Beans must be freshly harvested. Then they must be well-roasted. Zuhaila Sedek finds out what else goes into a cup of great coffee
COFFEE is not just a drink. It’s an addictive liquid and carries an abundance of character too. This is what I’ve come to conclude after a visit to Artisan Roast.
Located in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, Artisan Roast is the latest hot coffee spot in Kuala Lumpur. Run by Michael Wilson and his wife Amirah Mohammad, Artisan Roast charms in many ways, especially in its well-made coffee.
GOOD AND BAD
There is a wide variety of coffees. Whether Vienna or Vietnam coffee, it is difficult to say if one is better than the other.
“It depends on preference. Kopitiam coffee for example is roasted with margarine and sometimes with other ingredients too. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just another style of coffee,” says Wilson who is from New Zealand.
He believes that a good cup of coffee is made of high quality beans that are roasted well and prepared properly. “These are the three important aspects to look at if you want to serve a good cup of coffee. When all these are properly done, the drinker can explore its many tastes — sweetness, bitterness and fruitiness (acidity) — without having to add sugar,” he says.
Balance is key. And to achieve this, thorough care in processing the coffee beans is vital. At Artisan Roast, the final taste of the coffee is manipulated by adjusting the heat while roasting the beans.
“The type of beans used is of utmost importance. Many coffee places use low grade beans which are roasted at high temperature. This causes the oil from the beans to come out, resulting in very bitter coffee and one has to add a lot of sugar,” explains the father of two. “Good coffee is best taken on its own.”
Wilson uses green coffee beans which have to be properly harvested, transported and stored. He applies strict control on these processes. “A mistake can occur at any point and then the beans may lose its wonderful flavours,” he says, adding that the best beans are those less exposed to air as humidity can also affect the taste.
He uses beans from the latest harvest around the world including Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador and Rwanda and has a harvest list that he keeps tab on before purchasing. This is why the coffees at Artisan Roast are always changing.
“This ensures that we get the freshest coffee in the market,” says Wilson, adding that beans from different places need to be roasted differently.
One criteria for good coffee is the right acidity. Apart from giving the drink a fruity taste, acidity also provides a natural aroma.
“Many people are surprised to taste the ‘fruitiness’ in our coffee. There is no special ingredient for this. It just indicates that the coffee is good and has been carefully prepared,” says Wilson who used to be in the British Army some years ago. “If there’s no acidity, it will be a bit boring I think,” he adds.
After a few sips I could taste a little peach in the coffee.
Wilson says that to get the right amount of acidity, roasting must be done by skilled coffee meisters. “Our coffee is roasted by my wife and one of our staff. They are really good at it,” he says.
Roasting beans is no easy task. It requires patience and knowledge to achieve consistency. The beans have to be roasted at a specific temperature and at an exact time.
“I think women make better roasters because they have more patience,” says Wilson.
When roasted well, good quality beans will produce a pleasant aroma and taste. But if the beans are of poor quality, the taste is bitter and the aroma, like burnt rubber.
“When coffee is too bitter, you’re more likely to add a lot of sugar,” says Wilson.
Most Malaysians prefer milk in their coffee. This is why espresso is not the best-seller here. But it is important to remember that the taste of milk should not mask that of the coffee.
At Artisan Roast, Wilson chooses a small cup when frothing the milk so that the coffee won’t be overshadowed by the milk.
“Although having milk with coffee is the culture here, we are not selling milk as our primary business,” he says, adding that the best milk should be creamy and served at drinking temperature.
“We froth the milk at a lower temperature so that its micro bubbles will come out. The texture must be right,” he says, carefully frothing a cup of milk to make me a cappuccino. Then he carefully tilts the cup of coffee to pour in the creamy milk, making gentle movements sideways to create a design on the surface as presentation is important.
Humans make judgements based on what they see. “Good presentation will trigger greater excitement for the customer,” says Wilson.
The local coffee culture is very big, says Wilson. “I really didn’t need to do much advertising when we opened the outlet here. But this was not the case when I had a coffee shop in Scotland,” he says.
He believes that many of his customers have been to many parts of the world, probably to coffee-centric locations such as Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. This is why they can easily relate to the coffees at Artisan Roast.
Other than the coffee, the ambience at Artisan Roast is also a strong attraction. Designed by Wilson and Amirah, decor is minimal but simple and cosy. Paintings on the walls are done by Amirah while Wilson made all the tables and chairs himself. Their customers are both the young and young-at-heart and come from all races. The baristas look trendy and this could be one of the reasons why it makes the place look rather hip.
Apart from coffee, Artisan Roast offers home-made cakes too. It opened a second outlet in Bangsar Baru recently.
Being a coffee lover, I admire people who take pride in serving a good cup of coffee because this is not easy to do. Artisan Roast is definitely worth a visit.
Make your order
A friend once told me about an incident that took place some years back. According to her, a flight attendant asked a famous local entertainer: “How would you like your coffee?”
To her surprise, the entertainer answered: “In a cup.”
This story has been going around for a while but it never fails to make one laugh. But as much as it is funny, the entertainer is not the only one who lacks information on how to order coffee.
Here are some insights on how you can order your cup of coffee.
• For brewed coffee, order either small, medium or large.
• Espresso is the thickest and strongest coffee and is dark in colour.
• For espresso-based coffee like cappuccino, flat white, latte or macchiato, ask for single (one shot of espresso), double (two shots of espresso) or triple (three shots of espresso).
• You order your coffee black when you don’t want any dairy in it. Serious coffee drinkers consider black as coffee with only water and no sugar.
• Ordering your coffee white means you want milk added. But white coffee is different. This is coffee made of beans that are roasted in a special way to make it lighter in colour.
• For US-based Starbucks, tall means the smallest size cup, grande is the medium while venti is the largest cup size.
• In Italy, coffee is served in small cups.
• International coffee parlours often focus on the lifestyle image rather than on providing good coffee.
• Mocha is a latte with chocolate syrup.
Artisan Roast is located at No 4, Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, and at Bangsar Village II, Kuala Lumpur