Melbourne’s coffee culture is making a significant mark on the Asian cafe scene, with businesses and former residents from the Victorian city setting up shop in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Melbournian experience is an important part of the global specialty coffee movement, which is about paying attention to each step in the journey from bean to beverage: from growing beans at optimal climatic conditions, to harvesting them at their ripest, and then roasting the beans, to finally brewing the perfect cup.
Salvatore Malatesta, St Ali Jakarta
Salvatore is a Melbourne coffee personality, CEO of the St Ali family of specialty coffee stores, and a significant presence in the global speciality coffee movement. After a chance meeting with Aston Uton, owner of Common Ground Coffee and Roastery in Indonesia, at a World Barista Championship, Salvatore and Aston decided to partner up and start St Ali Jakarta in early 2016.
“The idea was that we blend in to a local environment, rather than appear as a spaceship that’s landed from somewhere else,” says Salvatore. All of the St Ali Jakarta staff are locals - they’re either trained at St Ali in Melbourne, or are trained by St Ali Melbourne staff visiting Jakarta.
A Melbourne-based coffee store setting up shop in Jakarta is a sign that the coffee movement doesn't have borders.
But it’s also worth noting that Melbourne’s coffee scene has inspired satellites all around the world - including Japan, Korea, Thailand and the USA.
"In the same way that people say ‘let’s grab a pint at an Irish pub’ and there’s an image of what an Irish pub looks like, there’s now an image of what a Melbourne cafe looks like and everyone around the world is building Melbourne cafes.”
Part of this genre of Melbourne inspired cafes is also about paying attention to food.
Jeremy Chan, Bean Reserve and Brewmen, Malaysia
After graduating from a Bachelor of Sport Science at Victoria University in 2009, Jeremy returned to Kuala Lumpur to pursue golf professionally. An injury meant that this was unfortunately cut short. He then turned to something that was a memorable part of his student experience in Melbourne: coffee.
Similar to the commitment of Melbourne cafes to food, Brewmen serves Korean fusion food - a response to it’s location in an area that locals know of as ‘Korean town’. Along with coffee, Brewmen’s menu includes thin shrimp and scallion pancakes and Korean fried chicken on waffles.
Jeremy is evangelical about speciality coffee in Malaysia, which hasn’t been without challenges. "Convincing people about specialty coffee is quite tough because they’re so used to local coffee" which is served at kopitiam.
For Jeremy, the experience of Melbourne coffee culture is something that he still speaks and remembers passionately. “The biggest difference is the vibe from Melbournians. You walk into a cafe, you’re in line and you can smell this burst of coffee aroma. You’re greeted by a barista, who is full of energy and passion about making coffee. When you receive your coffee and take your first sip, everything just goes away - it feels like you’re in your own world for just that split second."
Raphael Ouyang, The Pourover Bar, Singapore
Studying a Bachelor of Commerce at Monash University and a Master of Management at University of Melbourne were formative for Raphael’s love of coffee. “It all started with a cup of flat white and before long, I discovered the world of filter coffees, sustainable micro-climate coffee beans, cherry varieties and complex tasting notes,” remembers Raphael.
When he returned to Singapore in 2013, Raphael started his career in the banking industry. On the side, he conducted private cupping sessions with Melbourne roasted beans. He eventually decided to pursue coffee full time - starting up The Pourover Bar in early 2016 and finding a collaborator to offer the complete Melbourne cafe experience. Their food offerings include the locally inspired chilli crab croissant.
Raphael believes that specialty coffee doesn’t necessarily challenge Singapore’s local coffee culture. “Kopi tiam coffee is unique in its own way as it is part of our South-East Asian heritage. The preparation time is shorter, appeals to different tastebuds and caters to different needs. I like kopi tiam coffee too, especially on days when I am pressed for time and need a quick coffee fix. When I have more time on my hands, I prefer to indulge in a more immersive coffee experience where I can savour flavours and aromas from a well-crafted cup, hand brewed with intent.”
Melbourne’s coffee scene is still a point of reference for Raphael.