One item on my Bucket List which I did not manage to tick off when I backpacked around the world in 2011 was to see Latin America. One of the reasons I reckon I’d like Latin America is the sheer variety of cocktails and coffees.

MojitoMy friend Shaan Moledina – who travelled in South America for a year – told me that the Caipirinha is the cocktail of Brazil, the Piña Colada is the national cocktail of Puerto Rico, the Margarita from Mexico, Pisco Sours are popular in Chile and Peru (both claim it as theirs!), and the Mojito from Cuba!

To me, they are just pretty names on an alcohol menu. I’ve never pondered their origins. But if you take the time to experience a place, to eat and drink with the locals, you start to appreciate that beverages listed on a cocktail menu have unique roots and characters.

Coffee is the same.

In my travels, I have fallen in love with Vietnamese drip coffee in Hanoi, the purest Italian espresso in a Venice cafe, and nos nos (espresso-sized milk coffee) at a roadside stop in Morocco. I have even crunched freshly roasted coffee beans with brown sugar in Central Java. Sometimes, I wish I can travel the world to sample the most authentic, rustic and exotic coffees.

Travel and coffee are to me intricately linked. I get moody when I have bad coffee on the road, and worse if the country serves no coffee – headaches, lethargy, grumpiness. My friends who travel with me know this about me. Coffee for Travel. Travel for Coffee.

People often ask me if I’m a coffee drinker, I tell them I’m a coffee addict.

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So when I turned up at a Starbucks media event yesterday at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS), I wasn’t overly excited that it was about a new coffee brewing machine until I realised it was a patented technology to draw out the ultimate flavour, layers, body and aroma of the world’s rarest and most exotic coffees.

Two types of limited-edition coffee beans had just been brought in to Singapore’s first Starbucks Reserve Store. Although I pride myself for knowing quite a bit about Starbucks Coffee (my colleagues used to tease me, saying I should buy SBUX shares), I had never heard of its Reserve Coffee programme till that morning.

Apparently, Reserve Stores serve ultra-premium and single-origin coffees, some so rare and limited in quantity that they may be featured only once. On average, they bring in about two new beans every 3 months, and these are available for a limited period only.

And because the Reserve Stores are so specialised, they are serviced only by Coffee Masters – you can recognise them by their black aprons.  Every single barista at the newly-opened Starbucks RWS store is a qualified Coffee Master.

Coffee Masters don black aprons: (L to R) Patty, Noor & Oyah.

Coffee Masters don black aprons: Patty, Noor & Oyah.

And so, I come to the Reserve Coffee beans in question…

P1040157The Guatemala Finca Los Cabillitos – I’m told – is the first crop from a small coffee farm owned by two brothers in the Western highlands of Guatemala. In 2005, Oscar and Christian Schaps bought 225 hectares of undeveloped land and started to plant Bourbon and Caturra coffee trees. The result of their care is a coffee crop with notes of sweet meyer lemon and bittersweet chocolate.

Interestingly, the label design reflects the local artwork of Guatemala. The name “Finca Los Caballitos” itself is literally translated as “Little Horses Farm” and pays homage to the rich Mayan history of the Chajul area.

But the question is: How do you best extract the essence of such special beans? To me, the method of extracting the coffee will play a huge part in serving a cup that’s bursting with its full and authentic flavour.

That’s where a patented Vacuum-Press technology called the Clover Brewing System comes into the picture. Apparently, this machine is the first of its kind in Singapore and the whole of Southeast Asia!

Patty Moody demo'ing the patented Clover Brewing System

Starbucks’ Clover Brewing System

Starbucks Singapore specially flew in Coffee Quality Specialist Patty Moody from Seattle to demo the Clover Brewing System. It’s actually a very smooth, fast and fascinating process. The coffee is brewed one cup at a time and takes, on average, 25 to 30 seconds to serve.

The patented Clover Brewing System

Patty Moody demo’ing the Clover Brewing System

Everything is automated, but wait… since each Reserve Coffee is unique, it requires a unique setting to bring out the best in the bean.

This depends on how much time the water is in contact with the coffee beans, at what temperature and pressure etc. Patty Moody – together with Leslie Woldford in Seattle – personally tested hundreds of combinations before settling on the best combinations. They then programmed these combinations into the Clover. Each Reserve Coffee thus has a unique setting on this machine!

I took a short video of how this cool contraption works. It uses a “vacuum press” technique to pull the water through the bed of coffee at a high rate to extract the coffee. The end result is a cup of coffee where the subtle nuances are heightened.

 

OK, I have to admit, what I love about it most is the cake of coffee grind at the end that pops up, and which Patty rakes away. How much more cool can it get? *LOL* And the best part, the machine then cleans itself! What a dream.

Other than brewing with a Clover machine, these Reserve Coffees can be brewed with two other methods: The Pour Over method and the French press.

The French press is pretty straightforward – I’ve been doing it for years – but I had little idea what the Pour Over method was all about. Most of us had no clue. So with the same Guatemala coffee beans, the Coffee Masters proceeded to demonstrate how the Pour Over method is done with a simple filter cone and drip cup.

RWS store manager Noor demo'ing the Pour Over method.

Starbucks RWS store manager Noor demo’ing the Pour Over method.

Ta-dah! Easy peasy!

Ta-dah! Easy peasy!

So you can buy a bag of Reserve Coffee beans (retail price for 250g whole beans starts at S$22) and brew a cuppa at home using this method or with your trusty French press.

Alternatively, you can order a barista-made cuppa in the store and enjoy it here. Prices vary depending on the method the coffee is brewed. For a tall cup of Starbucks Reserve Coffee brew, it’s S$5.30 using the Pour Over method, S$5.90 for French press, and S$6.30 using the Clover.

Yes, I'm paying attention at coffee class.

Yes, I’m paying attention at coffee class!

OK, let me tell you now about the second Reserve Coffee we tried. I was quite drawn to this one because of its back story.

Starbucks Burundi NgoziThis exotic coffee hails from Ngozi, the centre of the coffee belt in Burundi. I had no idea where Burundi was, but I found out it’s a small East-African country that borders one of the largest freshwater lakes (Lake Tanganyika) in the world.

What I love about this back story is that the Burundi Ngozi is grown on a farm owned by Marie-Chantel Ncahoruri, a female coffee trader in a male-dominated industry.  And she has built her family business on principles of paying farmers fairly and giving back to her community.

And since the owner of the farm is female – which is rare – the packaging of the Burundi Ngozi reflects this feminine touch. The artwork is actually derived from native fabric patterns and designs often seen in women’s clothing in the area!

We had the pleasure of not just tasting this specialty coffee from East Africa but also pairing it with a savoury dish specially created by Chef Yew Eng Tong of Ocean Restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa. The dish is named Gouda Cheese Cream with Salted Brioche, Pistachio Puree, Sour Cherry with Burundi Coffee Jelly & ‘Soil’

Specially created dish by Chef Yew to complement the Burundi Ngozi

Specially created dish by Chef Yew of Ocean Restaurant to complement the Burundi Ngozi coffee

We were asked to stop and smell the coffee first, then to take a noisy slurp that fills our entire palate. Next, we were instructed to scoop a spoonful of all the ingredients in this glass, so that we taste a bit of everything. Then savour the flavours before taking another slurp of Burundi Ngozi…

Gosh, how do I describe the experience?

I think Coffee Master Noor put it most succinctly in words. It’s like the amazing explosion of flavours – of cheese and salted brioche and sour cherries – suddenly separate into distinct layers. Now who says you can’t pair coffee with savoury food?

Oui, for a moment there, I felt like that little rat in the Ratatouille….

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Travel and Coffee. I guess if you can’t go to Guatemala or Burundi, the next best thing is to have Guatemala and Burundi come to you… in a coffee bean.

Talking about travel and coffee, I finally managed to pass an autographed copy of ‘Adventures of 2 Girls‘ (published by Marshall Cavendish) to Starbucks Singapore. It’s a book I wrote with my BFF Ning Cai (aka ‘Magic Babe’ Ning) when we took 9 months off our careers to travel the world.

Passing Ruth Yam from Starbucks Coffee a copy of A2G!

Passing Ruth Yam from Starbucks Singapore a copy of Adventures of 2 Girls!

Starbucks Singapore was really supportive of our venture and sponsored US$200 for our U.S. leg of the trip. It was a life-saver for me especially, because I am non-functional without coffee. And we all know how bad regular brewed coffee can be in America. Thanks, Ruth Yam!

And still on travel and coffee. Some of you know that I’m a closet collector of Starbucks mugs and tumblers from around the world. But I’d gladly trade those in for one of these. Gosh, I haven’t seen these Barista bears in a while!

These guys would be a lot easier to stuff into my backpack and bring home on my world travels, don’t you think?

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