January 19, 2016

Ned Kelly of the East

One of the new cafés opened over the past five years, as the focus on quality coffee continues in Malaysia, is The Good Golly Miss Molly café. This café has its hands full when it comes to customers. Located in Millennium Square, Jalan 14/1, Seksyen 14, 46100 Petaling Jaya, Selangor (that’s Kuala Lumpur to you), Malaysia.As usual, it’s the staff who make the place and like anywhere, good staff are hard to find. The stand out in this one, however, is the manager, head barista trainer, Amin Ghasem Zadeh.
I first met Amin in a latte art competition run by Gold Choice on the island of Penang. Amin was happily pouring away for the two days and showed a great command of his craft. While not placing in the top three in the highly contested finals, he landed a respectable fifth spot.
Amin brings his passion for coffee all the way from Iran. It’s not often that you meet Iranians around the place and of course, it’s always interesting to find out more about different cultures when it comes to coffee. So I asked him about some of his experiences to get an insight into the coffee culture there.
Born in the capital of Iran, Tehran, as a teenager he was always hopping from one café to another in search of the perfect coffee and the latest gossip. The history that is steeped in this country dates back to the 15th Century, when coffee moved through the Middle East before it found its way to Europe. There are stories of an Indian trader who took seeds back to India through Iran, and these coffee trees still grow today, while much of the Indonesian archipelago was seeded through the Dutch East Indies company.
Amin talks of the old historical café culture there – the cultural history of the world intertwined with the history of coffee in Iran.
“I have some fond memories of the ‘Ghahveh-Khaneh’, the traditional coffee houses in Tehran. The people would gather to exchange ideas or discuss the latest news. Not just a meeting place, but a place that played a substantial role in communities, and this tradition has been around for years and years.
“In the old part of the city, some of the cafés have been in operation for over a century and ironically, over the years they stopped serving coffee and mostly served tea. The recent coffee wave and movement is taking these historical spots back to their roots, and they are serving coffee again.”
Coffee is now the second most popular beverage in Iran after tea. There are cafés that date back more than half a century, but they mostly focus on the traditional style.
As for specialty coffee, there has been some noticeable movement within the past few years.  The industry is rapidly growing and some big names like Laila Ghambary (2014 US Barista Champion) are currently making an effort by going to Iran and training baristas there and promoting the coffee culture.
Moving to Malaysia in 2008 to study electrical engineering, Amin ended up pursuing his true passion, coffee.
Asking him for a cup of his favourite coffee, his quick reply is, “Hand brew?” It’s a treat for your taste buds, as he makes one of the best filter coffees in town. Perhaps his preference comes from a connection to the past hand brew methods used to brew coffee in the Middle East historically.
It is mesmerising to watch how elegantly he moves behind the bar, with precision in his craft. His latte art is also extremely well delivered. When asked the secret behind his hand brewed coffees, he explains, “I prefer to hand brew coffee using the V60 or Chemex methods, as I enjoy the challenge of obtaining the delicious flavours of the coffee and that small changes can give you a variety of tastes; this keeps me ever interested in brewing the next cup for the next customer.”
His philosophy on espresso shots is rather interesting too. A good espresso shot to him is not just defined by it being balanced through tastes: sweet, sour and bitter, but that it should hypnotise you with the first sip, engaging all senses.
His Ned Kelly looks, charming smile, penetrating blue eyes and easy going relaxed manner complement the café and have his customers coming back for more.
Ahmad, Amin’s brother, is also a professional head barista, and they worked together in developing Amin’s skills, training him personally and giving him the chance, early on in his career, to run one of the biggest cafés in Malaysia.
“I wish for our efforts and hard work to blossom throughout the globe and for people to appreciate coffee culture on a larger scale,” said Amin, when asked about his biggest dream. Opening a specialty café to train baristas and promote true coffee culture would be his career plans in the foreseeable future.
“I think it’s everyone’s dream to be able to give back to their mother land one way or another. It would be quite ideal if one day I were to open a café in Iran but if not, I will most definitely try to help the coffee industry in Iran in some form from my new home in Malaysia,” was his reply when asked if he intended to go back to Iran anytime.
Malaysia now has a large following within the specialty movement; it’s not uncommon to see the whole line up of the high spec machines and grinders adorning the countertops in the city as testament to how great their coffee is.
There are a number of high profile events run on a yearly basis in KL, like the CAFFA event (Coffee and Art Fringe Festival Asia) held this past September, where over 15,000 people attended – a little down on the previous year by half, but as it’s an outdoor event and the haze from the fires in Sumatra were blowing over at the time, it was still a good turn out.
There is also of course the WBC series of competitions now run on a yearly basis, with the formation of the Speciality Coffee Association of Malaysia holding the Latte Art Brewers Cup and Barista Competitions. These are usually being run at Café Asia, a yearly event on the coffee calendar in Malaysia.
As in Singapore, many of Malaysia’s new generation have studied in Australia and during their time in Oz took up our drinking habits. Upon returning to Malaysia, they found that the local roasted coffee did not quite cut the mustard anymore, so to speak.  It can still be hard for one to find a good flat white due to the irresistible urge to pour a five leaf tulip somehow overshadowing the need to provide what the customer actually requests. It’s probably more like a lack of understanding of what a flat white is. You can decide for yourself if that’s a good or a bad thing. Personally, I think its time to stop calling it a “Flat White” and just come out, move on and call it an “Australiano.”
Oh and by the way, Vegemite is still a struggle to find (unless you’re at Shangri La in KL) so make sure you pack some of your own.
So, if you get the travel urge and find yourself in Kuala Lumpur or on a stop over traveling further afield, look up Good Golly Miss Molly’s and say hi to Amin; you’ll be glad you did. There are be plenty of cafés in KL to keep the addiction under control, as always a quick web search will bring forth the directions.

Author: Ross Bright
Ross Bright has lived and worked in Singapore for the past 15 years, spending his time developing specialty coffee in South East Asia. He is Master Roaster at Spinelli Coffee in Singapore, an SCAE Certified Trainer (2012 to 2018) and National Co-coordinator for the SCAE Singapore Chapter.

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