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Young Baristas on the Runway

February 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Raj preparing his Victory sign for SNBC

This year 2010, we have a total of 5 strong participants going for the Singapore National Barista Championship (SNBC) competition. Out of these 5 competitive barista, we have our regular stars John Ting & Keith Loh in the game, as well as first timers Vignesh S/O Surandran, Rajan S/O Subramanian and Astro Mastroianni Gajendran.

In short, SNBC is a barista competition held at a national level and it is open to all barista enthusiasts. At the same time, SNBC also aims to

  • Promote the growth, excellence & recognition in the Barista profession in Singapore.
  • Growing the Barista’s knowledge of and expertise in the preparation and serving of specialty, espresso coffee through competitions.
  • Promoting the knowledge and consumption of specialty coffee to the consumer through the Barista.

see link – http://www.singaporecoffee.org/forms%5CmediaRelease081106.htm

I had a short conversation with these 3 new baristas earlier and realised that they each have a very special background and passion for coffee. Take Rajan S/O Subramanian (Raj) for instance, he did not use to enjoy coffee as much as he does now. His first encounter with coffee making is with automated coffee machine where it can churn out different types of coffee at the touch of a pre-programmed button. Until he found his way to Whitebait & Kale (another successful restaurant owned by Keith, previously located at Camden Medical Center), that’s when he started learning about coffee beans and the steps to preparing a good cup of coffee.

Acquiring only 16months of barista experience, he has great skills in detecting the various aromas and flavours that can be found in good coffees. He grew to appreciate coffee along the way and he found that coffee could be such a versatile beverage, where there are so many ways to enjoy and so much room for creativity and developing new coffee drinks.

Seizing the opportunity of 2010 SNBC, Raj decided to push himself to maximum, he wants to test if he could remain compose while maintaining consistency when working under pressure of speed and from judges scrutiny. He mentioned that this is his first time taking part in a competition for work purpose, and he is extremely excited for the day to arrive. Apart from wanting to discover his real talents as a barista through this competition, Raj also jokingly claimed that he wish to be ranked at least within the Top 10 listing if not able to defeat Keith.

Raj’s signature coffee beverage for the competition will be Masala Espresso, where he obtained his inspiration from his Dad’s favourite beverage – Masala Tea. He realised that Masala has so many aromatic components that could pair really well with espresso when given the right concoction.  We are all eager to know the outcome of this wonderful drink Raj has created!

Forever Cool-looking Vic is ready to charm the judges

When I found the chance to dig up some information from Vignesh S/O Surandran (Vic) about his preparation for the coming SNBC, I detected some sort of delightfulness in his tone of speech. He was really cool when conveying a message to me that he had nil knowledge about coffee and even hated coffee before he started working in Oriole Cafe & Bar. He rejected coffee for its bitter taste in the past, but after 13 months of contact and learning about coffee everyday, he is able to accept coffee in many ways. Most importantly, he realised that coffee can taste sweet eve without adding any sugar to it, as the many flavours within the roasted bean is good enough to have it just the way it is.

Having served thousands of cups of coffee ever since his joined date in Oriole, Vic decided to challenge his own capability for the first time through national standard competition. With very strigent marking criterias, Vic is determine to find out his ‘position’ among Singapore Baristas. So I continued pestering to find is there is 1 thing that he should really improve? After a long thought, he told me that the only thing he needs more training on will be ‘the way’ to tell the judges just how good he is (*laughs*). Little did i expect such a statement to be coming out from a serious-looking Vic.

He carried on to share that the reson for him to come out with his signature drink this time is because he loves this dessert very much, and hence decided to incorporate it into a coffee drink – Apple Strudel. Vic first job started some 9 years ago in a German restaurant, and back then the signature dessert served in the restaurant was Apple Strudel. The dessert was so good that it captivated Vic and because this is his first crucial competition, he swears to showcase this unique pairing to the best he could.

Last but not least, we have Astro Mastroianni Gajendran (Astro) in the house, happily sitting at a corner, hoping that i can catch up with him to gather information about his signature drink for the Barista competition this season. Well, since Astro is so passionate about sharing his ‘trade secret’, I paid full attention to his story. A little different from Raj & Vic, Astro loves coffee to begin things with, but he was barely exposed to the interesting history and knowledge of coffee. Astro is also facinated with the kind of flexibility coffee bean has. “It is very interesting because there is no 1 fixed flavour in coffee. Various flavours could be determined simply just in the way you roast it.” revealed by Astro.

Astro studied automotive in Malaysia for a living, but because of some forceful fate, Astro was offered a job in Whitebait & Kale, and later got posted to work in Oriole Cafe & Bar. Being in Oriole, he does not just want to be a mediocre wait staff! He exclaimed that his aim is to choose a task and he wants to excel in, and so he picked coffee. I could sense that Astro has got some in-born talents in coffee as he was so elaborative about all sorts of coffee types and explained how taking part in the SNBC can be a very good way to showcase himself and coffee to the coffee industry in Singapore. He is proud to represent Oriole and shout out to the industry that the best way to enjoy coffee is by tasting quality coffee ‘WE’ serve.

His enthusiasm in coffee has encouraged him to come out with his favourite snack of all time, chocolate and strawberries. He discovered that since strawberries are good to go with chocolate fondue, and many chocolate cakes are also often topped with fresh strawberries, he believed that it might be a good idea to co-experience this with his most preferred coffee drink – macchiato.

He is really in anticipation for this competition to kick off, because back in Malaysia, there aren’t as many occassions for similar competition to take part in. Astro is proud to tell his family and friends that he is given a very good opportunity to show others what he have learnt about coffee-making and also to learn from the better challengers. At the end of the day, Astro wish to bring back these knowledge that he has received to his hometown and share it with people who are not exposed to coffees that can be infused with many different flavours and still taste very awesome. 

Astro is all set to WOW you with his signature coffee beverage

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Categories: random

Come on baby light my fire

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A long overdue update …

Well yes we are finally underway with our roasting programme. Rewind. Last September  and almost by chance (I brought forward my trip)  I was in London. I’d heard of a roasting school there and I figured it would be prudent to have some professional instruction. After all, you wouldn’t get in a helicopter with me, would you?

I’d come to hear of Mercanta and their London School Of Coffee so I promptly signed myself up for both the roasting class and cupping class, an excellent idea since both classes were complementary. Over the next two days my eyes were ‘opened’ and I deepened my understanding of how science and art blended into one when it came to coffee roasting.

Master Roaster Morten Munchow took us through many boring but necessary technical lectures, followed by hands-on roasting and finished off by cupping and reviewing our efforts. I must take my hat off to Morten for being understanding and patient while I came to grips and got comfortable with the process of roasting. Surprisingly, on my last batch roast of the day, he took me through the final last few seconds of roasting and in those few seconds everything came together and I grasped the importance of trusting your eyesight and senses to bring that final finish to a roast. It’s one thing to understand the roasting science of gas burner control vs. airflow, and another to actually develop the muscle memory of the roasting process.

We cupped all our roasts later and found out what went wrong, what wasn’t important and what was…

Day two…

Lucky that I didn’t eat any onions for breakfast, or else I would have ruined my tastebuds for the rest of the day. That was a good thing because today I gained a deep seated understanding of essential cupping protocols (basically, keep it organised, predictable and repeatable!) and how cupping is an essential tool to improve ones roasting techniques.

Blind cupping – learning how to trust your nose and first instincts

Re-igniting our senses by referencing actual flavours: lemons, oranges, grapefruit, limes, apples, grapes, sugar, honey,  potato juice, tomatoes, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom…just to name a few

Boring but neccessary- understanding coffees from different origins, how the brain experiences flavours and smells…

We even tasted 5 cups of ‘wild’ and defect dense Ethiopian Djimmah grade 5. Amazingly, each of the 5 cups tasted completely different. Peanuts for monkeys as the saying goes…

Many thanks to to the passion of Stephen Hurst for dragging me all the way there, and to Grant for the short but very insightful conversation on the growing direction of single estate coffees and the beauty of just simply brewed good coffee. To Morten for being there to actually show us how to do it (so much about roasting cannot be written in words). For John Thompson for bringing us though the entire cupping process and for tasting the wonderful range of coffees that were on hand that Mercanta supplied…and to Gayle for making sure I found my way…

To think this was only the very beginning…

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The New Born

February 11, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s been a long anticipation for us to become a Boutique Roaster and here we are, introducing the Diedrich IR7!

Diedrich IR7 is a small-batch coffee roasting machine, a size good enough to fit into Oriole. We have always wanted to own and roast our own coffee beans because we want to maintain the quality of beans used, and at the same time obtain the optimum flavour and freshness from the beans by going through a very prescise and thorough roasting process. In order to realise our wish successfully, Keith was flown to The London School of Coffee (check out also “come on baby light my fire“) to undergo a professional course to master the roasting process of developing the desired flavours out from each bean. Hence the reason for choosing this brand/model is definitely because of its ideal level of control and consistency over the roasting process.

Right now, we are more than excited to share our joy with you, because we have successfully produced our own Oriole’s Single Origin coffee beans!  The sumatran beans that are used in this single origin production, is extremely smooth and it gives a very medium bodied taste with a slight tinge of acidic to balance it off. It is best drunk either as plunger-pot or drip coffee.

Our beans are right now available in-house, so come on down to try our new roast! If you really like our coffee, you can even purchase a bag of our coffee beans home and make your brew..~~~

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Paying it forward – Hacienda La Esmeralda…Geisha

February 9, 2010 3 comments

Sometimes unexpected gifts give you the greatest satisfaction. A few days ago a kind stranger dropped off a couple of bags of green coffee and amongst one of them was lazily scribbled in light blue ink… Panama Esmeralda . What a surprise. As an avid coffee fan we often wondered how the most sought after coffee tasted, and here was our chance. Problem was it was a 380gm lot and roasting on a 7-kilo was gonna be quite nerve wracking.

We debated at length how to prep for the roast. Eventually we decided to roast 4 cycles of other beans before we stablised the roaster for such a small batch. Many predictions were made on the bean density and moisture content but we finally put the stick in the proverbial sand and dropped the whole lot in. All 380gms…

We almost lost the roast but a quick charge of the burner smoothed into a nice gentle long finish for a medium-light roast. Had we got it right? Dumping such a small amount looked comical and the bin could barely wash the beans around…

Fragrant,  summer flowers, fresh jasmine tea, peach, tropical fruits, sweet sugar cane

These were just some of the complex aromas and flavours we tasted. On day three the flavours developed and balanced out even better.

More of the jasmine is coming through, plum-like flavours, clean smooth body. As it cools, you get some berries in it’s flavour, cane sugar sweetness. Citrusy notes coming through in the finish. Truly impressed at how enjoyable this coffee is.

Much debate and talk occurred about what we should do with this miniscule batch of beans. Should we just drink all ourselves? Yes we did think quite seriously. Oh yes we did. But coffee is about sharing, and we decided to. Many have come by and if you ask we will let you try a cup. We’ll drink with you but at least you’ll get a cup!

We’re paying it forward, because who knows? Someday some stranger will drop off something wonderful for us to try again…what goes around comes around.

K

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New Single Origin Offerring, Sumatran Wet Processed Lake Toba

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment

This month our single origin is a fresh roast of a coffee close to our hearts just across the sea in Indonesia. This lot of coffee is from North Sumatra from the region of Parapat (east of Lintong) along the shores of Lake Toba. This region sits on an extinct volcano and is blessed with soil naturally rich in nitrogen. As such, much of the coffee grown here is done without the use of fertilizers and can be considered organic, although there is no official certification.

The 100% arabica (catimor varietal) ripe cherries grow at an altitude 800 to 1200 metres and the cherries are pulped wet, then dried on local patios overnight to lower their moisture content before transportation (to prevent fermenting  by farmers). Once at the processing mills  in Medan, the green coffee is further sun-dried on concrete patios before being hulled, machine-sorted (gravity tables), then hand sorted for defects before final bagging.

We roasted this coffee gentlly and brought it slowly into first crack and eased it lightly into a little after second crack. On first cup the caramel and light fruit and lemony flavours surprised us as we were expecting more smoke and earth and spices. After day three the roast finally settled into a beautifully balanced of typical Sumatran coffee flavours. On the fifth day on a lark we decided to pull in on espresso and it tasted rich and spicy with some lightness of flavour that we had no idea where it came from, but it did balance off the whole palatte!

On espresso: heavy, dark chocolates, spices

On milk: rich, peanutbutter, caramel (piccolo latte!)

plunger: heavy, aromatic, earthy, slightly herbal.

filter: clean, very long herbs finish on the nose and tongue

retail: 13.00nett/ 250gm

enjoy!

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