His 'marriage' to coffee was arranged

His 'marriage' to coffee was arranged

You could say that coffee runs in Ryan Tan's veins.

After all, the 28-year-old owns three cafes and a coffee roastery, all opened over the last three years.

He is also the inaugural champion of the Cafe Asia Siphon Competition, as well as a three-time winner of both the Singapore National Barista and National Latte Art championships.

And now he has his eye on international glory: Mr Tan will represent the nation in the World Latte Art Championship in Melbourne this month, as well as September's World Siphonist Championship in Tokyo.

"I want to win," Mr Tan said of the Tokyo event. "I won't expect it, but I'm aiming to win because I think I've a good chance if I train hard enough."

Ironically, his introduction to coffee was more like the beginning of an "arranged marriage", rather than a "love marriage". For it was his parents who kick-started his journey.

In 2009, they wanted to open a cafe, so they sent him for a barista course while he was studying commerce at the University of Melbourne.

Fortunately, he fell in love with his "bride" and the rest, as they say, is history.

"When I went for the course and started drinking coffee, I really wanted to learn more. So I got myself immersed in Australia's coffee culture... I worked my way through 10 different cafes in the span of 21/2 years," he said.

What won him over was the taste of speciality coffee.

"When I learnt about speciality coffee, it... opened up a lot of different flavours and expectations of the beverage," said Mr Tan, who occasionally goes on origin trips to coffee farms overseas to source for his roastery's green coffee.

"All the different flavours and nuances you get from speciality coffee can be quite interesting," he added.

Other than representing Singapore on coffee's world stage, Mr Tan wants to raise the profile of baristas here.

The barista profession should be sustainable in the long run, he said, adding that "a lot of people find that you cannot survive on just being a barista because there's not enough money in it".

To that effect, Mr Tan, who has been engaged by major coffee chains to train their baristas and has even been a judge for competitions, opened a barista school in March on the premises above his Strangers' Reunion cafe in Kampong Bahru Road.

He has been holding one to two classes a month for the past two years, at a maximum of six people per class.

Even with his achievements in the coffee scene, Mr Tan is aware that his journey is still ongoing.

Referring to his beginnings in Melbourne, he said: "I was in the right place at the right time... Everyone around me was really passionate about coffee.

"So, when I immersed myself in that culture, I learnt a lot faster than most people... and in that way I had an advantage.

"It did shock me that I became so involved with coffee in such a short time.

"But I would say that anyone can do it, it's not something exceptional or special... it's just whether they want to learn, to immerse themselves and sacrifice things to spend time making coffee."

wslee@sph.com.sg


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