KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — This Sunday, the new Malaysia Barista Champion will be crowned and this year excitement over who the winner will be is at fever pitch.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, for the first time this person will go on to represent Malaysia at the 2015 World Barista Championship (WBC), to be held in Seattle in April.
Past Malaysian Barista Championships (MBC) have been hit-and-miss affairs. Since 2008, there have been only four actual competitions with three past winners — Jason Loo (2013), JH Yee (2012) and Cheryl Lee (2010 and 2008).
Part of the reason for this is the admittedly nascent nature of specialty coffee and the professional baristas who are skilful enough to pull a perfectly-timed espresso shot or pour milk into crisp latte art.
This had meant that past Malaysian Barista Champions could only stand on the side and watch baristas from other countries battle it out for the crown on the world stage.
This is something Loo experienced first-hand when he witnessed the 2013 WBC in Melbourne. As the defending Malaysian champion, Loo is participating in the 2015 MBC for a shot at joining in the action this year.
Why is this changing though? It’s largely thanks to the proliferation of indie cafés serving Third Wave Coffee (for an explanation of what that is, read this), young baristas being trained by professionals through workshops and certification courses, an emerging local specialty coffee roasting scene, and very eager, very demanding customers who have learned to expect more from their cuppa.
One major and indispensable link in this story is the setting-up of the Malaysia Specialty Coffee Association (MSCA) spearheaded by Barista Guild Asia, a coffee education specialist. With the MSCA being formally recognised by the WBC and the World Coffee Events (WCE), the world’s the limit for our Malaysian baristas.
But are they up to the challenge?
Past World Barista Champions have generally come from the Western world but last year, Japan’s Hidenori Izaki broke the mould, emerging as the first Asian barista to win the title.
Our Malaysian champion will not only be up against baristas from former-winning countries such as the United States, Denmark and Norway, but also Asian hopefuls such as Taiwan, Korea and Thailand.
Therein lies the rub. While our boys and girls are certainly getting better at their craft, their rivals have been at it for years, training for those precious 15 minutes when they have to produce 12 drinks – four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four signature drinks — for a panel of critical judges who can spot a single error from a mile away.
We have promise, but we may truly be far too young, at this very moment.
Are we ready for the world stage? I believe, yes, we are. It’s high time our local baristas get a taste of what it means to be world class and return with determination to take our burgeoning coffee scene even further.
Will we win the WBC? Honestly, that’s highly unlikely this year, but we all have to start somewhere.
We have the “Malaysia Boleh!” spirit and one day, we’ll take the coffee world by storm. I’ll cheer on all 16 contestants for this year’s MBC and keep the champion in my prayers when he or she heads to Seattle three months from now.
Malaysia Barista Championship 2015
Fri 23 Jan — Sun 25 Jan 2015 at Chin Woo Stadium, Jalan Hang Jebat, Kuala Lumpur. For complete competition schedule and more information, visit www.facebook.com/MalaysiaSpecialtyCoffeeAssociation