Partners in Coffee
Two time Malaysia Brewer’s Cup Champion
Wizards at Tribeca
Fancy working together? Talk to us!
Be part of our conversation, @westerncirclepg
1683 Jalan Perusahaan, Auto-City, Juru Interchange, 13600, Prai, Penang, Malaysia.
IT ALL STARTED
When Jason Loo found a Yellow Brick Road in the Heights of Damansara on the January of 2015, it marked the start of an adventure our heroes would embark on, with comrades at sides, and courage in their hearts- it was one for the books, a story of dreamers for dreamers.
The Yellow Brick Road cafe started with a rebellious will, in a cafe culture that had little innovation outside of Big Breakfasts & Pancakes with Fried Chicken.
Jason worked day and night, gathering ideas and ingredients to create his magic spell. Almost like a creative wizard, his magic created a trend: local meets Western cuisine. Staple items at the Yellow Brick Road Cafe are the Impasta-a chicken char siew pasta, and a Pandan-infused pancake with jackfruit & coconut syrup. It is your neighborhood brunch spot with a coffee menu of seasonal, single origin beans.
The Wizards, conjuring a new concoction
In this special issue of InCircle, we visit the Castle of Champions
WELCOME TO THE
CASTLE OF CHAMPIONS
CULTURE, COFFEE & CARS
and The (Yellow Brick) Road less taken
By: Chu Yang
Forged through trials & tribulations, tribulations, the Wizards had finally found a Castle they would call home, at Tribeca.
Here, they serve guests & adventurers alike in a refined restaurant setting. Beautiful amounts of daylight pour in an aesthetic, modern contemporary dining room. Wizards at Tribeca have an unapologetically awesome beverage menu, serving specialty coffee by day, quirky cocktails at night, shaken, not stirred by creativity & curiosity.
In all chapters of this adventure, an easily identified common identity is the specialty coffee menu. What is specialty coffee? Well, let’s hear it from the dreamers themselves.
WHAT IS SPECIALTY COFFEE?
Specialty coffee is about two things: traceability & quality. Transparency means that information about the coffee is readily available- you know exactly where it is produced, the farmer & his farm, the harvest & processing, the roaster & roasting date etc. Quality is graded, and anything above 80 points is of a certain quality benchmark.
WHY IS THAT IMPORTANT?
So we understand the “story” behind the beans that arrive at our door- the quality, and the goal of the producers & roasters all become key for us as brewers & baristas. It all contributes to what you taste in your cup.
It is actually very similar to wine. You know who produces the wine, the vintage (or year), even the climate can affect the quality & harvest. But this is the technicality behind it, baristas take advantage of this information to extract the best quality out of that coffee. In the end, we let the coffee speak for itself. We highlight the important information of our coffee-the farm, varietal & tasting notes.
DO I DRINK IT DIFFERENT?
Treat drinking specialty coffee like you drink wine or whisky, you’re after the flavors. In our restaurants, I would also say that you choose the coffee you want to drink much like wine- something fruity and full body? Or light, herbal. It is personal taste.
HOW IS MALAYSIA SEEING SPECIALTY COFFEE?
It is a growing culture, the coffee industry is more and more becoming a lifestyle. We’ve observed that the younger generation is starting to appreciate and taste coffee. Personally, I believe Coffee Championships help to create awareness, now it has become an experience for friends and family.
Jason is a three time Malaysia Barista Champion (2013, 2015, 2017), World No.7 in World Barista Championship 2017, by far the highest ranking for a Barista.
Shaun is a two time Malaysia Brewer’s Cup Champion (2017 & 2019).
Malaysia is in the top echelon of performers in World Coffee Championships, on par or performing better than Singapore, Australia, the UK, Indonesia etc.
IS IT JUST SOMETHING TRENDY FOR TEENS?
In perfect unison: No, it’s something for the family.
It definitely starts with the younger generation, they are bringing their parents, uncles, aunties along this journey. They taste and appreciate coffees together.
The older generation is learning alongside the younger ones. We see that coffee is a way for people to bond-café hopping, tasting and trying new adventurous coffees.
It took 10 years for us to warm-up to it. As early as 2008, people started to drink and enjoy specialty coffee, but it wasn’t until 2013, the year Jason won Malaysia Barista competition, then you see a sudden boom of interest and buzz around the scene.
Plenty of cafes opened within the next two years started offering specialty coffee options. Jason competed and won again in 2015, he was Malaysia’s representative to compete on the world stage, and that shined a lot of light on the specialty coffee scene.
BOTH OF YOU ARE THE AVANT-GARDE OF MALAYSIA'S SPECIALTY COFFEE INDUSTRY, HOW DO YOU MAKE IT APPROACHABLE?
We have to look at our culture, start from there. We exist within a culture, a more conservative one. The first step that we did was to leave all information out on the table, make it comfortable and let the menu speak for itself. It leaves the metaphorical door open for our guests, you can peek in the room, sit down, relax and enjoy at your own pace. Furthermore, events can help, the coffee version is called coffee cupping, which is the coffee equivalent of wine, gin, or whisky tasting. Public cupping, where people sign up, taste and have conversations over coffee. However, it is not very popular again, due to culture, many are put off by sharing a cup with strangers.
We conducted a workshop for Mercedes-Benz, introduced specialty coffee to a lot of first-time drinkers. People were reading the labels, the tasting notes, and were confused because they could not taste the specific note of “lemon drops”. We have to look at our culture, start from there. We exist within a culture, a more conservative one. The first step that we did was to leave all information out on the table, make it comfortable and let the menu speak for itself. It leaves the metaphorical door open for our guests, you can peek in the room, sit down, relax and enjoy at your own pace. Furthermore, events can help, the coffee version is called coffee cupping, which is the coffee equivalent of wine, gin, or whisky tasting. Public cupping, where people sign up, taste and have conversations over coffee. However, it is not very popular again, due to culture, many are put off by sharing a cup with strangers. It’s okay. It’s completely okay. Our goal is to serve you a good cup of coffee, as long as it tastes delicious to you, that’s a win for us. After the event, if you can tell the difference between a good cup and a bad cup, that’s already an excellent introduction.
That keeps it simple, as simple as it should be.
1. Do I like what I’m drinking?
2. What do I like about what I’m drinking?
3. What am I in the mood for?
Exactly, being a champion does not mean anything, we are still brewing coffee for our customers and that requires understanding of product, empathy for the customer, and our goal is to brew what you like to drink. I’m orchestrating their experience, playing on what they are familiar with and giving them a pleasant experience, for example If you share with me that you are a tea person, and you want to try my coffee, I will brew you a coffee that is very tea-like.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU WORKED TOGETHER?
We were friends first and foremost, since 2012. Then we turned business partners four years ago.
JASON, YOU COACHED SHAUN IN HIS MALAYSIA BREWER’S CUP WIN. WHAT IS SHAUN’S SUPERPOWER?
Charisma. He can be very loud, and it is easy to be loud, but to do it with clarity is rare.That character carried through his coffee. His strong personality touches people, the audience, the judges, the other competitors. The coffee becomes an extension of his character, not the other way around. That’s special.
WHT IS JASON’S SUPERPOWER?
It’s his well-rounded versatility. I’ve seen him work with the most average coffees, and the most expensive ones. Working within your comfort zone is easy, but Jason can work with virtually any bag of coffee. You can see it in his poise, very steady, firm.If you catch him brewing at YBR, his movements have a certain confidence and charm.
For us both, the foundation begins with product knowledge, that is what gives you confidence to perform. Slowly we build on that with our personality & flair.
BEING IN THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY MEANS THAT WE ARE AT THE CENTRE OF HUMAN EMOTION.
WHAT DRIVES YOU?
I was a hospitality graduate, having passion for people has always been a part of me.
I graduated as a pastry chef. Then worked in a hot kitchen, and now in the coffee industry. I am passionate about creating delicious meals and beverages. This industry is an opportunity to make people smile because of my creations, and that's something important to me.
Yes, the first priority is always quality, consistency, innovation. We believe in giving value through our craft first, and money will be a validation of the value we provide. That is key.
ADVISE FOR ASPIRING RESTAURANTEURS?
Connection, obviously with your team, and your customers. Connection with the industry peers outside our own is also overlooked quite often. I have a catering service that I run on the side, and I’ve networked with a lot of customers and clients from the Automotive Industry, media etc.
It’s important for me to always keep an ear close to the ground, be a bit busy body to come up with better services for them.
KL HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY CULTURE?
Overall a rise in level and quality of FnB restaurants in KL. Independent restaurants are doing very well.
We are part of the Good Food Alliance (Inside Scoop, Burgerlab, Grub by Ahong etc). and we try to tell great stories through our individuality and brands. Ultimately we want to put forth great and unique experiences. That’s how YBR started- when everyone started offering the classic Aussie Brunch, we wanted diversity.
Hospitality is about people, culture & lifestyle. As trendsetters, what role do you think you play in the lifestyle of others? Our DNA, across all our brands, is coffee-from Red Beanbag, Yellow Brick Road, and now Wizards at Tribeca. That’s our story.
IS THAT YOUR PHILOSOPHY?
Exactly-to create unique experiences, and to build connection.
The culture in our team is very different, we try to build a very close-knit bond between the directors and managers and the team, this is there to make everyone feel at home, what we want is for everyone to grow.
HOSPITALITY IS ABOUT PEOPLE, CULTURE & LIFESTYLE. AS TRENDSETTERS, WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK YOU PLAY IN THE LIFESTYLE OF OTHERS?
Culture and lifestyle influence how people go about their daily. Lifestyle is what we want to show about ourselves-going to a certain place, wearing certain clothes, doing certain activities are all part of constructing that image. FnB is a big part of lifestyle, we need to eat and drink no matter what, but choosing a certain restaurant, driving a certain car to get there, ordering that particular main course paired with that particular beverage, that is a choice-conscious or otherwise. Coffees and cafes have evolved over the generations, it was a necessity before, it is part of a lifestyle now. See, there is a fundamental difference between kopi-o dabao, and going to a café with family, friends, in your favorite outfit with a book or laptop-the former is about caffeine intake, fast, on-the-go; the latter is about the activity as a whole. It becomes a social outing, spending quality time, taking that #ootd to later put on social media. That’s part and parcel of it.
LET'S GO ON A TANGENT ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA, HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA PLAYED A ROLE IN COFFEE?
Coffee has become part of a bigger story- about personality and individuality. It started from Starbucks. Once specialty cafés started to pop up, spending time there became a story you could tell through social media. People tie together many different topics- automobiles, fashion, FnB to construct a story that they want to tell about their social status. Coffee has much more similarity with cars than one might think.
Why would you buy X car instead of Y car? At any given budget there are several options. Why this car? To portray a certain character or trait, and elevate or highlight their social status. Coffee and cars are providers to these individuals. It is an accessory for people to highlight their lifestyle.
What kind of coffee you drink tells a story about you. You get what i mean? Social status.
No. 7 in World Barista
Three time Malaysia Barista Champion
Yellow Brick Road
WAS IT THE FIRST TIME YOU DROVE A CABRIOLET THIS MORNING?
Yes, it was the first time I drove a Porsche too. Surprising, it was smooth and most importantly for me, comfortable. I thought it was just about speed and going super-fast being very uncomfortable in a tiny car. As I was driving I could feel the attention to detail that was put into the car for the driver- seats that gently hugged me, all the buttons and functions were easy to identify and use.
MORE AND MORE I SEE SIMILARITY BETWEEN AUTOMOBILE AND COFFEE, IT'S THE PROVIDERS THAT CRAFT THE CONSUMER’S EXPERIENCE.
I see it in another way-specialty coffee and cars are different faces of the same dice. Think about it, specialty coffee is about transparency, and serving the very best coffee; just like a convertible-it serves a special type of person after a certain taste. Cars have specifications, and it’s very transparent, like coffee. Oh and brewing as well, see, the same coffee you can extract in different ways, to suit what you want to taste at that time, or that mood, or for another person; driving the Boxster was the same experience-different drive modes for different moods, #dropthetop or not. It’s not just one or the other, it’s creating that experience for yourself.
create an experience for you
KOPI-O, OR SPECIALTY COFFEE?
Depends, depends on my mood. Kopi-o will always taste like nostalgia and my childhood. I’m a tea person by the way.
A FUN QUESTION TO END THE INTERVIEW, IF SOMEONE CAME TO THE WIZARDS DRIVING A CABRIOLET, #dropthetop AND ALL, WHAT COFFE WOULD YOU BREW?
A cabriolet is a very sporty car, adventurous. For me, an adventurous coffee would be a Kenyan coffee, usually higher in acidity. Having brewed coffee for a long time you get a feel for pairing personalities and the coffees. A Kenya is for those who want to be different.
HAHA, AND MPV DRIVERS?
For the family man, I’d suggest a Brazil, or Indonesian. Those coffees are safe bets, comfortable, bold, reassuring.
This I’d go somewhere in the middle, a Colombian, or Ethiopian.
Good luck, and we look forward to more magical journeys with you.
... Til’ next time, Wizards.
for quality conversations over quality coffee