Despite being pitted against professional, full-time baristas, coffee connoisseur Lee Hee Wei was crowned second runner-up at the 2013 Singapore National Barista Championships.
“An ideal cup of coffee should taste good either by itself or with steamed milk; it should have a balanced taste,” says coffee connoisseur Lee Hee Wei, who placed third at the 2013 Singapore National Barista Championships.
The win is no small feat for the 31-year-old, whose only experience is running an ongoing mobile coffee business. He was up against professional, full-time baristas in the competition held in March.
The SNBC is an annual event during which Singapore’s top baristas come together to showcase their talents and compete for the coveted title of National Champion and the opportunity to represent Singapore in the 14th Annual World Barista Championship to be held in Melbourne, Australia in June.
As second runner-up, Lee was awarded with a medal, a trophy and sponsored gifts. “The other contestants called me the ‘home barista’ as compared to them, who were professionals, full-time baristas,” he laughs.
Lee’s love for coffee started with his love for the humble kopi served at traditional coffee shops. Slowly, he developed an appreciation for specialty coffee. “I feel that ice-blended coffees are like cocktails which cater to the tastes of the masses, whereas specialty coffee made from scratch tend to have a more complex, layered taste,” explains Lee.
An engineer by profession, his interest and love for coffee further fuelled him to buy coffee brewing equipment in 2011, which he used at home. After attending a coffee brewing course which taught him the basics of using the equipment, he started experimenting with coffee beans from different regions.
He also learned from other enthusiasts and gourmet coffee shop owners, who generously shared their knowledge with him.
In December 2011, Lee started Ollacoffee with his wife, Eve Lin, providing mobile coffee services at events such as weddings and seminars. He then decided to test his barista skills by participating in the 2012 SNBC but was unplaced.
Undeterred, he tried again in March this year, rising to the challenge of making four cups of espressos, four cups of cappuccinos and finally, four “signature” drinks of his own concoction—all within 15 minutes.
His winning blend was a mixture of cherry juice, liquorice and expresso. “The inspiration for the concoction came about by bringing back all the flavors tasted in my espresso, including the acidity of stone fruits like cherries, and a liquorice sweet finish, inspired by Irish Coffee,” explains Lee.
On his plans for the future in the coffee industry, Lee has this to say, “My short-term plan is to learn more about coffee and source for better coffee for my customers. I do plan to participate again but that will be in 2014.”
The win has also helped score points for Ollacoffee. “I see a good future in our mobile coffee cart business as people are becoming more aware of the coffee they drink through the explosion of indie cafes and the media highlights these coffee hideout places,” he concludes.
Check out Ollacoffee’s website at www.ollacoffee.com for a list of recommended specialty coffee places.