How to pass off as a coffee connoisseur

It takes more than Instagramming your #cafehopping exploits to pass off as a coffee pro. Award-winning barista and boss of a string of hipster cafes RYAN TAN delves deep into the science behind those java jaunts.

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WHO IS HE?
Ryan Tan, 29, won the annual Singapore National Barista Championship from 2011 to 2013 and has also been named Singapore National Latte Art champ thrice. Ironically, he was “forced into becoming a barista”.

Ryan quips: “I was doing a finance and economics degree in Melbourne when my parents sent me for a barista course so I could help out with the family business.” Ryan’s parents ran local coffee company Papa Palheta, which they sold to a relative who went on to set up cafes like Chye Seng Huat Hardware and Loysel’s Toy. Ryan put his studies on hold and returned three years ago to start Strangers’ Reunion, before expanding the business with two more cafes, Strangers’ At Work and Waffle Slayer. A fourth, The Curious Palette, opens next month on Prinsep Street.

1. DON’T ASK FOR “STRONG COFFEE BEANS”.
“The question we get most often when people order coffee is, “Which type of coffee bean is the strongest?” It’s a common misconception that different beans have different strengths. The intensity of a coffee is simply based on the coffee-to-water ratio. The less water used, the stronger it is,” he explains.

2. FORGET WINE PAIRING. HOW ABOUT COFFEE PAIRING INSTEAD?
#Cafehopping is set to get, ahem, fancier at Ryan’s soon-to-be-opened café, The Curious Palette, which will offer food and coffee pairings. “We’ll pair two different dishes, like a triple chocolate cake and tiramisu, with two types of coffee, like Brazilian and Ethiopian [brews] so that customers can experience which combination tastes better.”

3. IT’S NOT GOOD COFFEE IF IT SCALDS YOU. OBVIOUSLY.
“Some customers send back their coffees ’cos they think it’s not hot enough. This happens more often with the older generation. Coffee is traditionally served scorching hot in Singapore and people sit there stirring till it’s cool. They expect their coffees to be served at a temperature that’s hot enough to scald their tongues, when it really should be about 65°C (laughs). Any hotter than that and the coffee will taste burnt. Steamed fresh milk will become over-caramelised and turn bitter. I find myself in a difficult position ‘cos there’s no nice way to tell customers that serving coffee that’s too hot will destroy my product (guffaws). I usually compromise with this trick: I’d serve the coffee with the rim of the cup heated to about 100°C. Customers are usually satisfied when they touch a [sufficiently] hot cup (laughs). If they send the coffee back again, we have no choice but to brew the coffee to their desired temperature.”

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