KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — Given the rise of specialty coffee or Third Wave coffee in Malaysia, perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that world class baristas and coffee roasters are flocking to our shores.
The latest coffee luminary is Matt Perger, head barista of St. Ali and World Barista Champion 2013, who recently visited the capital to conduct a workshop as part of a “take-over” of Malaysian café Garage 51 over the weekend.
“We are sharing the knowledge of our coffee and baristas over the last year by taking over selected cafes in London, Seoul and Jakarta,” says Perger. “During these master classes, we cover all aspects of coffee briefly, from the farm to roasting and brewing. We also conduct a small cupping, which is a professional tasting session with a few different coffees, as well as answer any questions people will have about coffee.”
One hot question is whether “true” Melbournian coffee is any different from the Third Wave coffee scene already proliferating in Kuala Lumpur. Perger explains, “Third Wave coffee isn’t necessarily different anywhere in the world; it's more about the differentiation between regular commodity grade coffee and higher quality coffee and service experience. So whether you are in Kuala Lumpur or Portland, Third Wave coffee is very similar; the only difference you would get in local areas would be small changes in the drinks and styles that are served.”
Perger is impressed with Kuala Lumpur’s rapidly growing café scene. He observes, “There are a lot of cafés opening up and a lot of people taking this new style of speciality coffee to heart. There is a significant customer base from students and expats to people who have travelled around the world which supports these cafés. It is really encouraging.”
Given the recent interest in the World Barista Championship, as 2015 is the first year Malaysia qualified to participate, Perger’s experience as a former winner is an eye-opener for many local baristas looking to compete.
“In the World Barista Championship, if you want to win, it’s all about points. So, it is about looking at the score sheets, figuring out how to get more points, and how to make drinks that the judges will like. It’s pretty simple once you know the rules.”
Perger’s approach during the World Barista Championship was to focus on the coffee. He says, “Pay attention to what the coffee tastes like. Figure out how to make it better. I usually like to showcase a new idea in coffee during the competition. For example, for the last competition, the theme was a new style of espresso-making so I learned a new way to make espresso.”
The affable Aussie’s biggest takeaway from competing as a barista on the world stage is building and expanding his professional network. “If you do have a risky routine and if you show innovation that is quite interesting, you earn a little bit of notoriety and your profile in the industry increases.”
As the head barista of St. Ali in South Melbourne, Perger has helped to discover creative ways to introduce and showcase new coffees to customers. One such offering is the St. Ali Experience, which is essentially a coffee tasting menu highlighting the six best coffees they have to offer on any given day.
“At St. Ali, we receive many customers who order a lot of different coffees or they might be a group of baristas visiting us or even a tour group form Japan. We wanted to have a simple way for them to order but for us to choose their experience. We know what coffees taste good right now and what’s on offer, so we just let people order this tasting platter. This way, we are able to provide them with coffees that are well rounded and commensurate with the style of coffee that we are producing at the moment.”
With the speedy proliferation of specialty cafés in Kuala Lumpur, often it’s not the coffee that stands out but the café concept. Perger says, “I think it can safely be said that more attention is paid to the décor than to the quality of coffee. Instagram is certainly at fault to a degree here but I also think it’s also a good thing. Partly it’s about justifying the higher price for your product to your customer. Speciality coffee should include the décor and the ambience.”
Sounds like specialty coffee is here to stay, be it the beverage or the experience.
St Ali: www.stali.com.au
Garage 51: www.facebook.com/Garage51MY