Category Archives: Rant

WBC 2009 Day One: Best Looking Signature Drink

What I thought was the best signature drink from WBC 2009 Day One goes to Akihiro Okada from Japan.

Akihiro Okada's signature drink preparation
Akihiro Okada's signature drink preparation
Akihiro paints the insides of martini glasses
Akihiro paints the insides of martini glasses

He used a paintbrush to paint the insides of the martini glasses, his paint being the cherry syrup (someone, pls correct me.)  Then again, aesthetics may prove misleading, as many a dark chocolate like naked pour have proven lemony beyond all recognition.

Judging WBC Judges

During the break before the awards ceremony of SNBC 2009, there was a friendly competition between Eleen Cai (SNBC 2007 Champion) and John Ting (SNBC 2008 Champion). It was a competition to make as many cappas as you can in 10 minutes. The highlight of the event was uh, someone volunteered me to be the 8th guest judge. All guest judges were chosen from the audience. The WBC judges took turns mucking up Ting’s grind and dosing. It was quite understandable he fell 2 drinks short from Eleen. Eleen finished with 12 while John made 10 cappas. The MC asked for my opinion on Eleen’s to which I replied,  “What I’m looking for is the taste of the coffee cutting into the milk. Eleen’s cappa didn’t do that, because all you taste is milk.” When I tasted John’s, he was the clear winner.

Lo and Behold! Guess what cropped up next? It was a competition between Bosses and Students’ Cappa Contest. The Bosses were Justin Metcalf and Ross Bright. Both Bright and Metcalf ARE CERTIFIED WBC JUDGES. The students were Ting and Cai. I was called back to be the judge and I made sure I sat at the bosses’ table. Whoa! Getting served cappas by Bright AND Metcalf and then judging them will most likely be THE highlight in my career in coffee. I noted the lack of latte art in Metcalf’s drinks, to which he promptly replied that they were’nt being tested on the art. But he did make several triple rosettas later on. Here are some pictures that speak for themselves.


Justin Metcalf pouring latte art while …


Ross Bright foams the milk.


The two WBC judges pour a few rosettas with love

After 10 minutes, both teams had made 30 cappas. The tiebreaker was latte art. And I was the latte art judge. (I am having so much fun!) I gave one point in difficulty for the Bosses and one point in artistry for the students. The Bosses won. We’ll give it to them this year.

I hope this sets the bar for future SNBC’s to come.

For more pictures on the event, go to my flickr account.

Singapore National Barista Competition 2009

I just came from SNBC 2009 Finals held at Suntec Convention Hall today. Whew! What a turnout. Sadly, I didn’t see any familiar faces from our local home roaster’s group, CGSG (Coffee Greens Singapore). Cafes that had baristas in the finals were 2 from Oriole Cafe, Ian from TCC, 1 from Spinelli’s, Danny Pang from Geek Terminal, and 1 from Jones the Grocer (Ahmad Hidayat). Sorry, I’m not familiar with the names other than those from Oriole, who are John Ting (SNBC 2008 champion) and Keith Loh (SNBC 2008 3rd, SNBC 2007 4th.) I guess it’s Fate that Keith should come in 2nd this year, huh?

Without further ado, the winners are (my predictions were spot-on this year):

SNBC 2009 Champion is John Ting. AGAIN

SNBC 2009 Runner Up is Keith Loh. Chalk this up to Fate.

SNBC 2009 2nd Runner Up goes to Ian from TCC.

I Spy With My I

On a lighter note, I caught this with my iPhone as I passed by Starbucks (branch at Shaw Tower) one day:

“To be a Starbucks Roaster,
You need skill, artistry and
a really good watch.”

“We’ve been proudly roasting since 1971.”


I first came across this word when I watched an episode of Boston Legal where James Spader’s character, Alan Shore explains it as “taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune.” I am guilty of schadenfreude when I read about Starbucks closing their stores. I’m thinking in the perspective of someone who enjoys coffee, as someone who enjoys good coffee. I’m not thinking in terms of the twelve thousand jobs lost, or the greater numbers of lives that will be affected as a cause of this major retrenchment. As a result of Starbucks closing their 600 stores in US, will this really pave the way for better coffee?

If there’s one thing good about Starbucks, it has to be this:

If Starbucks coffee wasn’t so bad, we won’t be out there looking for the good.

You people with your La Marzoccos, your La Pavinas, your Expobars, your Quickmills, your Faemas, would you have wanted it any other way? Your spouses will beg to differ, I think.

45 Seconds of Sheer Bliss Part 2

I should change the title.

I was jinxed yesterday.

I thought I had a good day ahead of me. I roasted a real nice batch of SM Italian Espresso blend 4 days ago. Yesterday would be peaking at 3 days. The roast was stopped at the start of 2nd crack, giving the bean a nice dark chocolate brown, with very slight hints of oil. Perfect day, right?

My bro requested an americano. I did the usual routine of DLT, pulled the shot, and it ran 55 seconds, volume around .75 oz. A super slow pour. No one’s going to believe this one. SO. I decided to vid it with my phone cam.

I pulled out my 4 oz Lined Measuring Glass, set up my phone cam, and proceeded with the pour. Everything was looking good, the same nice super slow pour, this one ran 60 seconds long, methinks I must’ve tamped slightly harder, the crema was beautiful, speckled with dark chocolate bits, the same volume of .75 oz, and the camera stopped filming at 0:11 because I had insufficient memory. ARRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!! I even narrated the whole thing through, not realising the faux pas. Btw, the ristretto was heavenly, even better than Part 1. The roast was just right, and I can taste the character of the coffee.

Not to be deterred, I slipped in a new 2 Gb memory card, should be sufficient. Damn. I was late for work. I put the beans in the grinder, and proceeded to dose the portafilter. As a habit, I would try to clean out as much of the grounds as possible, using a pipe cleaner. I inserted the pipe cleaner into the shaft and suddenly the grinder halted. ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!! I managed to jam the pipe cleaner in the grinder. And it wouldn’t budge. After much wrangling, I gave up and decided to vid the pour with whatever grounds I could get out of the dosing chamber. Well, the vid was good. The pour was like the previous 2, around .75 oz. I came back after work and managed to pull out the pipe cleaner. Both the pipe cleaner and the grinder are fine now. WHEW!

(Although the vid is Quicktime, I can’t get QT to open the video. So, I may have to try and embed VLC player into wordpress.)

End note: It is the beans. SM Italian Espresso blend.

Day 1 On the Job

Today’s my first day as a professional barista. I started work at Gloria Jean’s at the Raffles City branch. Their setup is a La Marzocco 3 group GB5 and a La Marzocco Swift grinder and auto-tamper.

The La Marzocco GB5 is a beaut to work with. By the lunch hour, I was already pulling shot after shot. The Swift makes life easier. You get to skip the DLT (Dose-Level-Tamp). No need to worry about grinding too much or leaving grinds in the hopper, no need to tamp. The beans are ground to order. You just have to lock in the portafilter on the Swift, and push the ergonomically placed button to start the grind & tamp. It’s a one-hand operation. And it sure saves plenty of time. The one gripe I have with the Swift is when you disengage the portafilter, the portafilter will have clumps around the edge of the basket. I was advised to give it a tap. But as you know, this tap will introduce some uneven distribution, which would be more noticeable had I used a naked portafilter.

I was asked to memorize pages 8 to 15 of the ops manual, which included an explanation of espresso, the machine, the grinder, and the barista – the 4 M’s, as well as a glossary on coffee. I was a tad overconfident and skimmed through it in 5 minutes. I was then given a quiz on what I’ve read. Whoops! Not sure how I did, but at least I got the 4 M’s right.

It was really fun to be working on such a tight schedule, with orders pouring in, and the team of 5 constantly weaving in and out and around each other. All teamwork. I got a few take away orders mistaken as eat in’s. Newbie in the house.

An Australian couple was standing behind us, watching our routine. The guy was explaining to his companion. They later came over and ordered (2 caps, I think.) He began asking one of the staff on his opinion of the Swift. My colleague replied he’d rather have the Mazzer Mini. I asked the chap, “So, are you snob or a Geek?” He had to do a double take. I then explained the lingo, and he mentioned he has visited Lucky me, if not, I’ll definitely be hearing from the manager on day 1.

Frothing milk was fast and furious. I wasn’t briefed on how to froth milk yet, but it seems I’ll have lots of practice in the days to come. The steam wand sounds like afterburners on, full throttle. My Quickmill Anita is a dainty lil lady, compared to Big Brother here. While the Anita makes a few ripples in the milk, the GB5 churns a whirlpool powerful enough to swallow the Titanic twice over.

I’m fulfilling one of my life’s ambitions: to be a professional barista. Can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Panic Attack

Today, I had the ultimate panic attack. Plus stupidity. I turned on the
Anita, hit the showers, and came back to the Anita. The Anita takes
about 30 minutes to warm up. I put my Vivave Dolce into the grinder,
turn on the grinder. I went back to do a flush, and to my utter
amazement, the digital temp read 78.4ºF. What???

The boiler did not turn on. Panic attack starts here. The Anita is on,
green light, but the boiler’s red light did not turn on. First thing I
did, panic button means turn on the comp and emailing chriscoffee. HELP!

It was working fine yesterday, my last drink. What went wrong???

Then, I opened the top cover to examine the water reservoir.

DARN! Panic Attack ends here. STUPIDITY comes in. I was out of water,
and the magnetic sensor detected just that and refused to turn on the
boiler til I’ve added water.

I waited for another 20 minutes, all the while thinking the Vivace
Dolce must be stale in the grinder, and no more crema. To my surprise,
it was a good pour, despite the low temperature, and it had the same
decent crema I get on normal days. A good mouthfeel, very balanced taste, neither bitter nor acidy.