When the aroma titillates the senses

Say Tola / Khmer Times No Comments Share:

Say Tola encountered master coffee brewer, Cmirasawanonj Pongsuk, and quizzed him on the art of making a perfect cup of the world’s best beverage.

Growing up in Pursat province, my access to coffee was limited to very few coffee stalls on the sidewalk. However, after moving to Phnom Penh five years ago, I found myself joining the crowds to regularly visit the ubiquitous cafes, springing up like mushrooms across the city.

Pongsuk showing his students how to make iced caramel macchiato. Photo: Say Tola

But it was just recently that I started to ponder how exactly quality lattes are made. I am a self-confessed coffee lover, and it somehow shames me that I can’t even name the coffee beans that are used to make my drink.

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In January, BlueKoff held its first “Basic Barista” training course and thanks to them I had the chance to personally witness how coffee beans are processed into irresistible lattes.

Cmirasawanonj Pongsuk, the owner of BlueKoff Cambodia, held a one-day training on coffee making in Phnom Penh. He was warm and friendly and I got hooked on his easy demeanor. But what I admired in him the most is how he built a name for himself from his modest beginnings.

Pongsuk’s family didn’t see the importance of learning English back then. He attained all his triumphs with little formal educational background. Undoubtedly, he is a living proof that educational attainment does not fully define who you are and what you will be. If you have the full determination and right attitude to succeed, you could achieve what you want.

Cmirasawanonj Pongsuk explaining how to use a coffee machine. Photo: Say Tola

Pongsuk, with his goal to share his knowledge on coffee to Cambodians, did not hesitate to explain the basics of coffee making and processing to the four people who joined the training.

He gave the participants a hands-on training on the types of machines used in coffee making and how temperatures are set to produce the perfect cup of the world’s best beverage. Pongsuk also gave out business advice to those who plan to start up their own coffee business.

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According to the coffee-making expert, the shop location, amount of capital and coffee bean selection all play major roles in having a successful coffee business.

After a whole day of training, “Basic Barista” did not just provide basic knowledge on producing a tasty cup of coffee. It also gave the participants a clear idea on how to effectively run a business and be successful baristas in the future.

GoodTimes2: Why did you leave Thailand and come to Cambodia to start a coffee training course?

Pongsuk: I’ve been coming back and forth to Cambodia and Thailand for many years. In the last 10 years, I lived in Cambodia exclusively. What helped me make Cambodia my home was my love for coffee. I noticed many people in Cambodia like to gather together at coffee shops and order an assortment of drinks.

Being a coffee connoisseur, I discovered that there are coffee shops that serve better coffee than others. And the difference isn’t even about the price.

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Local and franchised coffee shops have sprung up in the city, but the quality of the products seem low. Because I personally have the knowledge on coffee-making, I saw the gap in the coffee market and I believe I can transform this sector by sharing what I know to those interested in building their own cafes.

GoodTimes2: What made you create this Basic Barista training?

Pongsuk: Many Cambodians have told me that running a coffee shop is an easy way to earn money. However, coffee can be just a sludgy slosh of water put in a mug or it can be an art form. I personally view coffee-making as an art form that has been historically preserved all around the world. I want to help coffee sellers in Cambodia to also make their product as an art form, not just a way of living.

To achieve this, one needs to truly understand the equipment and techniques. For instance, coffee plants from one region are different from those of other places. They have different tastes and somehow undergo different processes. Taste is the most obvious and easiest determinant of how coffee beans are planted and processed. Weather and temperature affect their growth, too.

The different coffee beans used by Pongsuk. Photo: Say Tola

GoodTimes2: Why should people undergo these trainings before they start running businesses?

Pongsuk: It is really vital to get guidance and some form of hand-holding before you go into any area of expertise. Coffee-making is no different. People should develop an in-depth understanding of all the variables that go into the sector – from coffee beans to brewing technology. Only with this knowledge can they create their own unique way of making coffee so that it meets their business needs and allows for sustainable development of their company. In this training, I included some basic knowledge in making coffee by providing some recipes as well as lots of activities involving the machines. I also provided some helpful ideas on the financial aspects of opening a cafe

GoodTimes2: How can people evaluate the taste of coffee, let alone appreciate the coffee beans used to make the perfect cup of the brew?

Pongsuk: They should appreciate the perfect shot of coffee, which is actually very time sensitive. If it is too hot, the smell and taste of the coffee isn’t as smooth and tends to smell like burnt food. Once a green coffee bean is exposed to the extreme heat of a roaster, the green bean’s complex makeup of minerals, carbohydrates, amino acids, proteins, lipids, water, and caffeine melt together as a chemical reaction and gives way to the nutty and irresistible aroma of the coffee.

The color quality of the bean also determines if the maker mixed up different kinds of beans. Qualities like the size and shape can also help distinguish beans and the coffee quality

GoodTimes2: Cambodians are likely to franchise international coffee brands rather than setting up their own local brands. What can you say about it?

Pongsuk: I’ve seen that many of the coffee franchises don’t last very long. I advice people to check and do their research before engaging into serious business. For franchises, the income comes relatively faster. But the business may also degrade if the people behind it do not have clear information on their products. To make their own brand, more capital is required and the profit may not be as fast. However, people have full freedom to create their own taste and style according to how they perceive and understand their market. I think it’s better to make your own brand and be original to entice more customers.

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