Expressing oneself through the art of making coffee

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Piccolo cafe latte and cappuccino- My take on this

November 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

Recently, I have been approached by many customers to explain what is a piccolo latte or cappuccino. I thought about it and decided the following explanation best suits me.

Before I define piccolo, let’s look at the definition of a latte and a cappuccino. A latte is 1/3 coffee, 2/3 milk with a 1cm foam. And a cappuccino is 1/3 coffee, 1/3 milk and 1/3 foam.

Next, we look at the definition of an espresso, which in summary is a 30ml coffee extracted from 7-9 grams of ground coffee using 9 bars of pressurized water at a temperature of 88-95 deg Celsius.

So, using the two definition, it’s obvious that if the espresso only occupies 30ml volume, the cappuccino and cafe latte would essentially occupy only 90ml – 100ml.

Now, look at our standard takeaway cup today in cafes which is serving 8oz (240ml) and 12 oz (360ml) cup. If the we stick to extracting espresso up to 30ml, and not longer since it would create a very burnt bitter and over-extraction of the coffee, would it be obvious, the standard definition of the cappuccino and cafe latte no longer holds? Yet, many of us are happy to drink a much diluted cafe latte and cappuccino, particularly in some famous cafe chains where only 1 shot or 30ml of coffee is used in a 12 or 16 oz takeaway cup. Makes you wonder what you are really paying for…more milk or a properly made coffee.

Hence, back to piccolo issue. It remains that if we revert back to using. 90ml -100 ml cup, it would appear to be rather small compared to the standard smallest 8 oz cup used widely in today’s cafes. Thus, the piccolo would therefore be authentic and true to the original definition of the cafe latte or cappuccino, obeying the 1/3 rules. But, because it so small compared to our current perception of a standard “decent” size cup which is in a large way influenced by the Americans who love everything BIG, I therefore conclude that we coin the term piccolo to refer to these small 90-100ml servings of coffee to differentiate it from the “norm”.

I like to advocate a return to the “original taste” i.e. The piccolo version of coffee for anyone who wants to experience the real thing when it comes to cappuccino or cafe latte. However, I must admit that it would be something that’s acquired, particularly for our Asian and American-influenced palate.

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Espressoul ver 3.0

September 12th, 2010 · No Comments

August has been a really tired and busy month. Setting up the third outlet, hiring and training and getting the set up all ready for business is definitely something that’s hard pioneering. Although, I must admit, it gets easier, but we are continuously fine tuning the configuration up to the last minute.

With the inauguration of this new place, Espressoul is focused on its coffee making and serving easy and wholesome sandwiches, along with tasty pastries and with our very own signature cakes. They include our Espressoul Tiramisu and Espressoul Choco Mocha Mousse which is a delicate cake that uses our own Espressoul blend of coffee!


Its a concept which I personally love  in terms of flexibility and ease of deployment, and something that allows my Baristi to enjoy working in. Its so open that they get to show off their skills and interact with the customers with every single pull of the espresso and pouring of latte art in front of them. Every day, its like a Barista Competition scenario for them as they serve up coffee to customers and interacting with their regulars. So far, unique regular orders include a dry cappuccino in an 8 oz cup, a doppio cafe latte in an 8 oz with 1 sugar, a cafe latte in 8 oz without lid, a picolo cafe latte, a double ristretto in a 12 oz cup, a cappuccino that must be prepared in a temperature of about 50-55 degrees….Well, at Espressoul, this is what it is all about. We respect individual coffee liking and we aim to make it the way you like it by Putting Soul in All We Do. That’s our motto!

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Coffee and Singles

May 19th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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What is the relationship between Singles and Coffee? Pretty much nowadays I must say.

Having coffee is always a safe and more sincere way for a couple who has just got acquainted to get to know each other better. Safe and sincere because having coffee is largely a day event and in public. Coffee heightens one’s senses to become more sensitive to each other’s cues in terms of body language and tone of voice. It helps to focus the communication process. Its safe, particularly for a guy, because it suggest a sincere approach to want to know the other party better. Compare that to going for a night out party or alcoholic beverages on a first date; the intent of the invitation is not so clear, and it might be misconstrued, and may lead to undesirable outcomes, particularly when alcohol has the opposite effect of coffee which is to numb the senses.

It was therefore with a great delight and honor that I had the opportunity to conduct a coffee appreciation talk as part of a singles meetup programme at Espressoul, OR host an event like that at the cosy venue.

Recently, Ian Wright, a famous TV celebrity along with a very helpful friend Andrew Chow, held a singles night out at Espressoul over some canapes and coffee/tea session at Espressoul.

Andrew with Ian and Vernatta.

It was pretty fun filled night. What were they doing at Espressoul? Well, suffice to say, it was a programme by Discovery Channel, and its about Singapore and Singles and Dating. That’s it, you would have to wait till the programme is featured on TV to know more about it. I heard its going to air end of this year 2010. I know, its stilll a long way to go.

Recently, I also hosted and conducted a couple of coffee appreciation talks for the singles get-together. It was organised by Singapore Technologies and held on Saturdays.

As the group was nice and cosy, about 16 person, I decided to deploy a portable Francino espresso machine that comes with a E61 group head and a Rancilio grinder. The system was great as it hums along as I pulled shots after shots for the couples. The steam was also great as it was so powerful. Its definitely more than sufficient to be used to run a small cafe that serves a 100 cups a day or average 20 cups an hour.

In my usual garb, I shared my passion for coffee and the trade of a Barista with the couples. Very soon after, the organisers paired them up, I had them make coffee and do latte art as competition to see which couple could work best together. It fostered interactions among them as each couple discussed what sort of pattern they would like to create.

It was an interesting sight. Some guys would take charge, and guide their partners along. Some ladies would have very good memory and remembered every single step I mentioned and performed them. Some were very creative and drew Chinchillas on the coffee. I am  not kidding.

Anyway, at the end, all of the couples had certainly discovered more each other and had loads of coffee. Again, the coffee stimulated their senses to know or see their party much more better and in a deeper way, amidst all the fun of coffee making. 

And as bonus, at the end of the course, all of them know what is an espresso, its
standard time of extraction and what to look for in the process of
its extraction, as well as how to listen to know
whether the milk is steaming correctly and its correct temperature. I am sure they will have a more interesting time when they order coffee the next time at which ever cafes they go.

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Coffee Appreciation Classes at AFC Studio@Orchard Central 25 Apr

April 16th, 2010 · No Comments

Coming 25 Apr, I will be conducting another class at AFC Studio. There will be some desserts and pastries to enjoy along with the coffees that we will be making.Check out the following link for more details.


See you there for a great afternoon cuppa.

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Coffee Appreciation Course at Asian Food Channel Studio@ Orchard Central (27-28 Mar)

March 30th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Recently, I had the privilege and honor to conduct a couple of afternoon sessions of coffee appreciation courses at Asian Food Channel Studio. I had a great time there sharing my passion for coffee to about 25 participants over two days. It allowed to share more, particularly of  what I learnt from my last trip to UK as well as the  experiences gained in the last few years. I enjoyed every bit of interacting with all the attendees and look forward to meeting them again soon! Many thanks to Hian Goh Maria Brown, Glady’s and her team who helped make the session that much more easier and smooth to conduct. Thanks y’all!

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UK Coffee Scene 2010

March 30th, 2010 · No Comments

Came back to UK to follow through with my training the SCAE Gold Cup Brewmaster Course.

At the same time, I went through the calibration process to enable me to certify Barista at level 1 and level 2. Apparantly the standards has changed. In the past, we had to answer more than 30 questions for level 1 and 60 questions for level 2. This time, the questions were condensed to only 10 and the passing criteria was 8 correct questions out of 10. Simple in terms of setting of questions, but it will also be easier for the student to fail given that the range of topics required of the student has been broadened as well. The practical exam test has also been revised. It is more demanding than previous year in terms of the increased number of espressos to make but the overall objective is more closely aligned to the standards of the World Barista Championship (WBC). During the practical, the student will be required to demonstrate a reasonable amount of knowledge of coffee growing, expected taste profile, extraction, and how timing, temperatures and pressure affects the overall taste of the extraction. Level 2 no longer has any multiple choice questions or fill in the blanks. It is more geared towards essay written style and the students are required to pen their answers in a few paragraphs covering key points expected from the answer. All these points only to one thing, that the standards demanded of a Barista is raised several notches in Europe and US. Its no longer enough to know the technical skills of making coffee. The Barista needs to really know how their coffee and use the machine and note the surrounding parameters to bring the best out of the coffee he or she is using in the cafe. Fantastic.

Rasmus, an owner/entrepreneur who runs 4 outlets in Norway, conducted the calibration exercise for us. He works with SCAE and was largely responsible for implementing the new changes.

On the second day, Rasmus and myself decided to meet up and go for a cafe tour around London. 

Starting off at 0930 in the morning, we head down to a small coffee shop called A Taste of Bitter Love where we had our breakfast and our first espresso of the day.  The espresso was a tad tight as the barista was having a bit of issue with her new grinder. I had my cafe latte and just enjoyed the cold morning air outside the cafe while grabbing my first bite of the day. It was a simple pastrami sandwich with wholemeal bread toasted slightly.

They were using Square Mille’s coffee from James Hoffman’s roastery. Incidentally, James was the WBC 2007 champion.

Not long after Rasmus joined me and brought a bag of coffee.

The coffee was brewed in Aeropress method and it tasted pretty good. The bag had a full description of the coffee on it.

Check out the packaging and the clear roasting date on the coffee bag. The information was detailed and had a clear description of its origin, processing and tasting notes. Furthermore, it was roasted only 2 weeks ago which is just optimum as most coffee generally taste their best after resting for 2 weeks from roasting.
I wish we could see more of such professional description of coffee and clear declaration of roasting date printed on our local coffee packaging here in Singapore.

Now just in case some of you are wondering what’s an aeropress, I bought one and brought it back. Its quite an interesting and easy way to bring along your travels and brew your own coffee on your back pack travels.

Right after the breakfast, I head down to the Square Mile and was glad to see James at his roastery. Had a bit of catchup and found out that he was very selective on who he sells his coffee too. Understood from Rasmus that Square Mile turns away 4-5 customers (coffee shop owners who wants to use his coffee). The cafe must demonstrate that they are serious about coffee and have a properly trained barista to get the best of his coffee. Otherwise he would not sell them.

 Adhering to such standards, James certainly is doing something right. Being fastidious about coffee and the way the cafe can ensure it is served properly is definitely a boon to his brand name. However, it is not an easy decision. A balance of business sustainability in the short term and maintaining high quality standards is required.

Next on, we moved to Climpson and Sons.
Its another small cafe operated by only 4 ladies. It was a busy morning them as we arrived between 10 – 11am.

This cafe uses another coffee from their own roastery. This is just 5 min walk away. We went there to meet the owner and just chatted abit before we head off to our next unit. I noted that they love to roast their coffee just up to the second crack or slightly over. WIth the so very cold weather, the coffee is cooled down so quickly in the cooling pan that it just allows the roaster to get exactly what he wanted. In our climate in Singapore, the roaster has to account for the ambient temperature; NO way can the coffee be cooled down so quickly and hence necessary adjustments has to be made to the roast timing.

Our next stop, we visited Prufrock, voted by TimeOut Magazine as serving the best coffee in London.

This place is run by Gwylim Davies, the 2009 WBC Champion. Swedish champ barista Mattias was also helping out the cafe and allowed me to have a go at the machine. It quite a beautiful Victoria Arduino handcrafted 2-group lever machine. Nice and smooth operation. Some parts of the machine were however rather plasticky. Would have preferred they did not. Anyway, had a great time exchanging greetings and pulling shots with the champ and having a couple of espressos. The coffee was medium roasted and displayed high acidity with a very nutty finish. Very nice indeed.

After saying our goodbyes, Rasmus and myself went to visit our last stop. Its called DOSE.

They were also featured as one of the cafes worth a visit in the TimeOut write up shown earlier. Went in there and the cafe had only enough seats for 8 pax. Seems most good cafes in London had very small space and few seats. Nevetheless, the business was brisked and full when we arrive.

The buzz was great. We had our sandwiches and two more coffees. After that, we were already into afternoon and Rasmus needed to leave for home in Norway. So we departed ways and look forward to seeing him again soon.

Having had a chance to visit these independents and tasting some truly remarkable coffee, I began to thirst for more, particularly back home in Singapore. I am now officially addicted to beautiful tasting coffee. The coffees had totally changed my palate and I began to understand in greater depth how good COFFEE can be, especially when they are roasted correctly. The appreciation for the coffee’s character is accentuated in its management, preparation and roasting to its final extraction in the hands of a professional barista. I was humbled by the high standards of coffee here in these independents and they inspired me.

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So Much Has Happened yet..

February 28th, 2010 · No Comments

Decided to come back to the blog after such a long break from it. It was definitely not intentional. There were simply too much happening in my personal life and with the business that took its toil on me.

Being an entrepreneur takes many forms. Some entrepreneur starts off with a family background and were brought up in a successful family business which there were much to learn from. And then they drop everything and go do something different with or without further support (directly or indirectly) from their family members.  There is another category of entrepreneurs that starts with full resources behind them, to venture into something different from what the family business does. The resources and advices are all at hand to groom the bud to minimise failure. The last and most demanding is to start without backing, except with what you had in bank. This is the category I belong to.

For the past months, after starting espressoul, it has been really tough journey. I would not have lasted had it not been for the help of my friends and colleagues who I found through the hardship, but also the non-stop encouragement and spiritual support of my spouse. If any indication, my return to blogging signals a change to my situation which I hope will enable me to bring espressoul to a whole new level.

To my buddy Chris, as we part our ways in this business, I wish you all the very best in your new endeavours! Do drop by for a cuppa any time.

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Espressoul – Coffee with a Touch of Soul

September 8th, 2009 · 7 Comments

This is it. I have just embarked on the start of another concept cafe with my buddy Chris.

Its called ESPRESSOUL. We decided to move on and focus on what we love most and do best – coffee and simple food. Hence we came up with a name that speaks three key focus:

1. Behind every espresso, we put our heart and soul into it.

2. Behind every espresso, there is a soul that makes it, i.e. a real barista!

3. Its a company that believes in people and they are the souls that make up the soul of the company.

4. To our customers, you’re served by people who are genuine; not those who simply repeat nice rehearsed lines without really knowing what it means or mean it.

This is what our new brand looks like at the front of the shop.

Below is a glimpse of what our interior looks like.

Some of our guests were so friendly and we had a bit of fun sharing our passion with them. Here are some shots that a new friend Ru, from Kuching took. She’s an awesome photographer.

We have a second outlet running at Changi Business Park in the lobby of a Bank. Over there, my baristas pump 300 cuppas a day. I think we de-myth the idea that lever machines can’t cope with speed and high volume : ).

Do come by at 25 North Bridge Road, EFG Bank Building and share our passion for coffee

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Something’s Brewing…

July 12th, 2009 · No Comments

I have been away for a while and has been brewing something New and Exciting. Keep a lookout on this blog. It will showcase a new event on coffee pretty soon.

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June 10th, 2009 · No Comments

I was invited to attend an Illy conference of sort in Shanghai. It was indeed a great experience as I got to see the University De Caffe (UdC) in Shanghai China. Its a duplicate of the more renown one in Trieste, Italy.

During the two days, I benefited from engaging in meeting fellow illy cafe operators and those from espressamente illy, the company’s concept cafe.

They were all Illy Ambassadors.

There were much to learn from the conference. There were plenty of questions regarding what makes a illy cafe successful. Without divulging any corporate secrets, suffice to say, a successful cafe needs a great concept and identity, supported with great food, great coffee and great service personnel.

I personally liked the fact that the coffee company placed great emphasis on knowledge and training of personnel by setting up their UdC in Asia here. It will certainly benefit a lot of their customers particularly with such a great potential market like China.

At this stage, the concept of espressamente illy in my opinion is still in its infancy, but it has the ability to draw on the established brand positioning in Europe and US to become a significant chain in Asia. Already, there are many enquiries from interested parties to take up the franchise given its beautiful concept and well-known coffee brand. However, Illy being italian, are like the Ferrari’s and Lambourghini’s; they are selectve. They have a strong pride towards their coffee and their italian way of life. And their mission is to introduce their way of life (particularly the modern italian way where fashion, food and fun)  to the world via espressamente.

Enough said. On the third day (today) I went to visit their store in Grand Gateway Mall along Hang Qiao Road.

As you can see from pictures, the corporate identity and feel of the cafe is the same across Korea, China and everywhere in the world. To date, with more than 250 stores globally, it making a significant impact on the coffee world particularly for those who are more discerning and understand what illy coffee stands for and the modern italian way of life.


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