Expressing oneself through the art of making coffee

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Bringing SCAE Barista Certifications Beyond the Shores of Singapore

December 18th, 2012 · No Comments

After leaving the operations and business of Espressoul Pte Ltd in May 2012, I moved onto training and received my Advanced Certificate in Training and Assessment (ACTA) in Singapore to conduct WSQ courses. It sprung from my love for coffee and the impartation of inspiration and sharing of knowledge and experience to my fellow coffee lovers and industry in Singapore.

Working with key Approved Training Organisations in Singapore, it gave me new motivation to pursue the art of education and training which I have honed since I started my coffee journey back in 2005.

After approaching WDA on the aspects of bringing SCAE Certifications to the local scene, I was informed that WDA only wanted to focus on basic training for the masses in the F&B industry. They would not want to venture further towards professional courses such as the SCAE Level 1 or 2 Certifications for Barista, similarly for Wine Sommeliers courses. This motivated to me move beyond the Shores of Singapore.

The opportunity came. It started from my invitation to the South Australia Coffee Academy to conduct SCAE Level 1 and 2 Barista Certification for some students there in September. Thereafter, through the network established, I was honored to be invited to conduct SCAE Level 1 and 2 Barista Certifications in Taipei for the prestigious City ad Guild institution in Taipei.



I had the pleasure to invite my fellow worker and friend, Nicolas Rozental to assist me in the certifications in Taipei for 15 aspiring Baristas and Cafe Owners.

In imparting to the students in Australia and Taipei, I learnt from the students themselves in terms of their unique abilities, hunger for knowledge and the humility to receive. I have had the privilege to certify veterans in the coffee industry there;
to Brian Raslan of SA Academy and Johnson Chen, Jake Hu of Taipei, I am inspired by your humility and friendship, and have the utmost respect for your work in your respective countries.

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SCAE Authorised Trainer Course

June 25th, 2012 · No Comments

SCAE Singapore Chapter will be organising its first SCAE Authorised Trainer course in the first week of August 2012. All who are interested are kindly requested to register their interest to me at danny@baristaguildsingapore.com with their personal details including full name, IC no, mailing address, email and contact number.

I am so looking forward to seeing more SCAE Authorised Trainers here.

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Building an Espresso-centric (2nd or 3rd wave?) cafe in Singapore

April 24th, 2012 · No Comments

The cafe industry is Singapore is definitely catching on over the last few years ever since I started in the industry in 2005 with Sara Lee/DE. The growth spurs the sprouting of independent cafes in Singapore which provide the new generation of entrepreneurs eager to jump into the Food and Beverage Industry. Question is, is this something which is viable in the local market in Singapore.

In the course of conducting coffee appreciation courses and barista courses, I’ve often been told that the participants are eager to live their passion and operate their own cafes. And I’ve been asked, what would it take.

A few considerations for those who are thinking of embarking on this industry are as follows:

1. Market Demands – Primary is still food. Coffee is secondary.
In Singapore lately, the growth of food and beverage industry has grown tremendously, spurred mainly by the fact that Singaporeans love to eat and drink. Ever increasing number of restaurants, themed bars and bistros are now opening every other day to feed the frenzy appetite of Singaporeans who are always looking new places for food and drinks. This has created innovative ideas and concepts, either home grown or imported brands from overseas. There is no lack of places or choices to satisfy one’s craving. However, this also means any new concepts created by young entrepreneurs needs to establish itself quickly with a unique offering and identity. A lot of experimentation takes place for the home grown ones. For a cafe, which would like to focus on coffee only or related beverages, will soon find themselves struggling. Food is still key. Although one can create a nice ambience, the food is still the main staple which is required to help a cafe stay afloat in this business in Singapore. Its no wonder that most cafes that has thrived after 2-3 years here serves an eclectic mix of food comprising of sometimes local asian dishes and western meals, sandwiches and salads. Often than not, the coffee is secondary. Not to forget the competition from local coffee which Singaporeans are more familiar, the dark local robusta drink will always take priority because it hurts their pocket less. For the price of a cappuccino or cafe latte, the locals would rather spend that money on a bowl of noodles or plate of chicken rice, etc because the value for money is obviously perceived to better in the latter.

2. Rental
There is a market for espresso-centric cafes. However, these are located mainly in the central business districts and or where there is sufficient concentration of Europeans and Australian/New Zealand expatriates population. These pockets of expats often has landlords capitalising on this fact and raising the rental of such location so high, you end up working for the landlord. I often see cases where it is no different from the Medieval ages when one is a serf, tilling the land and end up being taxed by the King or landowners so much so that you keep a meagre portion just for yourself to keep your family alive enough to work the land for the next harvest. The current rental rates in CBD areas are looking at $20s and $30s psf. With this, lets do some math here.

Assuming we take a 1000 sqft of space. And it costs $20 psf. The monthly rent is $20,000. Divide this by an average of $4 per 8 oz of cafe latte and you will have to sell at least 5,000 cups per month or an average of 250 cups of coffee per day over a 5 day workweek in a business district as Sat and Sundays and public holidays are often empty in the business district. In Australia e,g, this would be achieved in 2 hours in the morning for most cafes there. Here, it would probably take a day, for many cafes, if possible at all.

So, as in point one, the operations would have to push food sales especially during lunch. And taking into consideration of only a small space and seats (up to 20 pax) available and the high cost of food here (since most things are imported) plus the ever increasing cost of labour, and the amortised cost of capital expenses, the cafe has to gross at least $70 -$80,000 per month or $4000 per day, to make rent and pay for itself before some decent profit can be achieved.

Assuming we achieved a turnover of at least 60 pax, that gross would mean the average spend of each person would be around $66 per day. Realistically, majority of the commoners and working executives would not spend $60 for lunch. The average spend at most for working executives is $10. This means the cafe would have to serve at least 7 times more tickets, or 400 tickets with an average of $10 per day. To serve this amount in a 2 hour lunch period in CBD would mean more hands on deck…and of course, more labour costs, or if you do it yourself to minimise labour costs, get ready to be really worked.

Still game for it…? One more….

3. Labour
In Singapore, we rely pretty much on foreign labour as locals view F&B profession as a less preferred alternative as it is more viewed as a servanthood. Everyone would like to be a boss and preferably work in a cushy, air-conditioned environment. Food and Beverage also do not pay well (since more has to be shared with the landlord), and the industry do not require you to have too high an education. You can easily enter the industry with basic english and math, or simple attitude to be willing to serve others and clean tables. Hence most locals would shun the work or do it because its a necessary ‘evil’ and most do not have the passion for it. Hence, foreign labour like the filipinos and Chinese or Indian nationals are very much deployed for this industry since our currency is strong and their living costs are lower back home. But before you think hiring a whole lot of foriegners, our local authorities also regulate and limit how many foreigners one can apply for to work in your cafe by instituting that you need to have so many number of locals before you can hire one foreigner. To exacerbate the struggle to have sufficient manpower, the F&B industry also experience a high turn over of staff because it does not pay well enough and the hours are long. Hence, there is always a constant challenge to recruit, train and retain staff. A low turn-over would normally be achieved by owners who spends more time performing HR roles, and counseling and motivation, rather than building the business. Its something that one has to grasp quickly in terms of management of morale and apply leadership skills in an environment where your competition is stiff, and always on the lookout to poach your staff if they are good. Be prepared. And generally, that’s true. There is a common saying in the industry: “people problems are the most difficult to handle in business”.

4. Capital
Get ready for some load of cash to burned. Its not uncommon that if you are new startup with your own brand, a landlord would require of you at least 3 months of rent deposit plus 1st month of rent (hence totaling $80,000). Your renovations could also average about $80-100K for a 1000 sqft of space. Before you make the first dollar, you already have lost $180,000. So in the very least, you would like to give yourself 3 months (ideal situation) to run your business on the worse case you don’t make a dollar. So be prepared to burn through $180,000 more plus the rental deposits. Set aside at least $500,000 to give yourself a chance to prove your concept work and compete in the espresso-centric cafe market.

Armed with the above information, I wish you well in building your espresso cafe business in Singapore.

All constructive comments are welcomed!

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FHA Barista Challenge 2012 (17 Apr – 20 Apr)

April 21st, 2012 · No Comments

Picture with Ross Bright at FHA BC 2012

After forming SCAE Singapore Chapter, we immediately embarked on organizing the FHA Barista Challenge for FHA 2012 this year. Despite the shortage of time, the newly formed association, together with its members and the support of the organizers of the FHA worked together and made it happen.

And happened it did. It was a success.

Supporters and Attendance at FHA BC 2012

We had 14 participants from 14 countries including Singapore to participate in this inaugural event. Out of which the top 5 Finalists were Craig Simon from Australia, Aymon McQuade from New Zealand, Yoshikazu Iwase from Japan, Yee JH from Malaysia and Doddy from Indonesia.

On the second day, the top 5 competed. It was a very tight competition with very little difference between all of them. Malasia came 2nd Runner Up, Indonesia came in 1st runner up and the Champion went to Aymon McQuade from New Zealand who presented an awesome routine which was almost like a mini-cooking show in a 15 minutes presentation.

Winners and participants of FHA 2012

The show really ended on a high note for the winners of the challenge, walking away with a cool $5000 for the first prize, $3000 for the second prize and $2000 for the third prize.

At the end of it all, I feel that FHA BC 2012 most important achievement was to have built bridges across borders of Asia, bringing different cultures of the asian countries together to exchange and foster greater awareness of the coffee industry and the craft of the barista-ship to all who watched and attended.

SCAE Singapore Chapter was proud to be the hosting association for this event.

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Working with SCAE Singapore Chapter

April 21st, 2012 · No Comments


SCAE Singapore Chapter was formed recently in Mar 2012 and officially recognized by SCAE Head Office in Europe.

SCAE is an association with a growing number of members — people like you, who are looking for coffee excellence.


Its time to provide clear focus and directions for the Speciality Coffee Industry in Singapore by:

1. Establishing a common credible standard of the craft of coffee from Green Bean, Roasting, Sensory and Barista skills through SCAE’s education system.

2. Foster a caring and transparant camaraderie of baristas that recognises learning is a continuous process of both individual effort as well as the exchange of experience of the craft amongst them in humility.

3. Host and conduct activities that allow a regular calibration of standards based on SCAE standards for the professionals and passionates of coffee.

4. Be the platform to foster international relationships with other members of SCAE/SCAA Chapters around the world with a common goal of improving the quality of coffee from green bean to cup.

5. Be an available standard bearer and reference for the public with regards to matters relating to coffee.

So do check out our Facebook fan page at : https://www.facebook.com/pages/SCAE-Singapore/351714028192231

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SCAE Singapore Chapter – Finally!

April 21st, 2012 · No Comments


Was a member of SCAE since 2008 and was always believing that one day it can happen to have an SCAE chapter here. This is now achieved. SCAE Singapore Chapter is now officially recognized by SCAE International. Time to get on with incorporating the coffee education and awareness programme amongst other things.

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Judging at Singapore National Barista Championship 2010 and 2011 – My Personal Experience – Part 1

March 28th, 2011 · No Comments

I had an interesting experience to compete at 2009’s Singapore National Barista Championship (SNBC), and judged from heats to the finals for 2010 and 2011’s SNBC. The experiences were beneficial to me in many folds. For one, I had the great fortune to sit and totally absorbed the lessons taught by two veterans in the industry, Justin Metcalf (World Barista Championship Head Judge) and David Makin (Champion and judge for several past  Australia’s Barista Championship as well as at the World Event). Being a competitor, and being a judge gave me deeper insights to the technicalities of both the technical judges’, as well as the Sensory Judge’s. These experiences have greatly enhanced my own personal content as an Authorised Trainer and Barista Certifier of SCAE in this region. In my later blogs, I shall expound more on my sensory judging experience as I had the fullest benefit to sit through the heats and finals on the last two years. 

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Judging at Singapore National Barista Championship 2010 and 2011 – My Personal Experience – Part 2 – Sensing the Espressos

March 28th, 2011 · No Comments

Let me start off by reiterating that this is my own experience. 

Sensory judging at 2010 and 2011 SNBC was not entirely new, as I had judged before in my previous occupation. However, the new experience was to be able to attend the calibration process and training with Justin Metcalf and David Makin. The calibration was essential to ensure that all sensory judges are “calibrated” to the same standard as much as possible in terms of assessing the visual presentation of the drinks, as well as taste of the drink and finally the overall impression of the Barista’s performance.

Click here for the copy of the scoresheet.

VISUAL – Visual assessment had to be carried out on three categories of drinks – First, the espressos, followed by the cappuccinos and last, the signature beverages preparations.

The espresso is assessed based on the colour of the crema. So what is the correct colour? The score sheet labelled it as hazelnut, dark brown, reddish reflection. Who’s has seen a real hazelnut? And is it dark brown? What about reddish reflection? Does the reflection appears red? Such were the questions that raced through my mind as I get ready to get “calibrated” along with the rest on espressos made during the training. So, in actual fact, the process of calibration involves everyone peering over a few espressos (one made to the best ability of a fellow barista, and one under extracted and one made over-extracted). So the head judge would describe the colour and gives an appropriate score to the respective espressos so that every one there has an idea of the proper scores for the colours observed. That’s it. I asked what a score of 6 (the highest) would look like? It was not easy to achieve as its dependent on the blend and roast of the coffee and of course, the extraction standards of the shot. I have not seen a 6 yet. But its easy to spot a score of zero or 1. Particularly if the shot had no crema, or displayed a dark patch in the centre or displayed a very blond crema or extremely dark almost dark chocolate tone coloured crema.

The next assessment is the consistency and persistence of the crema. To assess this, as sensory judges, we were told to tip the cup slightly almost 30- 45 degrees gently to the front. If the cup exhibits no breakage of the crema at the edge or display a thick crema on the surface, the score would be in the range of 4-6s.Again, we had to be calibrated to what’s an poor-average (1 or 2) versus a good (3), and what’s a excellent (5). I have also not seen what a crema that warrants a score of 6 at this category.  Perhaps I can surmise that if the cup is tilted to an angle where the coffee is almost going to spill as it touches the leading edge of the espresso cup, and still there is no break in the crema, it should warrant a 6. 

One of the key and very important action that the sensory judge must do is to get ready for the espresso to arrive in front of him or her, and immediately make the assessment of the colour and in less than a second, pick the cup up and tilt to assess the crema. It has been reiterated on both calibration by Justin and David, that this assessment has to be done with urgency to be absolutely fair to the competitor as we all are aware, that espressos are very fragile and the crema in espresso oxidises and thins out quickly. So, the barista will be trying to rush their espresso’s to the judges table to ensure that judges get to assess the espresso’s visual at its very best. Otherwise, they run the risk ruining the colour and thinning out the crema. Such an action is also extremely practical in real life cafes who has barista who understands coffee, will also rush their espressos to the customer’s table immediately once its made. Is it no wonder that Italians love to stand at the bar to grab and sip the espresso the moment it is extracted and served. That way, they can be assured that they are enjoying and getting the freshest espresso made possible. 

Some might think that the competitor can let the espresso rest a little longer to let the colour oxidise to a darker colour, but the crema cannot wait. What’s worse is the changes in the taste of the espresso if it is sitting too long. And this brings us to the next assessment, taste. If the espresso is left to sit too long, the tastes will change, in this category, you cannot afford to mess it up, because it is the one that provides one of the highest scores in the whole score sheet.

TASTE – Before tasting the espresso, the sensory judges have to stir their espresso from front, down and back up 3 times to ensure the espresso is thoroughly mixed before drinking. The question is why the elaborate stirring three times. This is so that the crema which is generally more bitter as it contains most of the last 10-15 seconds extraction where the secondary extraction happens, gets stirred up and mixed properly with the bottom where the primary extraction (first 10  seconds) resides. As also hotter elements tends to stay on the top and cooler elements tend to sink, thus the stirring definitely helps to ensure an even distribution of the primary and secondary extractions as well as even out the temperature.

At this point, it is my opinion that taste calibration is one of the most difficult to achieve. Unless one drinks espressos often (and I don’t mean cupping which Roasters do), its difficult for one to understand the complexity, structure, as well as pick up the minute nuances of the changing espresso’s  taste on your palate between the first and second sip. It is also difficult to pick up sweetness in an espresso. And one of the key challenges for the Barista is to pull an espresso that can exhibit clear sweetness in a cup. Very seldom do I get very slight hints of sweetness (to be experienced in the front tip of the tongue). And by very,  I really mean very very slight.

Bitterness is always present, and its easy to experience overly bitterness which is a sign of under or over extraction due under-dosing or over dosing respectively. Acidity is also an easy trait to pick up on the side of the palate, and over acidity is sometimes rather subjective. Some sensory judges have high tolerance of acidity on their palate and would rate it as good or very good. But for those who are sensitive and not used to acidity would rate it as over acidic.

The calibration of the taste for the sensory judges would therefore depend on the individual experiences of the judges.And the taste buds of the Head Judge would be the marker where all scores will be taken reference to. During the actual competition, the head judge would selectively pick up the left over coffees from the 4 main sensory judges and drink them and note his own score of the drinks. That way, if one of the sensory judges score for this part conflicts with the Head Judge’s assessment, and with the fellow sensory judge who had the same set of espresso made from the same portafilter, the correlation and calibration is made again among the head judge and the sensory judges. Scores can be amended in the witness of all the sensory judges and the head judge and signed off there and then.

The calibration for taste balance of full bodied, round and smooth category is another challenge albeit less difficult than the earlier category of finding balance of sweetness, acidic and bitterness. The body is obvious unless the coffee really taste light on the palate which in this case, would be scored lower. The roundness is assessed by the overall sensation of the coffee on the palate in terms how taste of the coffee gets transmitted or travels from the front of the palate to the back (roundness). The smoothness is describing the after-effect experienced by the back of the throat after swallowing the espresso.  One would ask whether the espresso slide down the throat easily without leaving any discomfort or does it want to make you clear your throat ever so slightly. 

In my own way, I have found out that generally an espresso is good or very good by watching how much water judges drink immediately after sampling the espressos. A clear sign of lack of smoothness or overly bitter coffee or acidic coffee is if the judge drinks lots of the water immediately after finishing 2 sips of the espressos. 

In extracting espressos, sensory judges do not care what the timings of the extractions are. In fact, there are no timings to be assessed in the sensory score sheet. So, the baristas are free to pull a very long shot or a very short shot. The only care they need to take is the difference in timing between the two portafilter shots they pull which must not exceed + or – 3 seconds for the same set of drinks (i.e.  the first 2 espresso’s extraction timing compared with the second set of espresso timing cannot be more or less than 3 seconds). This is assessed by the tech judges, but there is no assessment that the espresso must be extracted in any timing.

Hence some baristas can pull a 40-50 second shot or a 18-20 seconds shot if they so choose on the basis that they know best how to bring out the flavours of the coffee that they are after. Its up to the Barista competitor since he or she is expected to know their own coffee (blend or single origin, roast profile, growing conditions, harvesting process, ageing process, resting period, country of origin etc) to extract the desired characteristics of the coffee they have chosen to present to the judges. As a sensory judge, we don’t judge the timing, we judge the look and taste of the espressos presented to us and we also make special notes of what the baristas tells us to look for in our palate. It could be blueberry, blackcurrants, walnut, hazelnut, dark chocolate, raspberry, lemony, orange, cinnamon, cardamon flavours etc. The more barista states his expectations, the better they will score IF the sensory judges picks up those flavours as well. The risk is always that the judges do not get it at all and left disappointed. However, it also does not pay to play safe and give general comments about the espresso or not say anything at all of what to expect, since the score will also most likely be mediocre. The sensory judges will not award for nice flavours that are picked up when they are not mentioned essentially. And by playing safe, the score will be really be reflected in the last 2 category i.e. Barista Evaluation and Overall Impression. More of that later. I will write more about the cappuccino assessment in my next segment.

Hence, the barista’s extraction of the espresso, no matter how technically proficient, really lies at that moment of extraction, of whether they know their coffee well and able to explain and present the expected flavours, and deliver them with the given espresso machine and grinder on stage ( which they are given 15 minutes to set up and prepare before hand). 




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Experiencing a new blend – Brazilian Single Estate Fazenda De La Goa, with Guatemala Los Volcanes, Sumatra Mendheling, Papua New Guinea.

March 28th, 2011 · No Comments

Its been a year since I created and used my own blend of coffee. Not that Illy was not great, but I was forced to think about this issue commercially as a business. From the branding perspective, I took the plunge again and have been using my own blend of coffee since. And the coffee’s been better than ever. 

A blend, means a mix. I have mixed coffee from a single estate call Fazenda Da Lagoa from Brazil where it is natural pulped coffee, with fully washed Guatemala (Hue Hues and Los Volcanes) and Sumatra Medheling as well as Papua New Guinea. The coffee in its original form (before roasting) were a beautiful whole beans that ranged from jade green colour to a warm sunny bourbon shade. They were mixed before being put into the roaster and roasted to a medium and just shy of a dark roast. I like to preserve the fruitiness of the coffee and not burn it away as a dark roast. There are many advocates of post roast blending or pre-roast blending, but its a topic of great debate among roasters. Ultimately, I let the senses of our customers decide.

The most important aspect I had to look for was to find a blend that works beautifully as an espresso and as a cappuccino or latte. Reason being, most coffee are either great as an espresso, being light, not too harsh or bitter, balanced and smooth, but turns out to be too light as a base for a cappuccino. This pursuit to find something that works for both comes from an economic point of view. In Singapore, the espresso drink has a small market. The majority goes for the milk coffee. However, I love espressos and coffee aficionados and Italians, Australian and most european tourists which I service goes for espressos and macchiatos to enjoy coffee in its purest form possible without milk dilution. Also, I have limited space in a counter and having two grinders for two blends to meet such a need is not economically viable. Thus, the current blend which I worked out with my roaster that is just currently great for my needs. 

An interesting mix of Brazil’s Single Estate Fazenda De LaGoa, with Guatemala’s Los Volcanes region, Sumatra Mendheling and Papua New Guinea. The blend was mixed before it is roasted to a medium dark (more medium than dark) and exhibits a dry fruity Orange Peel taste on the palate with a hint of sweet on the tip of the tongue and slight bitter aftertaste with surprisingly low acidity (based on an extraction of 30 secs per 30 m shot). The The body is great as long we don’t let the opened bag stays more than 4 days (which never happens at the outlets cause they easily run through 2 kg per day). The coffee that arrives to the outlets also has a rest period of 2 weeks immediately after roasting, and great care was made by the roaster to leave the coffee in a sealed opaque silver bags with one-way valves in an air-conditioned ad low humidity environment before it is delivered. This particular care of looking after roasted coffee beans in storage speaks so much of the professionalism and the knowledge of the roaster that I am working with. Most would not bother, or do not under the effect of our natural elements on the rather sensitive roasted coffee, or simply do not have the means to store and transport coffee in the most optimal manner.

As we continue to build the coffee industry, I would begin to see both the roaster and the barista working really closely hand in hand to deliver the most fantastic cup to the client.

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Espressoul Jammin at ITB Asia 2010

November 8th, 2010 · No Comments

It was one of our annual event where my Baristi and myself gets to jam espressos non-stop for 4 days consequetively from 0900 – 1800.

In total, we expended 31 kg of coffee and 408 litres of milk. It was close to 3000 cups of coffee in 4 days and the experience was fantastic. The barista not only had to pump out espresso non-stop, but also entertain the long queue and demonstrate a flair for the craft of espresso coffee making, and coffee art itself.

Having said that, such a frantic pace of coffee making for a Barista is not new in Australia and Europe. It is however, quite rare in Singapore and hence, I will always cherish such opportunities to re-live my experience of what a real barista ought to be capable of doing in a busy cafe that churns out 5 kg of coffee in one morning.

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