KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 -- New Zealander Michael Wilson used to be in the British Army and even started a construction company in Scotland before finding his true calling: coffee.
Today Wilson’s Artisan Roast brand encompasses three cafés in KL, two in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. His first Artisan Roast café at Broughton Street was named the best café in the UK by Qype last year, while his Malaysian outlets won Time Out KL’s Best Place for Coffee in 2012.
The Kiwi is considered a coffee sage by local espresso enthusiasts and has trained many baristas, some of whom have gone on to open their own cafés.
You had quite a varied career before becoming a barista and coffee roaster. Why coffee? What’s so special about it that you’ve made it your vocation?
Some people collect stamps. Some people get passionate about the flavours of things: wine, whisky, marijuana... coffee’s the most complex food that we consume. Working with coffee opens up the largest sensorial playground available to us without taking psilocybin mushrooms.
Some of the baristas you trained leave to work for other cafés or go on to open their own. How do you feel about that?
As part of their career progression with Artisan, the guys can go on to management, technical, roasting or leave to start up their own venture. Going on to open their own cafés is a natural progression for some of the baristas. It’s something that I encourage and I’m building it into our training package.
If you could only teach a barista one thing, what would it be?
To like people. Coffee’s very important for us, but we’re in the business of ensuring people have a good time at our place.
If you could only share one thing about coffee with a customer, what would it be?
The ability to taste the coffee. The good stuff has a remarkable variance in flavour, but many drinkers just think of anything made from Coffea [the genus of flowering plants whose seeds are better known as coffee beans] as “coffee.”
There’s a world of difference between different varietals, estates, roasters and baristas.
Why is it so important for you to visit coffee farms and interact directly with the farmers who grow the beans you buy?
Because they’re people. This business is about people and I like to like the people I work with. It means so much more to me to meet the people we buy from, to see their passion for their product and so they can see that we share that passion. I’m also a committed greenie and want to see that they’re committed to protecting the environment. If I don’t like the farmer, we don’t buy from them.
What does the future of the specialty coffee scene look like to you?
It’s the future for people with good taste. There’s a split in the industry between people who take the coffee flavour seriously and people who just care about money. Commodity coffee is full of harmful defects and is overpriced.
Speciality coffee is better for you and is worth the money you pay.
Artisan Roast Coffee
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail, 19 September 2013.