Coffee master

MALAYSIA'S Brewer Cup 2017 winner Shaun Liew has brought glory and fame to our country’s coffee scene.

But despite his vast working experience and many accomplishments, Liew – a co-owner of the Yellow Brick Road cafe in Kuala Lumpur – still remains humble, staying true to himself and with a willingness to learn new things.

How did your interest in coffee begin?

In 2012, when I was working at Berjaya University as a lecturer, I was given the chance to coach students in a barista competition in Penang.
I took up the offer, and have been hooked on it ever since.

Define a good cup of coffee.

A good cup of coffee to me has balance in taste, is tactile, and is complex in flavours.

What does coffee mean to you?

Coffee is something special and interesting to me. Sometimes, it can also be quite painful, as it takes time to perfect and understand the learning curves it comes with.

How long does it take to brew the perfect cup of coffee?

In my opinion, it all depends on the solubility of the coffee. [Everything from] the grade of the beans, to the roasting and brewing [process], specific techniques, and time, play an integral role.

There will never be a bad cup of coffee as long as the maker knows how long the roasting and brewing should be.

Is there any specific technique that people should master in coffee brewing?

A lot of times, they don’t know what they want and forget what brewing is all about. They need to understand that different coffee beans require different roasting and brewing methods.

Sticking to stubborn traditional ways, and not realising what is needed, will not work in your favour.

How many types of coffee bases are there?

Well, there’s the usual espresso base, filter base, nitro base, cold brew, ice drip. There’s also cocktail coffee, but it isn’t available in Malaysia.

Can you elaborate on the differences between specialty coffee and commercial coffee?

Specialty coffee is the kind that cafes usually serve, that is of top-quality grade one beans. The terroir (environmental conditions) of the farm actually contributes to the coffee flavour as well.

Commercial coffee [that is] available at supermarkets [is from] grade two or three beans.

There are also gourmet grade beans available in the market, which is a grade in-between commercial and specialty coffee beans, and is usually in a medium dark roast.

What kind of coffee beans do Malaysians prefer?

In the past, I noticed people are pulled towards bolder kinds of coffee with a chocolatey taste, for example.

But now, it has shifted, and people are more accepting of acidity in their coffee with added flavours like blueberry or tangerine in it.

What made you participate in the Brewer Cup competition?

Since I competed in Malaysia’s Barista Championship 2016, I decided to participate in a different category instead. I wanted to challenge myself and try something new to deepen my knowledge of coffee.

With coffee, there’s always an unlimited amount of things you can learn from it.

How does it feel being last year’s champion?

Of course, it was a big accomplishment for me and my career. It gifted me with priceless exposure, and gave me a once-in-a-lifetime experience where I met with a well-known coffee bean producer in Panama.

Would you be participating in similar competitions in future?

I can’t say for sure if, or when, I’ll be participating in any similar competitions, because right now, I’m focusing on my business ventures and connecting with my team to ensure the growth of [Yellow Brick Road cafe].

Once everything is stable and if given the time to compete, I would definitely love to do so.

How would you describe your road to success?

It was not an easy road but I always remind myself not to let ego affect me. My coach used to be my ex-student back in my teaching days.

Furthermore, it’s important to have a good strategy for everything you do, and remember that age doesn’t matter, [it is] experience [that] counts.