What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
I am a micro-roaster, certified barista, baking enthusiast, entrepreneur, wife and a mother to two wonderfully energetic boys. It all began when we lived in Panama and I fell in love with coffee, how easily accessible it is both in terms of price and the high quality of specialty coffee. I wanted to bring back Panamanian coffee into Malaysia when we returned home, but due to the non-existent political and economic ties between these two countries, it was a futile effort. Not taking no for an answer, I decided to learn coffee roasting despite facing many discouragements and hurdles because it was at a time when coffee roasting was unheard of in Malaysia and privy to only a few.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
I started as a home roaster, roasting daily at my apartment’s balcony with a simple set up – a small coffee roaster and a collapsible smoke duct positioned at the outward railings of the balcony to release any smoke from the roasting process, which at that time seemed like the most sensible thing to do. One day, my roasting profile turned a little darker than intended and within seconds I had burnt an entire batch of coffee beans causing heavy white smoke clouding my entire balcony including my upstairs neighbors’ space. I had the situation under control but as I looked out of the balcony, some neighbors were panicking and pointing up to my unit. Within minutes, the Head of Security and a few security guards came up to my apartment to check on my neighbors’ complaint of possible fire in the building. After a long explanation and multiple reassurances they left me in peace.
What’s the best/ worst part of your job?
The best part is when customers get what we do and keep coming back for more. The majority of our customers are regulars and we know them by first name basis and their order preferences. Some of them have become our dear friends.
The worst part is the long hours and it is dexterously taxing.
What’s your personal favorite drink/ meal at Roast Factor?
Hand pour of Colombia Cauca Inza – a specialty coffee micro-roasted by us in small batches and brewed via Clever Dripper method. Grown in the altitude of 1500-1800m, this cup has a dried cherry aroma, light caramel taste, smooth brightness and a hint of tomato at the end notes with a honey cocoa finish.
My favorite meal is our Gourmet Danish hotdog. The 8″ pork sausage has been laboriously engineered with our pork supplier and it took us six months to get the taste and springiness texture right. We bake our hotdog buns fresh and from scratch, even the cucumber pickles are homemade right down to ‘remoulade’ sauce, which is a capers and dill sauce popular amongst the Scandinavians..
When you’re not getting your caffeine fix at Roast Factor, where do you go?
I would brew from home with any simple tools I can find in my kitchen be it an old fashioned ‘kopi tiam’ sock or a non-fancy dripper from Daiso. When I am out and about, I would buy coffee from any café that roasts in-house or offers coffee roasted by Malaysian roasters as I truly believe in supporting, firstly our own local roasters to boost our country’s coffee industry from within.
What’s one of the most outrageous things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
A customer, clad in designer clothes and accessories (Hermes handbag) from head to toe, complained that our coffee is expensive (our coffee prices are actually at market rate and at times cheaper than some cafés within Klang valley). Same customer went next door to MyNEWS to buy a sachet of instant coffee powder, Nescafe then brewed it with free hot water provided by that newspaper agent and sat on a high stool/ table positioned against a wall glass panel browsing a new magazine from the racks while sipping the instant coffee from a Styrofoam cup before driving off in their brand new Mercedes E class luxury car.
The perfect day off …
… would be anything that involves nature, spending time with my husband and boys, good food and coffee, nice bottle of wine and catching up with good friends.
A day in the life of a micro-roaster cum baking enthusiast is…
Feed our little pet monster ‘levain’ the night prior, perform an early morning check on the same little rascal and start our bread making process. While waiting for the levain-based dough to rise, do a temperature check on what our customers would like to have in our coffee hopper next week. Prepare a selection of specialty coffee beans for roasting and perform a cupping exercise of previous roast. Complete a log for each of these specialty coffees for future references and in the name of improving the next roast batch. By which time, the bread dough is ready for baking. Pop them in the oven and start preparation for baking our cakes and pastries selection.
Brew myself a cup of specialty coffee to brush up on my hand-pour technique and to constantly ensure that the coffee is at its peak flavor to be served to customers.
Do all the above while greeting customers, taking orders and being hands on in the day to day operations of the cafe.
What do you do for fun?
Trail running followed by good food and coffee hunting thereafter.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about Roast Factor?
We are a micro roaster and gourmet eatery. Our focus is artisanal and creative originality in everything that we do and every single product is made at our cafe from the roasted coffee, cold brew to artisanal bread and pizza dough, cake and pastries to jams and artisanal ice creams. We hand roast our coffee beans on site and in small batches. We don’t do preservatives and we loathe MSG. Good quality products and fresh produce is how we work it. When we say homemade, we mean that it is made from scratch!
What’s your favourite (s) food and coffee pairing?
A cup of Panama Paso Ancho brewed by V60 method paired with our gluten free 100% almond dark chocolate cake or any of our espresso based drinks paired with our top seller salted caramel apple pie. Our hopper has a new blend of coffee beans every two weeks.
Favorite roast/ beans/ brewing method?
Our medium roasted Rwanda Inzovu coffee beans. What makes it so special is that it’s produced by over 25,000 small holder coffee farmers where the majority of the farmers only have approximately 200 trees to each look after. This coffee showcases a lime and soft floral aroma, lemon thick body with candied grape-like sweetness and a long finish. We love it best as a cold brew and steep it for about 15-17 hours prior to bottling. We have been featured as one of KL’s best cafes for cold brew at TimeOut KL March 2015 issue and Rwanda Inzovu is the star.
What’s your view on the KL coffee scene?
It has come a long way from the an instant coffee culture to a surge of third wave coffee with cafes popping up like wild mushrooms after a rain shower in the span of two to three years. We are talking about double digits here, in terms of cafe openings every month.
The exponential growth of independent cafes is driven by increasing urbanization and GDP per capita in Malaysia. Consumers who have lived or traveled abroad want similar coffee quality they have experienced in a more mature coffee market. There is a noticeable change of lifestyle where consumers use the cafe as a socializing or working space and is further spurred by the strong Instagram community in Malaysia that somehow connects ‘being seen in a cafe’ as hip and trendy, not to mentioned the crazy hype about latte art.
It is encouraging to see that consumers are moving away from franchise giant coffee chains and supporting local independent cafes. But at the same time, it would be a shame to forget our country’s unique heritage of ‘kopitiam’ style coffee which is a very enjoyable cup when roasted and brewed with the right parameters by experienced hands. I hope our consumers will embrace that culture and continue to enjoy riding the third wave surge, and in that process put aside the fluff of latte art and start to appreciate coffee for its taste and texture.
I am a strong believer of an open minded approach when it comes to sharing and learning about coffee which I see as vital to further spur the growth of our coffee industry. Anyone with interest in coffee should be encouraged, shown and directed to the appropriate parties, be it individuals, cafes or coffee associations to take them to the next level in their coffee journey. The coffee market in Malaysia is sufficiently big enough for anyone interested, hence supportive and collaborative efforts from coffee professionals will move our coffee industry in the right positive direction.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
Something is definitely brewing and it will be a good surprise.
Read more about Shyue Chin’s cafe, Roast Factor Glee here.