April 26, 2015

Coffee Shop Culture According to a Coffee Pro: Introduction


In this article series, I will explore coffee shop culture and what motivates coffee business decisions. We will look at a range of questions: How do consumer expectations drive these decisions?  Is being a barista a part-time job or is it a career? What do consumers expect in their espresso? Coffee culture and consumer expectations are changing, and l look forward to sharing my insights and thoughts as someone who has spent his life dedicated to the bean as a coffee professional.

Why Coffee?

It was all coincidental. I was riding a skateboard in Singapore’s CBD and by chance I stumbled upon a hiring ad. They were looking for a barista! To anyone who has ever asked me the question on how my coffee career started, that’s always been my standard reply.

In the span of sixteen years, I evolved from the boy who went for a job interview with the coffee giant in that famous green apron to co-owning Dutch Colony Coffee, a growing coffee company in Singapore and serving as its Director of Coffee.

Group of young people in front of Dutch Colony Coffee Co.

Looks like a fun spot to work at right?

My Coffee Foundation

I spent my first eight years in the coffee industry pulling espresso shots, supervising shifts, facilitating many coffee classes and being crowned Coffee Ambassador – an honour that comes with a big responsibility, as I trained and nurtured the interest for coffee in budding coffee enthusiasts.

Starbucks gave me a sense of belonging, a purpose; it developed my love for everything coffee and my burning desire to understand coffee, from crop to cup.

My ambition to become a competition barista and to learn about coffee roasting propelled the move to Cuppachoice. In the next four years that followed, I set up a retail café and a coffee academy of my own.

Cupping at Dutch Colony Co

Cupping at Dutch Colony Co

A Competition Barista

17 minutes 14 seconds… I went well over the two minute limit to be disqualified in my maiden entry to the Singapore National Barista Championship. I quickly realized that preparing by watching YouTube clips of former WBC champions wasn’t enough – in this business experience is everything.

Fortunately, a heartfelt encouragement by the vice president of the Singapore Coffee Association mustered my courage to try again the following year.  In 2010, I was placed third in both the barista and latte art championship, repeating the feat in 2011 before hanging up the competition apron.

Suhaimie at the Singapore National Brewers Cup 2015

Well I say I hung the apron up but I couldn’t resist competing at the Singapore National Brewers Cup 2015

A Coffee Judge

After spending three years competing, I felt compelled to give back to the coffee community.  What better way than to be a part of the competition organizing committee and being a judge at the same time.

I actually enjoyed the change of roles and felt comfortable with the pencil and clipboard. After judging in Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia as part of the sensory panel, I began to take the role more seriously and got myself certified in 2013 as a world calibrated sensory and visual judge. At the time I was one of only 53 world barista judges.

Judging at the 2015 Malaysia Barista Championship. Credit: Malaysia Specialty Coffee Association

Judging at the 2015 Malaysia Barista Championship. Credit: Malaysia Specialty Coffee Association

Writing About Coffee

‘I Am A Barista In Singapore’ is a coffee blog and that I began in 2009 and I like to think of it as a social media platform created to serve the community. The blog has a weekly hit of 1000 readers and almost 2.2k followers.

The intention of the blog is to simplify the understanding of specialty coffee and bridge the gap between the consumer and practicing barista in an unpretentious manner, a philosophy which is shared by Perfect Daily Grind.

Article edited by N. Bhatt.

Perfect Daily Grind.