espressoLAB Coffee Roaster started off as an experiment because the founder, Leong Hoo Yin wanted to learn about the coffee business and that took him on a whole new journey of bean-growing, roasting and making a good cup of espresso. He believes that it takes not only passion to be a good barista, but also a continuous education process, the correct mindset and commercial sense to sustain and grow in the profession.
What does espressoLAB Coffee Roaster do?
espressoLAB Coffee Roaster provide courses about the technical aspects of coffee making, as well as providing training in the soft skills needed for running a café, the selling of the coffee and the way you make people feel comfortable when they come to your café. We provide certification and also hold coffee appreciation sessions occasionally.
How does the certification work?
There are three levels of certification: Level 1 is the Basic Barista Course. We charge RM1,000 for a three-day, four-hour course. The certificate holder should be able to get a job in an espresso bar. They should be able to handle the bar on their own and serve coffee. Level 2, we will ask them to come back six to nine months after working in a café. Of course if you already have a few years [experience] then you can go straight to Level 2. This level explores more on beans, drink recommendations, your own drink creation, blending different beans and the use of different methods like siphon, pour overs etc. Level 3 will make you a barista trainer. If your employer has a chain of cafés, you should be able to guide the team and to train them on practical and theory matters. You should know by then where the coffee comes from, how it is processed and how to affect the flavours. You should be able to handle customer requests, for example adjusting the level of bitterness in the coffee, etc.
Why do you think there is a need for certification?
Certification helps to set a benchmark in the service quality of a barista. I feel that we lack a benchmark in the coffee industry in Malaysia. I have been pretty disappointed a few times when I have gone to cafés that are promoting their coffees which are not up to mark. I realised that we need a benchmark, that’s why I got myself certified by the Specialty Coffee Association in Europe (becoming a SCAE Certified Barista Level 2). That exposed me to a lot of angles in the industry which I wouldn’t have thought of as a consumer. The local industry also lacks soft skills. I want to improve coffee culture. I think a lot of focus has been on purely technical skills and not enough on soft skills – the selling part and the way you make people feel comfortable when your customers come to your café. The certification allows employers to recognise that you have been trained in handling customers too.
Are the certificates independent?
Certificates are independent and soon we will also be getting other bodies and schools to collaborate with us. I will be going for my AST (Authorised SCAE Trainer) course in August and will be able to train and certify other baristas up to the SCAE Level 1 and 2. The SCAE is also offering a coffee diploma programme and we are in the midst of determining if those modules can be brought over here locally and offered to the market.
Is the local education board working with you on this?
We are trying to work with the government to obtain recognition. We have presented the course to them. Now espressoLAB is involved with two industrial players, Coffex and Dankoff. They have been supportive and don’t mind endorsing our certificates.
What do you do in your coffee appreciation sessions?
The sessions we run here are called Espresso Sensory. They are public sessions, where we brew different types of espressos for people to taste, so they get the benchmark of what is really good and bad espresso. If you start talking about the technical part of things, everyone will be surrounding the machines so we take that part away and have everyone sitting around the table to taste the coffees. Everyone’s palate is different – some like stronger coffee, some lighter, so we just serve them with the usual Italian blend and also what is considered a very bad espresso, so that they know how to compare in the future. We have a Level 2 for Espresso Sensory, it is about how the water temperature and the beans affect the flavour. The other session we do is for the technical part of making espresso, for those who want to know the details of making a good cup of espresso. Those are geekier and more technical.
How often do you run these sessions?
Once a month. We spread the word through Facebook and the coffee community, and we also encourage them to bring their friends along. If you have a few friends who want to have a session we can also arrange that independently.
How do you charge?
For Espresso Sensory and the technical sessions we charge between RM60 to RM100, which basically covers the beans, the machines, manpower, water and electricity used.
Do you also run campaigns?
We do. We are actually in the midst of organising a national level barista competition with KDU (Kolej Damansara Utama). We are following the World Baristas Championship (WBC) standards. Before this, all the events have always featured sponsored beans; this year it is going to be an open competition to include home baristas, or even just coffee-lovers, and they can bring their own beans. We will also have a coffee fest where cafés or suppliers can have their own booth to promote their services, locations or products which are coffee-focused. We are also getting speakers for short talks about industry-related topics.
Other than training and education programmes, what services do you provide to help cafés?
We provide consultation services for the setting up of cafés, layout for efficient workflow etc.
What is your vision for espressoLAB?
I hope to see good baristas everywhere you go in the country. I think the issue now is availability. I hope to see every corner serving good coffee. They don’t have to come from espressoLAB, just as long as they can make good espresso based coffee. My concern though is whether we are doing the right thing … as in whether we are heading in the right direction or whether we are just promoting ourselves. Sometimes we have to step back and look at how we can contribute to the industry, there is where our certification and education programmes come in.