KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — Crusty yet pillowy soft. Mild and milky, yet rich and buttery. East meets West.
We all love contradictions and contrasts, especially in our food, don’t we? When the tastes and textures divide and conquer, it is our palates that are always the winner.
So it is with the Black Truffle Shokupan at Signature Market Experience Store in Mont Kiara. The dish marries Japanese style milk bread and butter seasoned with aromatic black truffles, typical of the Périgord region in France.
Yet this is no new bakery, though it is new.
I’m here at Signature Market Experience Store largely due to the presence of one of my favourite baristas in town, Darren Lee.
As with renowned chefs who depart their Michelin-starred restaurants to launch new ventures, so it is with baristas. Where one goes, the regulars shall follow.
At least, this seems to be the case within my circle of specialty coffee comrades. One goes wherever one’s favourite baristas go; there is a setup cost to building relationships and figuring out how to make the perfect cuppa for you. Easier to switch cafés than baristas.
Which means Darren more than brings his passion for coffee to his new place of employment; he brings a mature, discerning clientele with him, with specific expectations. Which can be daunting for a young barista, even one with years of coffee industry experience under his belt.
We, his loyal regulars, have faith in him, however. And Darren has more than a few new tricks up his barista uniform’s sleeve (but more on that later).
For now, the first impression is one of a calming oasis. Visitors are greeted by the verdant and woodsy exterior of the Signature Market Experience Store. Inside there are plenty of leafy, green plants and a high ceiling that creates a generous sense of space.
Everything is suffused with natural light from outside but wander deeper and you will find alcoves perfect for solo customers to work on their laptops and sip their brews.
He shares, "We will be featuring a rotating schedule of different coffee roasters so that our customers can taste a variety of flavour profiles. This way, when they return, especially our regulars, they will be able to try something new each time.”
While fantastic for the finicky consumer, this is far from typically prudent for an F&B (food and beverage) entrepreneur. The reason why most cafés stick to one supplier is to get the best prices possible, particularly in an industry where profit margins can be razor thin.
Clearly, the Signature Market Experience Store is attempting something more challenging and customer centric. The clue was in the shop’s name all along: customer "experience” comes first here, with plans for a sensory room featuring their Plant Origins line of aromatherapy products.
For now, the space is all about relaxing over a good cuppa. Today that is a cup of "black nectar” or Darren’s rather precise take on the long black.
Those who are curious may wonder what’s the difference between an Americano and a long black. For the former, hot water is poured into a cup of espresso, whilst the latter entails pulling a shot of espresso into a cup of hot water.
Does the order matter? Isn’t it just black coffee either way?
The short answer (or the "shot” answer, as it were) is: It very much does. With an Americano, everything is mixed together so you get a homogenous cup of black coffee. With a long black, the frothy and flavourful espresso crema stays floating on top so you get a less uniform and more interesting beverage.
Black nectar, indeed.
Darren serves my coffee with some of Signature Market’s trail mix (the homegrown company positions itself as a health food company and wellness brand), which is a nice touch for those who require their nibbles.
The aforementioned Black Truffle Shokupan is also an experience in itself: drizzling some runny honey over the toasted shokupan and pat of black truffle butter — what’s not to like?
It is a new beginning for Darren who shares, "I have learned a lot here, from my colleagues and the trainers from Barista Guild Asia. And it’s the first time I’m running such a big store, compared to the cafés I had worked at before. I was fortunate to be here from the start, setting up all the way to our soft launch.”
Well, it is a new beginning for Darren’s customers too. After all, a happy barista means a happy shot of espresso!
Signature Market Experience Store
Lot G-06, Ground Level, Arcoris, 10, Jalan Kiara, Mont Kiara, KL
Tel: 017-348 3288
Open daily (except Mon closed) 9am-6pm