Starting her career in specialty coffee in 2017, Miki discovered her strengths and passion towards coffee along the journey. As a Sensory Lead and Head of Quality at Sweet Blossom Coffee, she is the one who makes sure the quality of the coffee we serve to customers every day tastes good.
This year, Miki has kickstarted her journey as a judging panel in the Malaysia Coffee Championship, unlocking new achievements while contributing to the industry with her talent. In August, upon Sweet Blossom’s 8th anniversary, we had a casual small talk about her journey at Sweet Blossom Coffee as well as the upcoming plans of the company and herself.
Q: Can you briefly introduce yourself to our audience?
My name is Miki, and I have been working at SBCR for six years. I’m currently managing the finance and wholesale of Sweet Blossom, and also coffee quality control. One fun fact is that I don’t have any background in specialty coffee at all before joining Sweet Blossom.
Q: What is the first skill you pick up when joining SBCR?
After joining Sweet Blossom for a few years, Yee Siang told me he recruited me because of my sensory skills, even though he mentioned it in the first place to help him grow the business and on the marketing side (haha).
When I first joined, he would prepare 5-6 cups of different coffee every morning and ask questions about the coffee’s mouthfeel, aftertaste, and flavour. I wasn’t able to differentiate which characteristics are good and which are those that we would want to avoid (such as defects) when I first started this training. Only after 2 to 3 years did I learn from Yee Siang how to identify those characteristics from the descriptions I mentioned when drinking coffee.
Q: Why is it important to differentiate the good & the bad characteristics of a coffee?
For me, it’s about connecting the whole story of the coffee.
If I were the farmer, roaster, or barista, if I’m solely following a guide or recipe on how to plant a tree or how to brew coffee, I am just someone who carries out a task.
Upon the moment when I can differentiate the good and bad characteristics of coffee, I have the chance to know my area of improvement. Be it the green quality, processing, roasting or brewing. I can only tell which part has to be enhanced when I know how to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the coffee.
Q: Why is it essential for SBCR to deliver customers a good cup of coffee?
Everyone has different standards for coffee. As a barista, I have two main stakeholders to satisfy: my leader (Yee Siang) and my friends, who are also Sweet Blossom customers.
For Yee Siang, he would have the expectation in the coffee we deliver to the customers, ensuring they receive what they have paid for. To ensure we’re all on the same page, we will do espresso calibration every morning with Yee Siang and calibrate according to our taste experience.
For my friends and all Sweet Blossom customers, I want to make sure they feel happy for the rest of the day after having the cup of coffee I made.
Q: Do you find it challenging to do light roast coffee in Malaysia?
I would say yes 5 years ago, as very few people do light roast coffee in Malaysia.
Because of their taste differences and higher acidity, it might be hard to be accepted by Malaysians as we are used to traditionally roasted coffee, which has a heavier taste and bitterness.
Drinking coffee has a lot to do with your personal preference. Most coffee lovers know what kind of coffee they like in terms of taste. Even so, after working with coffee for five years, the coffee lovers I met can differentiate what’s good or bad in the coffee they drink despite their personal preferences. They appreciate the good part of it.
If you ask me now, rather than seeing it as a challenge, it is more important to stay focused on what we do and excel in it to deliver a complete coffee experience to customers.
Q: What does a ‘complete’ coffee experience mean to you?
A coffee that has been well-developed in a way that brings out all its goodness.
From a consumer perspective, we can first understand the coffee roasting profile. We’re not here to compare which type of roasting profile is better than the other but to appreciate the well-developed roasting.
We can get an excellent sweetness and tactile for a good dark roast profile, but if you do it wrongly, it will taste burnt.
Roasting is just a style. And each roasting style has its sweet spot that can only be achieved when you do it correctly.
Q: Why do you want to be part of the judging panel? What motivates you to explore that experience?
The initial reason is that I’m curious about what’s happening behind the scenes. I have always been a coach, helper or audience, and I want to know how different it is to be in the judge’s perspective while participating in the competition. I’m not enjoying myself as a competitor on stage, so it’s not the part I want to explore more in-depth.
Sensory is the biggest strength I believe I can contribute back to this industry, and by doing so, I can grow with the competitors.
I think the judge plays a crucial role in supporting the competitor's growth, and vice versa. Competitors need a judge who can provide constructive feedback to reflect on their performance to know what went well and what they can do better.
“It’s something I always wanted to explore a few years after I joined the coffee industry. It’s a field that I know my strength can contribute to, and I’m confident that I can perform well.”
Q: What is the future development path of Sweet Blossom Coffee?
I hope to see our branding be more stable so that people can know what we do and what we persist on in this coffee journey. Personally, I will continue to ride on my strength, which is my sensory skills, and contribute back to the coffee community by actively joining the competition as a judging panel.
Only we can have more space to grow hand in hand when the coffee community and market grow steadily. It’s all interconnected.
Q: Any appreciation you wish to tell Sweet Blossom friends?
I think our customers are very, very supportive and have high trust in what we do.
Although our beans are mostly seasonal, they won't doubt the coffee we serve. They are willing to try something new that others are not serving, like how we started serving single origin eight years ago.
Their trust is the fuel that energises us to keep going forward and growing.