and delight you with their quality. And if you’ve ever wanted to get yourself a KeepCup, this is the place. Finally, should you find yourself feeling peckish, treats and refreshments can be found in stalls beyond the perimeter of the event.

Not far from the event, the Barista Guild of Asia has arranged a colloquium which invites coffee experts, business owners, roasters and baristas to share their experience and knowledge to attendees. It aims to have “meaningful coffee conversations” (like its tagline) although a fee is required to participate. Scoot on over to BGA’s facebook page for further details.

CAFFA envisions to understand and appreciate independent art, food and coffee community. This is a vision that can be considered to be somewhat fulfilled. However, when compared with last year’s CAFFA, it seems lacking in its independent spirit as its current lineup consist of mostly big names and established players. Nonetheless, it is still a worthwhile affair for anyone with coffee pumping through their veins to experience. Do arrive early before the expected horde fully mobs the venue. It starts at 10am to 8pm, from 11 to 13 of September at the Square in Publika, Solaris Dutamas. Come mingle with the community and be apart of the coffee phenomenon!

The Expand-sive Knowledge in Coffee – Variety

Friday, February 13, 2015

by Cy Chong

Imagine yourself purchasing a bag of fresh specialty coffee beans. What do you look for? You would notice each bag is probably stamped with roast dates, roast profile, tasting notes, coffee origin, variety, etc. What would determine your decision for coffee purchase? Taste notes? Dates? Profile? Country? You fret your choices over and finally bought a bag of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. The taste notes are usually floral aroma and fruity bursty flavours. You also know the beans are harvested in Ethiopia. But variety? What does it mean? What does variety have to do with coffee and your decision for coffee purchase?

To start with, what is variety? Pick an apple. Is the apple red or green? Is the apple big or small in size? Is it Granny Smith or Washington or Fuji apple? These "categorization" is what we call as variety. We give names to different apples. So does coffee. Each apple has their own unique characteristics - taste, tree, leaves, growth. So does coffee. If an apple has only one difference with its other similar companions, they deserve a different name. So does coffee.

Knowing the variety is similar to knowing what kind of potatoes you had for lunch. (Sweet potato? Russet potato?) Understanding variety gives you an in-depth information of coffee that spans from plantation to business. It may not be a tie breaker for coffee decisions but it is certainly good to know about the coffee tree that bore fruits for your daily cup. Stories behind variety is educational as it involves historical origins (how a certain variety was spread), geographical characteristics, farm management and research etc.

Typically, classification for any living things is arranged accordingly. Biologists classify a plant by categorizing their family, genus, species and finally, variety - all in this order. The genus of coffee is called Coffea, from the family Rubiaceae. Two species that are commonly known in coffee are Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora (in other words, Robusta). There are other species, like Liberica and Excelsa, but it is not as significant as Arabica and Robusta. These two species are widely grown for our daily cup of coffee. Let us focus on Arabica as it has most promising flavors in a cup.

Arabica has many known species - it all starts with Typica. Coffee was generally first found in Ethiopia. Then, someone took out a coffee sample to plant it somewhere else than Ethiopia. That coffee variety is known as Typica, which is a latin word meaning "ordinary". Thanks to history, Typica was spread around the world. Somehow, a coffee plant in Bourbon (previously known as island of Reunion) changed dramatically. It was different from Typica. It does not have curly or darker colored leaves. It does not have green coffee fruits that turns red when mature. Instead, it was a bushier plant with bright lime colored leaves. It bears red, yellow or orange colored coffee fruits. This is what we called as natural mutation; the new variety possess a different physical characteristic from existing varieties. That mutated Typica is named after the place where it was found - "Bourbon". Bourbon variety has higher yield (higher produce) of coffee than Typica. Yield and disease susceptibility characteristics are two of many factors for plantation management and business decisions. What do characteristics have to do with decisions and management?

Caturra, another famous variety, is a mutated variety from Bourbon. They were found and named after the town, Caturra in Brazil. Notice how varieties usually get their name geographically. Caturra is only one gene different from Bourbon - distance between branches and leaves. The coffee trees are shorter, bushier and has higher yield. This helps in production as fruits are easily reached by hand and guaranteed to have an extensive amount of coffee. Caturra coffee tree produces so much that they risk dying from overbearing. Caturra variety is a perfect example for demonstrate how variety may affect decision making for business and plantation management. In the business point of view, Caturra bears fruity coffee and produces an extensive amount of fruits at a period of time. Farmers need to manage the farm properly to avoid Caturra from over produce. Their short bushy plant structure made harvesting job easier for workers to obtain these red or yellow fruit.

Now you might ask. If you think that logical deduction is good enough to decide to plant a certain variety for years, think again.

Timor Hybrid is an interspecific hybrid variety which means this variety is a cross between two different species, Arabica and Robusta. This variety is common in Timor island, Indonesia. They have disease resistance traits from Robusta species and flavors from Arabica species. Disease resistance is good for coffee plants as Arabica varieties are notoriously known for their fragility as compared to their companion, Robusta. Their tasting notes, however, may not possess much flavors like an Arabica variety would. Tasting notes still play a major role in coffee industry. The SL-28 and SL-34 are two of many varieties that has been researched by Scott Laboratories in the 1930s. They picked a couple of varieties to research and they bore good result. Although these two varieties are both susceptible to coffee leaf rust but they have distinct fruit flavors. Especially SL28 which usually blackcurrant notes.

The record-breaking coffee, Gesha variety in Panama,  has been a constant topic in many coffee conversation. Its exotic flavors and tasting notes is worth the time and effort to talk about, especially the variety "Gesha". Gesha variety originates from a town called Gesha in Ethiopia and it can be found in Costa Rica and Columbia. Somehow, Gesha variety just flowed with Panama, demonstrating full characteristics. Besides geographical differences, it is not known why this variety specifically "chose" Panama to showcase its exotic flavors than the other countries. The journey to understanding variety's "choice" is an on-going educational process. These varieties exhibits importance of valuable tasting notes in a cup than availability of coffee like commercial coffees available in the shelves of the market. Many plantations are heading to that direction - to hunt and maintain for valuable tasting notes of a variety.

Coffee variety may not be an active decision breakers for most coffee purchase. However, variety works like a quality and physical characteristic classification. When Gesha variety is on demand, many plantations focused on Gesha variety as they believe this variety has some good qualities that stood out from other existing varieties. Could we say that all varieties would taste the same? Costa Rican Gesha and Panama Gesha would definitely be different with all other factors counted in - geographical properties, climate change, processing and beans handling etc. But they bore similar characteristics - complexity, juicy, exotic, etc.

These information comes down to this point: Even if variety does not determine your coffee purchase decision, knowing its variety is equivalent to equipping yourself with extensive respect, appreciation and knowledge for coffee. There are far more varieties identified than the ones mentioned in this article and each of them is worth reading about.  As the journey of coffee is made of cross roads, it is a journey of learning and sharing knowledge for the love of coffee. Now, sip up and meditate. For the knowledge of variety is gratifying long bumpy journey.

Ukers’ Stories on Coffee

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A short introduction by Cy Chong

All About Coffee: A History of Coffee from the Classic Tribute to the World’s Most Beloved Beverage By William H. Ukers

For the love of black broth (aka coffee), decades of a man’s ambition, travel, experience and perspective are poured into a pocket-sized book. Short articles were arranged periodically, contributing to a journey of coffee history and evolution for readers. Written in the 1920s, customs and culture were recorded and had provided a philosophical insight of civilization. This timeless book provides evidence of coffee being praised, honored, worshipped, despised, excommunicated (nearly), baptized and loved. Ukers’ life work can be carried around for a light reading. William H. Ukers was the founder of The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal.

Intense Battle of Malaysia Baristas

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

By Cy Chong

25th January 2015 marks the day which the 5th Malaysia Barista Champion was born. The barista battle to represent Malaysia, for the first time, in the World Barista Championship was definitely intense to watch. This competition was held 3 days from 23rd to 25th at ChinWoo Stadium in Kuala Lumpur which was organized by Malaysian Specialty Coffee Association (MSCA) and Barista Guild Asia (BGA). The stadium was filled with anxiety and excitement as top 6 contestants fought their way through from the first round. Competing baristas were to complete a three-course presentation – four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks within 15 minutes.

The competition started off with Ms. Mel Lau from Departure Lounge who used Panama Lerida Estate beans for her presentation. Then Jason Loo, the defending champion from 2013 from The Red Bean Bag, swept off the stage with Panama mixed Gesha and Typica variety beans. Yaw Tzong from Coffee Concepts Company showcased with Ethiopian Dumerso. Keith Koay from VCR selected a specific roaster from London for his presentation. Then, Sam Tan from Coffee Stain gracefully presented her skills with Costa Rica Las Lajas. The competition ended with Ang Bo Ling from Three Little Birds using his coffee to present a memorable signature drink - a mixture of Chrysanthemum ice balls with a dash of espresso and fresh brewed black tea.

The competition proved nothing else but the heart and soul from any point of circumference in the coffee industry circle. These baristas handpicked their roasters and beans to suit their coffee philosophy and experience. Countless time and days of practice to sharpen and calibrate their technical skills. Baristas then carefully arranged their presentation, from the coffee booklet for the juries, to the cup they grace their coffee in, to the beans they chose, just to highlight what they have learned. Then it was only a battle of philosophies among the baristas. The details these baristas poured into their presentation, displayed their passion and their skills to extract the best out of coffee and their experience within 15 minutes. It all numbed down to the most intense relationship and experience in a cup of coffee. After the 15th minute, their fate relied on the juries, with Joe Hsu as the head jury for MBC 2015.

In between the competition, booths were set up to grace the audience's mind. Perhaps the most notable booth was Brew Bar which featured a number of specialty coffee with different methods (like V60, Aeropress and Chemex etc) by invited parties, such as BEAM specialty, Thirdwave, Spacebar coffee, Seraph Awaken, The Brew Orchestra, The Roast Things and Pulp By Papa Palheta etc. The list was a mixture of old and new faces in the Malaysia coffee scene. The audience were able to drink specialty coffee from these independent roasters and cafes at the Brew Bar.

Coffee products, beans and tools can be found there. A series of Kalita products caught many people's eyes for its colorful features. The booth which displayed Slayer, Mahlkonig EK43 and La Cimbali espresso machine had caused congested human traffic as the audience was able to learn the features of these machines. Many people left with a KeepCup since it was on sale!

Occasionally, Shaun Liew, the MC would occasionally stir our attention to notify the commencement for each round. Roasters, entrepreneurs, baristas, family and friends of competitors, former champions and current champions from other competitions were in the stadium with their support for the competition. Moments of joys and anxiety made these historical moments in ChinWoo Stadium. These moments were overwhelming emotions to celebrate these competing baristas effort for the love of this intense relationship in a cup of coffee - this love truly transcends at any point in the coffee circle.

Supportive coffee workers and lovers welcomed the first ever champion to compete internationally. Congratulations to Jason Loo from The Red Bean Bag! He will represent as Malaysia Barista Champion in World Barista Championship, which will be held in Seattle this year.

Coffee as we drink it

Friday, July 3, 2009

The vast majority of our population are coffee drinkers. Ironically, not many can tell you what constitutes a good cup of coffee. Ask anyone around you this question may cause them to stare into a void blinking uncontrollably. Some may be able to utter something like “got to smell nice lah!” referring to the aroma, alright, fair enough, or “must be black enough” referring to the colour, er..., or “has to be very kau” referring to the strength... I guess. Well, that’s about all you may get.

Prior to recent years, before Délifrance, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks Coffee and alike set their foot on our shore, most of us or our father or grandfather or great grandfather has never savour a real good, premium gourmet coffee before. Our colonial master, the British, do not fancy coffee. Hence, coffee appreciation among the upper class was nonexistent. There was no demand for exotic coffee from other part of the world. Even good quality, high grade premium coffee beans from our neighbour, Indonesia, has altogether bypass our region heading straight into the European market. We are literally clueless about the world of coffee for generations.

Malaysian, however drinks one particular type of coffee, which grown on our own soil. It is mostly found in some part of West Malaysia. The coffee is a high-yield crop known as liberica species. This coffee, if consume without any special treatment, is highly unpalatable. In another word, the liberica species is rather inferior compare to the arabica or even the robusta species. You can safely guess that it is not highly sought-after among the coffee lovers. However, the liberica coffee still managed to find its way into the local coffee house, fondly known as Kopitiam to most of us. If ever we have any coffee experience at all, it is the Kopitiam’s coffee experience.

In the early days, people of this land were not particularly rich. The proprietors of the kopitiams realised that most of their customer will welcome anything that is affordable or cheap, hence serving good quality coffee is not the priority then. To reduce cost, the proprietor of the kopitiam has to source for the cheapest coffee bean available and the liberica beans happen to fit that requirement. As mentioned earlier, the liberica coffee is highly unpalatable, if they served it straight, it will definitely fail to impress their customer. To solve this problem, some clever roasters (those days, almost all kopitiam roast their own coffee just right behind their coffee house) has devised a method that involved adding sugar and butter (margarine is use today to cut cost) during the roasting process to create a drinkable beverage that is dark and heavy bodied taste, in some case, coffee may also roasted together with grounded wheat, salt, oat, burned corn etc, for cost cutting purposes. This method is widely adopted by almost all roasters in the region.

The roasted concoction mentioned above has creates a beverage known as kopi (coffee in Malay language). If you order a cup of kopi in a kopitiam, however you will ended up with a cup of milked coffee instead. How is this come about? This is a hint that initially the proprietor of the kopitiam did not feel comfortable with the concoction they have created to be served straight black. To hide any undesirable flavour in their kopi, they added lots of condensed milk (fresh milk is expensive). Hence, by default, kopi is served with milk. If you desire black coffee, you should order kopi-O, O is black in Hokkien, a Chinese dialect. Again, be aware that it is sweeten with sugar, the proprietor still find it uncomfortable to serve you a straight black unsweetened coffee. You must order kopi-O-kosong, kosong is “nothing” in Malay language, to get your black unsweetened coffee. Just a word of caution, if you are use to good quality arabica coffee and cannot settled for anything less, just avoid kopi-O-kosong.

There is a co-relation between economy performance and gourmet coffee consumption. The largest gourmet coffee consuming countries are all developed nations. The best crops available will always ended up in the hand of the one with the greatest economy muscle. For example, when the Japan’s economy reaches its peak in the 1980’s, almost all Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, one of the world’s most expensive coffee, were purchased by the Japanese, the rest of the world has been deprived of the Blue Mountain coffee for more than a decade. Looking at our nation, we did not experience an exciting economy performance for most part of the 19th and 20th century. To most ordinary folks, meeting end needs is more important than savouring a good cup of gourmet coffee. With only the liberica coffee at our disposal, we have slowly, from one generation to another generation, got acquainted and developed fondness to the unique taste of our kopi. I personally believed that we love kopi not due to its quality or exquisite taste, but rather it is an acquired taste.

In the 1980’s, our country has propelled itself towards an industrialised nation. The economy prospers over the next two decades and the quality of life had improved tremendously. Travelling abroad for business, education and leisure were at an unprecedented scale. It was during this period that we got exposed to what people around the world have taken for granted, a taste of a truly great cup of gourmet coffee.

One company that has played a pivotal role in introducing gourmet coffee in our region is Délifrance from Singapore. Délifrance started their first café bakery at Clifford Centre, Singapore in 1985. In 1990, their first café in Malaysia started in Lot 10 shopping centre, Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur. To many Malaysian my generation, Délifrance was the place we had our first sip of cappuccino, café latte, café mocha or Americano. It was also the place that sale the most expensive coffee around town and it got a lot of people the shock-of-their-life-time experience when their espresso served.

After Délifrance, came along The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Dome Café, Starbucks Coffee, Gloria Jean's Coffees, to name a few. These players, with their unique trend setting concept, style and taste, have managed to garner some followers. However, gourmet coffee appreciation is not widely spread in our society yet. Due to the high price these establishment charged, it is only confined to city dwellers, mainly high income group. Unlike Taiwan and Japan, where gourmet coffee are served in coffee house every corner island wide and enjoyed by every level of the society, Malaysia still lagging behind by maybe one whole generation. Another problem is Malaysian cannot shake off our taste for the kopi. Like a breast fed baby boy, who never tasted anything other than his own mother’s milk, will take some months, or years, to get use to other type of foods. Worst still, with the mushrooming of our home grown brand, the Ipoh Old Town White Coffee chain, 120’s outlets to date, and their clones, it will take Malaysian more time to reach the same level of coffee appreciation like other countries such as Australia, Taiwan, Japan, Europe, The States, etc.

To end this post with a less depressing note, there are some individual in Malaysia who are doing their bit to elevate our level of coffee appreciation. It is a daunting task looking at the unfavourable condition here. However, with their passion and love for coffee, it is worth every effort discovering a new coffee loving soul. I will be searching for them and will highlight their stories in due time.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sometime in February 2009, a gentleman walked into our café and ordered a cup of Colombian Special, a single origin coffee. After he had a few sips of the Colombian, we started a short conversation. He was quite impressed with the freshness of our coffee which is hard to find in most local cafés. We exchange some thoughts on the subject and before he left, he pass on a web address for me to visit, I did not get his name then and only check-out the site a few days later.

Five years ago I was a web designer. Ever since I started Coffee Ritual, the café, I have no idea how the web has evolved. The website introduced to me earlier by the gentleman is a blog. I have never seen a blog before. Having read about it in the newspaper now and then, but never actually seen one. I was immediately hooked. It is a blog about coffee in Malaysia. I spent my next few days reading every single posts and comments on the blog. It is a whole new world to me, very different from the BBS or Forum I knew. In a blog, there is this host, the blogger, who is really passionate about the subject written on his blog. I can feel the emotion, tears and joys of the blogger. The ideas, experiences, thoughts and knowledge are shared and discussed among the readers and the blogger in the comments after each post. It is a wonderful way to interact.

After some serious thought and research, an urge to create my own blog slowly developed over the last two months and this really got me very excited. I have so much that I wanted to share. Oh yes, this is it, this is the platform I will ride on to reach out to the world.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Coffee Ritual, the blog.

Before I end this post, I would like to thank Kfchan of Coffee in Malaysia for introducing his blog to me that very fine day. I salute your contributions to all the coffee lovers in Malaysia. Thanks again.