Article by Monik Yong, with photos by Eric Sng
Before Scong – better known as Ong Shi Chun outside the coffee industry – heads off to represent Singapore in the World Coffee in Good Spirits 2019 in Berlin this week, we caught up with him and got him to share his coffee journey with us.
For those not in the know, the Coffee in Good Spirits Championship offers talented baristas and bartenders a platform to showcase their skills: competitors prepare and serve coffee cocktails to taste judges, while other judges evaluate their meticulous prep work behind the bar. It takes creativity, hard work and a remarkable knowledge of both alcohol and coffee to do well here - and Scong serves these up in pitchers.
As we interview Scong on his coffee journey, he takes us down the memory lane of how he chanced upon specialty coffee and the turning point in his life, when he decided to make coffee his lifestyle and career.
How did you start your coffee journey?
“It was during the last semester of school and I was sending out job applications, waiting for replies. I stumbled upon specialty coffee by working at a small, quaint and cozy coffee house. It was then that I got the chance to experiment with specialty coffee.”
Have you been doing coffee full time since?
“I got a job at the corporate sector being a project manager in an IT firm. And I was still doing coffee part time – during the weekends I’d pull shifts at the same coffeehouse.
Sometimes, I’d bring my clients over to the coffeehouse and make coffee for them.”
What made you choose to do coffee full time?
“I have always loved the community that comes with making coffee. I enjoyed being a part of the lives of many who appreciate and shared the joy of specialty coffee. I enjoyed the personal interactions I get with those who I’ve come across in coffee making – whether it is customers or other baristas.”
How was the transition from the corporate world to doing coffee full time?
“There was almost more than half of a pay cut but I loved what I did and went ahead. It was kind of a quarter-lifer crisis.”
What else are you passionate about?
“Music- I play the trumpet, Coffee and Alcohol.
When my schedule isn’t packed, and I could slot a few gigs in, I play the trumpet in gigs.”
How did you dive into doing spirits?
“I love drinking - cocktails especially. I was also intrigued with the way bartenders look. They always look like they are working some magic behind the bar, and I always wanted to find out how why they do what they do – how do they think, especially when it comes to making bespoke or new cocktails. And alcohol, it always wins.”
What made you decided to pair coffee and spirits together?
“I love coffee and I love alcohol. It was natural for me to dive into both and pair them together. I guess specialty coffee and craft cocktails are similar in the way of its flavors, as well as interactions with the guests. Pairing both specialty coffee and spirits together is like having a product which is crafted through adding different ingredients together to create a synergistically different product.”
What got you to participate in the Coffee In Good Spirits Championship?
“When they had their first competition in Singapore, I really wanted to join but I was late to submit my application. So when they had it the second and third time, I told myself I need to participate in it. It is through training for the competition that I get to understand coffee and spirits on a deeper level.”
The late-night trainings and years of experience paid off, as Scong earned the third-place title in the Singapore Coffee in Good Spirits Competition in 2018 and was crowned its champion in 2019. As Scong heads to Berlin to represent Singapore in this year’s World Coffee in Good Spirits, we wish him all the best!