A good roast, an excellent cuppa

The surprise in Seoul

The surprise in Seoul

Before 2008, the main memory of my coffee-drinking experience was getting a headache after a sip of Starbucks’ caramel macchiato, and falling asleep in the car. I was a pretty obedient child, I might add – The Mother told me not to drink coffee when I was a child, because ‘it’s not good for you’, and I really didn’t. Strangely enough, I loved walking into commercial coffee places, and while I always ordered some junk-y non-coffee frappuccino to validate my full-day occupancy in that corner of the shop to study with friends, I did enjoy swathing myself with the aroma of freshly ground coffee. Somehow, though, I never quite thought of drinking the actual thing. Till Sydney.

One of my oldest friends introduced us. The guy is from Sydney, I’m going to Sydney. He loves to cook, as did I. Friends? Friends. We didn’t actually meet that often but we did enjoy good food with conversations on food and produce, that eventually led to my curiosity in what he loved – Coffee. I did love the aroma, so, why not? I started out with a weak latte, I remember. Who’d thought that a few years on, I would be jeered at by the Brother, and become a self-professed coffee snob.

It would be instinctive to defend myself, that I am simply attempting to be very discerning, which is true in its essence, but at the end of the day, the layman wins and I AM a coffee snob. Read: Never actually needing a coffee for the caffeine boost, but drinking purely for taste, therefore rejecting everything but what I have selectively decided upon as a good cup of coffee. In Singaporean terms, ‘atas’ coffee.

It is nothing to be proud of, neither to be ashamed of, really. And it doesn’t really take one to know one. Correct me if I’m wrong but it aopears that there seems to be a coffee revolution. The beverage that has long been a custom in places like Italy, has become more than just a passing fad within Australia, and now in Singapore as well. Illy? Apologies, we’ve now got Toby’s Estate. Insatiable palates and the human desire to be part of something unique has a portion of us abandoning the commercial, and the search leads us to smaller roasters. Single origin, to say the least. What it means I probably still haven’t quite grasped yet but at the end of the day, seek along the terms of fad or fashion, but I, for one, seek for taste.

I might not have had many coffees but I knew the instant I had a Single Origin Roasters’ (SOR) coffee in Sydney, my palate had just gotten snobbier. Campos, apologies, you just ain’t my type. But it was truly with that first cappuccino at SOR that set me thinking about what I defined as a good cuppa. Good aroma, good body. And it’s not just about the bean, but the roast, the storage, and the barista. Probably more goes into it, I guess I could count on Flo to define it better for me, but I’m sure you catch my drift. I am not sure about the rest of my fellow coffee snobs in Singapore, who seek the new coffee joints in town (courtesy of enthusists who soaked up the coffee culture in Australia who were supposed to be studying but ended up having coffee change their life paths…… ;] ) on a weekly basis, but we are all looking for the best taste. Good ambience is always a plus.

Café Chang Hee in Samcheong-dong, circa 2011

Café Chang Hee in Samcheong-dong, circa 2011

Café Chang Hee, circa 2011.

Café Chang Hee, circa 2011.

Not expecting much in Korea with SOR engraved upon my tastebuds, I chose to walk into the one café in a trendy café-lined street in Seoul, the only one that had shiny copper pots, lots of glassware for siphons and Dutch coffee, and concrete walls and floors. 카푸치노 하나 주세요, 태크어웨이; A cappuccino, to go. Walking out on the street, I took a sip.. and literally stopped in my tracks. Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you understand the gravity of that situation in depicting the unexpected awe I held for that coffee. And I went back probably another 4 to 5 times in the next week with a bevy of different friends. So much so that one of the main baristas remembered me a year and half later when they had shifted in location across the city to concentrate on roasting. That’s right, hunnybuns, that’s me.

More Coffee Roasting Co. than Café Chang Hee, the coffee is as it always was. 2013.

More Coffee Roasting Co. than Café Chang Hee, the coffee is as it always was. 2013.

What is a good roast? What is a good cup of coffee? With or without milk? More citrusy, or more chocolatey? At the end of the day, as is with all different palates, it lies in personal taste preferences, which essentially tap into food memories (an entry for another time), that lead us to differ. You only have to drink a lot to appreciate it, and know it. That is, of course, if your body allows it.

Goodbye to the overprotective advice on the how bad coffee is for me. It is a learning quest; taste based on the technicalities of roasting, brewing, and lots of experience in the hands of the barista. This journey has barely just begun…

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