CHERAS, July 11 — Barista Michael Tan has always been known for his big smiles but today he has something extra special to smile about.
The 27-year-old has just opened his own café — Alpha Brew Coffee — after years of working in the coffee industry. From global franchises such as Starbucks to some of the earliest purveyors of specialty coffee in Malaysia and Singapore (RAW Coffee and 40 Hands Coffee, respectively), Tan is no stranger to what makes a good cuppa.
It’s hard to imagine, then, that less than five years ago, Tan hardly even drank tea, much less coffee. His coffee journey began when he joined Starbucks. He recalls, “I joined because I needed a job, to be honest, but it was such an education. New baristas have to attend classes at the headquarters, where we were taught the basics of espresso extraction, as well as milk steaming.”
Tan and his fellow newbie baristas were also trained to value customer service — every angle from store cleanliness to greeting customers. Mastering these skills helped Tan rise to the level of store manager by the time he joined RAW Coffee (now closed) in October 2012.
“RAW Coffee was one of the pioneers in Kuala Lumpur’s specialty coffee scene,” says Tan. “I had no real exposure to Third Wave coffee prior to that, though it’s such a trendy and common thing nowadays. I learned a lot from Michael Wilson and Amirah Mohammad, the co-founders of RAW Coffee. Single origin beans, different brewing methods, coffee roasting — these went from mere concepts to something I learned and was excited about.”
In December 2013, Tan made another leap by moving to Singapore to join Perth native Harry Grover and his coffee empire, which included 40 Hands, Tiong Bahru Bakery and Common Man Coffee Roasters. This gave him the unique experience of training with both an Aussie (Grover) and a Kiwi (Wilson); the best of both Antipodean nations for coffee, so to speak.
The humble barista is careful to downplay expectations for Alpha Brew Coffee, which is located at Dataran C180 in Cheras Selatan, though. He says, “I just want to serve good coffee. Some have told me it’s risky opening a café in a neighbourhood where specialty coffee is still in its infancy but that’s exactly what I’m after — an opportunity to serve this community by introducing my coffee to them.”
Tan is currently using the Everyman’s Blend by Kota Kemuning-based coffee roaster Brew & Bread. Coffee lovers can expect notes of caramel, chocolate and nuts with every sip, and a medium-heavy body. Perfect for milk coffee like a cappuccino or a piccolo latte.
Alpha Brew Coffee offers hot chocolate too. Theirs will be made with single origin chocolate sourced and roasted by homegrown producer Seniman Kakao (owned by Tan’s former mentor, Michael Wilson).
Craving a bite to go with your drink? Try their signature cup pasta — either a turkey ham carbonara or meatball pasta, served in a cup. The latter features homemade meatballs, a choice of either chicken or beef. Need some greens? Opt for the mixed salad or fruit salad, both served with orange and balsamic dressings on the side.
For those with a sweet tooth, there will be cakes by Polecats Coffee, a café run by the husband-and-wife team of Sam Ruslan and Zee Rahman. Coincidentally Sam is Tan’s former colleague at RAW Coffee. Another RAW Coffee alumnus, Pee Weng Foo, has joined Tan as Alpha Brew Coffee’s head barista.
It’s obvious Tan knows something about teamwork and maintaining good relationships. Besides his mentors and peers, he credits his customers too. He explains, “My regulars are always giving feedback with every cup of coffee I serve them. They don’t mind if I try new brewing techniques or a new bean that they have never tried before. Their openness and curiosity helped me learn more than I ever could on my own.”
When it’s pointed out to him that Alpha Brew Coffee could be abbreviated as ABC, Tan smiles. “I guess so. What are the ABCs of good cuppa? There are so many things but at the end of the day, if you use quality beans, the barista makes your coffee in earnest (and keeps working at his craft), and it’s served with a genuine smile, that’s a really good start.”
Alpha Brew Coffee
B23AUG, Jalan C180/2 Dataran C180, Cheras, Selangor
Open Mon-Thu noon-midnight; Fri-Sat 11am-1am; Sun closed