[编辑 Editor 吕大人 英译 Translator 刘大人 摄影 Photographer 刘大人 资料 Sub-editor 郑大人]
A number of bistros and cafes have come and go in quick succession; others have managed to comfortably survive many years in the industry while staying true to their founding principles. So what distinguish the latter from the former?
在精品咖啡文化尚未大肆进军新山市场前，一杯动辄十余令吉的咖啡对新山人来说绝对是天价。随着美式咖啡连锁店开始在各大商场中设点，精品咖啡与「生活品味」在这个城市才渐渐有了交集。从咖啡乌、咖啡稀到黑咖啡、卡布奇诺、拿铁，每种事物有了选择权之后，接下来无可避免地就进入了「大量进场 － 淘汰 － 去芜存菁」的过程。
Malaysian’s coffee habits have long followed overseas trends, but there is a small segment of passionate café owners in Johor Bahru keen to evolve their own distinct culture. All of a sudden, we went from RM1 coffee to RM10 coffee and in the past few years, the local coffee industry has been generating waves of interest among the general public, to the extent that many have come and go, citing soaring rents and food costs, alongside labour shortages and stiff competition proving to be a tough wake-up call.
这回在密探的秘密安排下能与享誉全球华人圈的咖啡大师林东源面对面，实属荣幸。大人自问对咖啡似懂啡懂，却对老师的 GaBee 经营理念大感兴趣。采访前看见正在 Carffee Coffee Bar 授课的林东源老师，果真仪表啡凡啊～ 面对学生们的提问总是耐心地解答，大人心想今天无论如何得为新山即将开业或面对经营困惑的独立咖啡馆经营者们挖一挖「开店与经营的生存之道」的宝了。到底老师这些年来是如何将独立咖啡馆的经营，发展为拥有无限可能的跨领域创意与培训事业呢？
Thanks to an unlikely and special invitation by one of our MAGent and avid Reader, we finally got the chance to get up close and personal with Van Lin, a well-decorated barista and founder of GaBee cafe, who’s in town for a workshop at Carffee Coffee Bar. Coming face to face with a group of aspiring cafe operators and coffee lovers, Lin demonstrated patience and passion as he handled the final few questions from the floor, before presenting the participants with their respective certificates. Team MAGistrate wasted no time in catching up with Lin on his “grande” ambition, and the positive energy, hard work, and determination it took to continue to serve up successes.
Cafe Culture in Johor Bahru
据林东源老师说，相较曾到过的吉隆坡，其实新山人的口味出乎意料的讲究。数年前在Carffee办活动时，就有来自全马各地如马六甲、吉隆坡、槟城、甚至邻国新加坡咖啡业者的踊跃出席，让老师印象深刻至今，「因为我们在台湾办活动时，台北场次可能就只会有台北的业者前来，但是在这里，却能吸引全马的业者。」这现象也意味着这市场对于咖啡业的专业知识、想法与分享的匮乏及渴望。当然，这也就是当初 Cynthia (Carffee Coffee Bar 老板) 邀请林东源老师在新山办一些相关课程与分享会的主因。
According to Lin, the “first wave” (in the Taiwanese, as well as the Malaysian context) would be the local coffee in kopitiams which our grandparents frequented and often take pride in their black, bitter concoctions in the early 80’s. Coffee became very social in the “second wave” (late 90’s), commercialised by the likes of Starbucks and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Suddenly chatter was beginning to buzz around espresso, latte, ice-blended mochas and frothy frappuccinos in disposable cups over free WiFi. Fast forward a decade or two, people are now purchasing single-origin brews without sugar, milk, flavoured syrups or whipped cream during the “third wave”, where we begin to see a lot of these independent roasters starting to challenge the big Starbucks companies. You’ll notice on their websites a renewed emphasis on education, and you can even take part in workshops and learn more about the coffee industry. AND we’re coming to a fourth wave that may be all about leveraging on the Internet, but it’s still being defined.
Much to Lin’s surprise, JB’s taste for their beans is surprisingly more discerning than their counterparts in Kuala Lumpur. His past visits and workshops conducted in JB were always a full house with participants from all over the country (KL, Melaka, Penang and etc.) and even neighbouring Singapore, compared to Taiwan who tends only to attract the local crowd. To Lin, the signs were encouraging and bode well for the local coffee scenes, which is probably main driving force behind his repeated visits, thanks to Cynthia.
An environmental engineer by training, a chanced encounter during internship and fantasy on Lin’s part changed his course for good. Always enjoying a speciality brew and marvelling at the coolness and composure of the baristas before him, Lin wasted no time in reading up and tried his hand on learning the trade, and the rest were history. The fresh aroma and relaxing atmosphere at the local cafes made Lin felt completely at home, so much so that he made one of the coffee bars (courtesy of a college junior) his second home. The transformative journey proved more than rewarding as Lin began his career switch from caring for the environment to engineering the taste of your favourite comfort drink which spans a good two decades.
The recipe for success
林东源老师为 GaBee 的经营制定了每五年为一个阶段，第一阶段做的是专业累积。老师至今回想起来还是深感幸运，因为当初在2004年11月1日创立 GaBee 后隔一个月，台湾就举办了第一届的咖啡大师比赛，老师凭借着之前所累积的七年实力而夺冠后，媒体的争相报道一夜间提高了GaBee 的知名度也让生意颇有声色，这着实让老师意识到比赛的作用性，所以 GaBee 一直参赛至第五届。五连冠及两座亚军的华丽成绩单让 GaBee 开始受到咖啡产业中整个华人圈的关注。2005年后，老师开始国外示演、授课、出书，开始当起评审、分享及体系建构。「透过一系列的跨界合作能涉足不同领域，不单是咖啡产业，连一般的消费者也能对你越来越熟悉。」
GaBee (which means coffee in Taiwanese) is Lin’s brainchild which opened on 1 November 2004, and a month later he won the Taiwan Latte Art Championship. In the span of five years, Lin has collected a total of seven awards and placed 14th in the World Barista Championship. Lin’s signature coffee at Gabee is Caffé Batata, a crafty drink using an unlikely mix of espresso over blended Taiwanese sweet potato – a creation that helped Lin emerged victorious in the Taiwan Barista Championship.
第二阶段做的是跨界合作，让咖啡跟不同产业做结合与推广。于是，GaBee 就协助五月天主唱阿信的服饰品牌 StayReal 合作开了 StayReal Cafe by GaBee, 并分别在台北、台中、上海、杭州和广州展店。「想像如果五月天的粉丝原本可能不喝咖啡，却因为五月天而有机会接触关于咖啡的资讯，我觉得跨界合作是很棒的推广。像我今天穿的 T-shirt，是台湾品牌用咖啡渣做成纱线后制成布料，目前已拿到全球专利，Gabee 与他们就合作做了制服。」今年初，老师还担任了 LG 手机的电视广告代言人，透过多元媒体传递间接让更多人认识 GaBee。
Riding on the “third wave” and his recent recognition and success in various competition at home and abroad, Lin took the unusual path of crossover projects in a bid to stay relevant, while creating more awareness to appreciate the finer details of his brews and beans, culminating in the creation of StayReal Cafe by GaBee – A quiet revolution in collaboration with Ashin, lead singer of the ever-popular Taiwanese pop band sensation, dedicated to the cult of caffeine (and Mayday) and now brewing in Taipei, Taichung, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Another case in point is the tee which Lin spot today and on many other occasions. Unlike Mark Zuckerberg’s daily bland outfit every day, Lin has a legitimate reason for donning this plain black GaBee “uniform” is actually made from the remains of grounded coffee which are now patented. Earlier this year, Lin also served as a spokesman for LG’s Mobile commercials and thereby reaching out to a wider TV audience who can now connect to the GaBee brand story too.
第三阶段是成立培训机构协助推广咖啡产业的普及化。「去年我们在上海成立了培训中心与公司，也开始到更多国家协助学生做推广咖啡的工作。」老师透露 GaBee 在经过十年的建构品牌基础后，为了让咖啡事业能稳定发展而为其提供了坚强后盾。
In anticipation of the “fourth wave”, Lin is devoted to changing lives through coffee – just as how coffee has made a great impact to his. With the establishment of a training academy in Shanghai, Lin aspires to offer world class coffee education, certification and learning-for-life programmes that can enrich the body, mind and soul.
第四个阶段则是要将 GaBee 打造成一个永续经营的系统。这个系统中扮演最重要角色的就是试验单位。林东源老师分析「咖啡调饮其实很科学，需要很多数据与试验来累积，但是实验室却是非常耗资的地方，所以很希望未来我们会有这个单位。GaBee的廿年会把永续经营的系统完成，这也是我还在努力的事情。」据大人所知，GaBee 在台湾无分店，只专营一家店，在这圈子里确实少见。「GaBee 很清楚自己要做的是产业普及化，主要发展方向是跨界合作，这也区分了自己的品牌与他人的不同。」
Setting up a coffee lab would be the “creme de la creme” of any roaster’s business, where Lin can enjoy the sensory side of his operations. While validating and reinforcing quality claims, Lin also hopes to experiment with grind analysis, brewing techniques, roast level and blending and to train his staff in these areas and more. After all, sustainability is the order of the day to drive business continuity, a notion that Lin holds very close to his heart. Any attempt to go from clueless to connoisseur requires a systematic approach to explain the art and science that goes into great blending and roasting. From what we understand, GaBee is focused on remaining “single” and independent so as to channel all its resources and knowledge to develop the brand and grow the coffee industry as a whole, without going the conventional route of aggressive expansion or franchising. Clearly, Lin is a man on his own and has clearly charted his path for the next decade to ride the waves and take GaBee to even greater heights!
Imitation is NOT the sincerest form of flattery, be a voice, not an echo – Van Lin
Running a cafe business is not only about making a great cup of coffee
Coffee is serious business, and being a barista is a career choice, not a part-time job. This observation during the early days is what prompted Lin to bide his time (seven years to be exact) to learn the trade before finally opening his first store in 2004. Besides honing his skills as a barista, roaster and even waiter, Lin was also brushing up his knowledge on business and management, as well as incorporating his newfound expertise in culinary, confectionary and cocktail into his speciality creations.
On a more serious note, Lin noted that a small number of cafe operators are still under the illusion that great coffee is everything. As a barista and purveyor of good taste, it’s critical for baristas to play the role of understanding the taste of their guests and customers, not the other way round. After all, a complete cafe experience should be one that’s contentedly caffeinated and more conducive, isn’t it? Taste being subjective, Lin will always check and ensure his customers’ coffee preference were met with the right alkalinity or acidity, body and flavour before recommending the appropriate blend or origin.
The notion of quick coffee has become so widespread today that often, people forget to stop and appreciate the unique qualities that are in a true, handcrafted brew. One word of advice from Lin: When you’re in line at your favourite cafe, take the time to learn and ask questions about what’s in your cup, your ideal brew may be waiting just around the corner. Likewise for cafe owners, explain that your cafe has a certain way of creating and presenting drinks, your customers could be your cafe’s best friends in the long run.
Not everyone can be a Starbucks, or become one in order to succeed. Look deeper into your objectives, and how you can better connect and resonate with your target audience through your beans. – Van Lin
On a lighter note, Lin still has a soft spot for theatres and films, and might have been an actor outside of the world of GaBee. Regardless of his career choice, Lin is adamant that we should never let the noise of others’ opinions drown our own inner voice, stay true to ourselves, trust our heart, and success will follow.
Our conversation may be brief, but the time spent with Lin is worthy of a Masterclass in Entrepreneurship and Business Management on its own. Our appreciation also goes to Cynthia for making this happen, and we look forward to more “lim kopi” sessions in the near future, hopefully at GaBee the next time around!