In celebration of International Women's Day, we speak to Melody, Vivian and Taki. They all share an unwavering love for coffee, and what else? Did you also know that they are all baristas? Not currently for two of them but hey, once a barista, always a barista! And, like most of us, their first impression of coffee was ... well, read on to find out.
They share with us what made them obsess over this seemingly unflattering brown liquid, what made them put their heart and soul into this industry, the changes they witnessed and the fun stuff they do with their coffee other than drink it to stay caffeinated.
Meet the women of PPP Coffee.
When not pulling shots and making latte art, you may find her shopping around town or in one of the new cafés sipping on her favourite iced long black that, for a change, was served to her.
Vivian, Graphic Designer.
When not churning out artwork, she indulges herself with an episode or 10 of her favourite anime. She also enjoys a game or a full night of Mahjong, so if you're missing a player, you know who you can call.
Taki, Head of Operations
When not planning or making sure everything front-end and back-end goes smoothly, you may catch her playing some sort of sport somewhere in Singapore. We also heard she is also capable of whipping up a full table of Cantonese food.
Tell us a little bit about yourself: what you do at PPP Coffee and your life outside work.
M: I'm a barista here at PPP Coffee. I was previously a beauty consultant before I started my internship here, and eventually converting full-time. When not at work, I enjoy looking for new cafés to spend my time in and have my coffee served to me for a change.
V: I started out as a Barista, got promoted to Assistant Manager, and then I took a leap to become a Graphic Designer. While the roles hold different expectations and requirements, the constant is the company: PPP Coffee. Outside work, I prefer staying indoors. I catch up or look for new anime to watch, or gather a few friends for a few games of Mahjong.
T: I'm the Head of Operations at PPP Coffee. I work closely with our operations team to ensure that all who comes to PPP Coffee experiences the best. When not working, I'm a very active person. For the past few years, I've been obsessing over obstacle course races. I also enjoy cooking. I suppose hospitality is in my blood. My happy pill is when I see people enjoy and finish the food I cook.
M: Iced long black.
V: I second that! Iced long black too!
T: I enjoy a hot latte. Piccolo to be exact. More coffee any time.
What was your first impression of coffee?
M: Too bitter, too intense, no dimension whatsoever.
V: The local Kopi-O-Kosong - dark and heavy.
T: Smells heavenly. The aroma was what drew me in even before I tasted it. I remember walking pass a vintage coffee shop in Hong Kong once and was immediately drawn in by smell of coffee. Interestingly, my first thought was not to get a cup, but instead I thought how nice would it be working inside. And I did. That's how my journey began.
Did you like coffee instantaneously?
M: Not really. It was only until I got began understanding coffee and its different variations that I started liking it. Now, I cannot go a day without it.
V: Instead of taste, what made me like coffee was latte art. I was taught the creation of latte art by an ex-manager. As I practiced using only water and my imagination, I was intrigued by the movements in the cup. I never thought I could find joy in creating a work of art with just water, let alone with milk.
T: While I loved the aroma, it took me a good three months before actually trying. Before that, the only brown liquid I drank was chocolate.
Predominantly an industry dominated by men, the coffee industry has witnessed changes. How do you feel about being part of it? Tell us more on your journey from how you started out to now.
M: I started out as an intern at PPP Coffee, and the initial goal was just to complete it well to get a good grade and graduate with my ideal GPA. But I guess I found my calling with coffee. After my internship, I signed on as a full-time barista and it has been more than a year since then.
Before working in a café, I've always been a patron to cafés. Over the years, I've seen changes and I can say I'm very proud as a woman in the coffee industry in this era. I've witnessed more women opening up their own cafes and also joining and winning coffee competitions. I'm working towards competitions too but I would need more practice in order to do so. That's my current plan for the next five years or so.
V: I started working in a café right after graduation with the initial thought of only earning some extra allowance. However, as I spend more time with coffee, I found myself so fascinated I even started reading a book called 'The Professional Barista's Handbook' in hopes to improve my skills. After more than a year of being a trainee in my hometown, I made a brave decision to venture out of my comfort zone by coming to Singapore where I started at PPP Coffee. It was difficult at first as my dad was still upset with me not discussing my decision with him, but all is good now.
I learnt so much at PPP Coffee, from becoming a better barista to management skills, and currently, graphic design. A lot questioned my decision to become a graphic designer. They see it as 'giving up' what I built to start from ground zero again. But I see it as another opportunity to learn. I've already taken the biggest leap by moving to another country to pursue my career, what would beat that? So here am I now, learning and contributing at the same time. I would say I have the best of both worlds, being able to marry coffee and art.
T: In my 20 years of work life, I've worked in different cafés - chains and small businesses. I've also briefly worked in a bank just to see if I would prefer the corporate life. I guess I got my answer.
Back then, be it the industry, men always held the leading role, while women held right-hand roles to them. As the years passed, I observed that women are beginning to step into more forward-facing or authoritative roles. I too am one of them. I started as a barista and eventually moved into management, however that did not come without effort.
As the job shifted from front-end to back-end, apart from customers' satisfaction, I now also have the whole team's morale to care for. It is a responsibility that I willingly took up and will continue to work towards better results.
Any advice for those wanting to do what you do?
M: Just go for it, and when in doubt, always ask. There's nothing to be afraid of.
V: As long as it makes you happy, do it, whatever pleases you.
T: Job titles doesn't automatically come with years of work, but with experience and interest. If you are looking to move into management, be willing to work for it. Learn from everyone and anyone. Set goals and try to see the challenges that come your way as motivation, not obstacles. Most importantly, while you make a name for yourself, don't forget to show care and concern to the people around you. It is them who will be your support in times of need.
To your younger self, what would you tell her?
M: Don't wait too long to get to know coffee. It may be bitter and intense, but there's a world of possibilities within that cup. Get to know it, the sooner the better.
V: Step out of your comfort zone. Go explore. Venture overseas. But don't make the same mistake as I did. Discuss it with the family first.
T: Fear is temporary, don't let it hold you back. At times you may get hurt by the comments of those around you, but only you know your worth. Try not to get too affected but at the same time, know to stay humble.
Any coffee recipes, experiments, tips or hacks to share?
M: Want Iced Long Black without the hassle? Make a cold brew with your favourite coffee and water. I use the Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffee Pot, but really, you can just use any bottle that is big enough. Pour in your coffee grounds, add room temperature water and let it steep overnight. The next day, strain it and you can have iced long black all day.
V: A fun thing to do with coffee is to try it at different temperatures. You'll be surprised how your favourite coffee can smell and taste different as it cools down.
T: Taste-test! Brew two different coffee and try it side by side, with milk and without.
Last but not least, share your home setup ideal and in reality.
M: In reality, I brew with V60 at home. I also have a Nespresso which I use on lazy days. My ideal home setup would be to have an espresso machine complete with personalised cups and pitcher. The Breville Barista Pro is something I've been thinking of getting as it is an all-in-one grinder and espresso machine. Good for small spaces. I'll also love to have a Technivorm Moccamaster for the real fuss-free experience. I can literally just grab coffee and start my day.
V: I don't have a setup at home because of space constraint. However, once I'm able to free up some counter space, I'll want a V60, for therapeutic morning brewing, and the Clever Dripper, for when I want coffee but don't have the luxury of time to watch it brew, hence I can just let it steep while I do my stuff and come back once it is done. It can also double up as a tea steeper. How versatile!
Both drippers are simple gears that gives us abundant ways of brewing. Most importantly, they clean easily. But if you're looking for a device that brews a constant clean cup, I'll say go for the Chemex instead.
T: My current home setup is pretty much already ideal when it comes to filter coffee. But if given a choice, I'll love to own a La Marzocco GS3 or Rocket Appartamento Serie Nera. I also hope it comes with an in-house barista so he or she can make my coffee and clean up after that. I'm just kidding!