Only six remained by the end of the day and these are their routines on Sunday morning (25th January).
A glimpse of what is at stake:
Competing baristas each have to serve three different courses. A total of 12 drinks split into three courses of four espressos, four cappuccinos and four signature drinks using a coffee (or coffees) of their choice to a panel of judges. These judges will taste all their drinks while being judged on their technical skills by a separate panel of technical judges. They are also judged on the general impression and knowledge of their coffees.
After each routine, emcee Shaun Liew invited people on stage to taste the coffee that was being presented by the barista.
1. Mel Leu of Cafe Departure Lounge
Mel Leu of Cafe Departure Lounge featured coffee from Panama Lerida Estate (Lot 10), roasted by Common Man Coffee Roasters, Singapore.
The theme of her routine was about ‘control’ and ‘balance’ at each stage from the farm, roasting to the barista. She illustrated this with the choice of processing at the farm (honey processed), two separate roasting profiles, a lighter one for her espressos and a darker profile for her cappuccinos. Finally, as a barista she kept a ratio of 1:1.5 (weight of coffee: weight of shot out) for her espressos.
She explained how honey processed (coffee that is semi-washed) had the balance between the two extremes of washed and natural coffees (Washed coffee tends to be citrusy and floral while natural coffee has more body with fruity sweetness).
For her espressos, she chilled her cups to enhance the flavour clarity. She told the judges to expect a silky, round body, jasmine, dried apricot with a dark chocolate aftertaste.
Her cappuccinos featured flavours of coconut, cocoa, a coconut cream aftertaste and a coating mouthfeel. The darker roast profile was to give her coffee more body and intense sweetness in the cup.
Finally, for her signature drinks she mixed aerated espressos from both profiles with cape gooseberry and agave syrup to bring out the apricot and coconut qualities of her coffees.
A stronger, smoother performance from Mel in this subsequent round but in both rounds she had to re-do a shot. This lost her precious moments and subsequently, points as she went over time. Otherwise, a strong seed-to-cup routine.
2. Jason Loo of The Red Bean Bag
Defending champion Jason Loo stepped up to defend his title and for the right to represent Malaysia at the world stage. His ‘balance’ themed routine showcased coffee from Panama Kotowa (Natural Wine process). The farmer, Richardo does this process to stretch the processing time, giving the cherries a deep dark red colour, allowing the sugars from the cherries to absorb into the coffee’s mucilage.
These beans were a blend of Gesha and Typica varietals and its unique processing gave more sweetness and body to provide that balance of bitterness, sweetness and acidity. His roaster, Joey Mah of Three Little Birds Coffee also lent a hand with precision roasting to bring out more fruity sweetness and balance.
For his courses, he presented his espressos that were grape-like with medium-level acidity, medium sweetness and a tea-finish, resulting in a harmonious cup experience. Next, for his cappuccinos, he highlighted honey-like sweetness and vanilla to the judges.
Finally, his signature drinks were a combination of his espressos, ice balls, honey and green apple reduction and some freshly brewed Earl Grey tea which he sprayed into the glasses, before serving. Altogether his signature drinks emphasised on balance with apple acidity, berry notes and pomegranate-like sweetness.
A combination of experience, excellent coffee and confidence peaking at the right time, we saw a strong, fluid performance from Jason Loo. He finished with an amazing signature drink of bright apple flavour to wow the panel of judges.
3. Yaw Tzong of Coffee Concepts
From Coffee Concepts of Johor Bahru, Yaw Tzong’s presentation was on lighter roast coffees. He started by painting the picture of a typical medium to dark roasted coffee that would have the usual chocolate and nutty flavours. According to him, these coffee typically tasted sour or astringent when extracted longer (more water and time used).
So, his choice of coffee was Mod’s Cafe’s Ethiopian Dumerso natural of a lighter roast that could be extracted longer. This natural processed coffee was amazingly sweet and complex yet had flavour clarity and gave a clean cup, he said.
In his espresso course, he told the judges to expect a floral aroma, grapefruit sweetness and acidity and a rounded body. In both rounds, he told the judges to stir the espressos to cool down the drink before tasting it. His roaster, Abert of Mods Cafe, Melaka, had hand-sorted the beans both before and after roasting. Abert tried different roast profiles before choosing this one that gave a very clean aftertaste.
For his cappuccinos, he presented cups with raisin sweetness, creamy mouthfeel and a milk chocolate finish.
Finally, for his signature drinks, he used Clever drippers to chill his espressos. Then, he added fresh grape juice and raisin reduction syrup, giving his drink a plum acidity and raisin-coated sweetness.
Yaw Tzong gave a performance most coffee lovers would want the rest of the world to know about specialty coffee. Great potential with a lot to expect from him in future barista competitions.
4. Keith Koay of VCR Cafe
While Keith has only been in the coffee industry for a year, he drew inspiration from his trip to London where he had his mind blown by the coffee served at Notes Coffee, London. So he contacted Candice, the roaster from Notes Coffee and presented a Colombia (washed) micro-lot from the Planadas region (Co-op of three villages) for this competition.
Keith believes that good tasting coffee is a part of building trust between customers and baristas. He chose this coffee for its complex flavours and crystal clarity. For his espressos, he asked the judges to look for berry compote acidity with a chocolate/black tea finish.
For his cappuccinos, the judges were told to expect milk chocolate and a honeycomb sweetness.
His signature drinks drew inspiration from his cafe’s chef, Ivan Koh using toasted coconut and other local flavours like pandan and ginger along with molasses sugar syrup and his chilled espressos. The end result was a drink with cherry sweetness and cola acidity.
A good showing from Keith with lots of heart, giving credit to his roaster and the people that got him to where he was. There was also a nice ‘awww’ moment when he invited his girlfriend on stage to taste his coffee after his routine.
5. Sam Tan of Coffee Stain
Unfortunately, for Coffee Stain’s team, their coffees from World Roasting Champion, Jacky Lai did not make it due to courier issues but they still had coffee from their in-house roaster, we were told on Friday.
Undaunted, Sam Tan presented a Costa Rican Coffee (washed) from Finca Benificio Las Lajas. The coffee she served were carefully processed by drying them on raised beds/African beds that allow even drying of the coffee after washing. Her routine centered from her personal story of having a great cup of coffee and wanting the very same for her customers.
She served her espressos in unique cups which were more like tea cups with a narrow mouth. The judges were told to expect a smooth mouthfeel, medium body, berry/tropical fruit sweetness with a cocoa finish.
For her cappuccino course, she highlighted a heavy sweetness, dark chocolate as well as a cocoa finish.
Her signature drinks used salt water, cane sugar and lemon peel (for the aroma) to complement her espressos, giving rise to a mango acidity and complementing its other flavours.
Sam showed her experience on stage with her calm and professional performance. We can’t help but wonder what would have been different if World Roaster Champion, Jacky Lai’s beans had been used.
6. Ang of Three Little Birds Coffee
Ang gave a unique presentation by concentrating on the sensory aspect of coffee and drawing inspiration from a tea master, Akira Hojo of Hojo tea. Like tea, coffee shares similarities in focusing on the aroma, body and aftertaste.
His beans were Panama Kotowa mandarina geisha (washed) and his roaster, Joey, roasted with the intention of bringing out more floral aromatics and tea sweetness in his coffee.
For his espresso course, he told the judges to expect a clean cup with plum sweetness, plum skin and tea-like finish with a deep aftertaste. Then, in his cappuccinos, he told them to expect lavender, sugar cane sweetness, medium body, smooth mouthfeel and a lingering finish with a deep aftertaste too.
His signature drinks, like Jason’s, featured ice balls but with a twist: they were frozen with chrysanthemum flowers to bring out the floral and tea-like flavours in his coffee. Again, the highlight was the coffee’s deep aftertaste while bringing out the espressos’ flavours of plum sweetness, tea-like finish and floral aroma.
Bo Ling Ang gave a strong showing, going in with uncertainty on how the judges will respond to his unique theme of ‘sensory’ and using tea as a reference point.
MBC2015 Latte Art Throwdown
While waiting for the results to be totalled up and announced, a latte art throwdown went down. Featuring 32 baristas who signed up earlier in the morning, Joseph Long, head barista of Feeka Cafe came up tops after going head to head against Leng Leng Loo of Owls Cafe.
For the final challenge, they had to pour into the portafilter’s blinds!
Brew Bar and other Bits and Bobs
Results – Top Six
The results naturally was announced with dramatic flair by the host, Shaun Liew and here are the full top 6 results:
1. Jason Loo of The Red Bean Bag
2. Sam Tan of Coffee Stain by Joseph
3. Bo Ling Ang of Three Little Birds Coffee
4. Keith Koay of VCR
5. Mel Leu of Departure Lounge
6. Yaw Tzong of Coffee Concepts Company
With the win, Jason Loo will go on to represent Malaysia in Seattle for the World Barista Championship (WBC) from 9th – 12th April 2015. Isaac Loh of The Brew Orchestra will also be in Seattle as our Malaysian Aeropress Champion to represent us at the World Aeropress Championships. Both baristas will be the first Malaysians to represent us, thanks to the efforts of the Malaysian Specialty Coffee Association (MSCA) being formally recognised by the WBC and World Coffee Events (WCE).
Congratulations to not only the top six but all sixteen baristas and their teams that put tremendous effort on this stage and also the volunteers and organisers and supporting organisations for making this event a success.
Overall, it was a well-organised event. Only hiccup was the event starting earlier than scheduled on the first day resulting in some missing their favourite baristas in action. However, it was tightly run and by far and large, a huge improvement in this young, growing industry compared to the past few years.
We have much to expect from the coffee community here, but it was very heartening to see most of the coffee community come together and compete. Perhaps, we will see an uptick in interest in competing, judging and volunteering in such events in the future.
Next, to get behind our barista champ, Jason Loo and his maiden attempt at the World Barista Championship. Exciting times lay ahead. #roadtoSeattle
For more pictures of the event, see: