The Yum List chats with Kenneth Lee Hui Keat, head roaster at VCR and learns a little about life behind the scenes in one of KL’s most popular cafes.
What do you do and how did you get into the industry?
It all started working in Starbucks like every an ordinary student, working part-time and making coffee. It felt pretty cool and I was fascinated by making latte art. During my first visit to VCR after my final paper, I had my very first speciality coffee, in pour-over. I remembered it was an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. I thought I was drinking a blueberry juice! That’s what hit my curiosity and inspired me to pursue this industry. I’ve now been in the coffee industry for five years and haven’t looked back.
Share with us an interesting story from behind the scenes.
It sounds and seems all amazing and easy to serve a cuppa. To be honest, though, we calibrate our coffee almost every hour to ensure the best quality. Therefore, we have to drink! Sometimes we could get really sick and overdose, the feeling is worst than a hang-over. I always make jokes to my baristas, if you don’t have gastric, you’re maybe not good enough! Hahaha.
What’s the best part of your job?
The best would be unlimited supplies of great coffee for you to taste and drink.
What’s your favourite meal?
Honestly, mine is spicy hotpot. No specific shop as long as is good and fresh, and as spicy as possible!
What’s one of the most outrageous things you’ve seen behind the scenes?
We Malaysians are used to whistling to people in mamak stores to get attention. It is one of my pet-peeves of not having good manners. First, I got shouted “Hello, hello!” although we have a sign that says, “Please order at the counter,” huge and clear. I get really mad especially when people whistle at me, and I would tell them off nicely that this is a proper cafe, not a mamak store. Even in a mamak store is not nice to do that.
A day in the life of a head roaster is…
… dealing with a lot of messages and emails, questions regarding coffee, and of course, tasting coffee and roasting. As you have to arrange for wholesale supplies, making sure the costing is right at all times, making sure coffee is fresh and enough to be roasted, and that the coffee in cafes is tasting great! These are just a few examples.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy working out in the gym, having a cocktail session and inviting friends over.
What’s something you’d like guests to know about VCR?
It is tough sometimes to handle crowded situations. We do strive and try our very best to reach out to each and every one of our guests and put a smile on their face.
What’s your favourite food and beverage pairing?
Hotpot and Chinese tea.
What’s your view of the cafe scene in Kuala Lumpur?
I started working in the speciality coffee scene not too long after it was introduced to KL. It was very new back then, even to me. In Kuala Lumpur, the speciality coffee scene is growing at a really slow pace. But in these past five years, I’ve seen a lot of people starting to appreciate speciality coffee (fruity, floral and sweet notes). As the culture in Malaysia for coffee is vast, it really takes a lot of time for people to accept these kinds of artisan coffees that taste different from what people are used to.
What’s in store for you in the upcoming months?
For myself, I’m just focusing on my upcoming national competition for the Brewers Cup. I’m also promoting more of our beans in terms of wholesale.