Mention Whisk Café and everyone thinks of freshly brewed delicious coffee and authentic home-made cakes. Having started at Empire Shopping Gallery in 2010, this café branched out to another outlet in 1Utama Shopping Centre in 2011 and now services a loyal crowd in both locations. Now, a café does not thrive unless its delicious concoction is prepared to perfection, and the coffee barista has a large role to play.
Whisk Café is fortunate that one of the café’s partners himself is a coffee barista. Syed Nor Azlan Syed Ahmad Khalid, or better known as Azlan, decided to go into the business with his sisters and their mother to open this community based café.
“Being a coffee barista was never on my agenda, I would say. Upon completing my secondary education, I headed off to the UK to pursue a degree in law. However, I realised that law was not my cup of tea. Nevertheless, I attempted to give it a shot but to no avail. Eventually, I came back home,” says Azlan.
Back home, he literally woke up and smelled the coffee one morning. He made his way to the kitchen and found his mother and sister busy baking. His sister had made some coffee using the family espresso machine. They made him try their creations and they were scrumptious.
“The whole idea for Whisk took off from there basically. My mother has always been baking and she was quite good at it. We talked about how everything tasted so good and about the lack of cafés in KL and the next thing we knew, the idea for Whisk was born. Once we went about with the preparations of setting up the café, I volunteered myself to be the coffee barista. I was quite intrigued by it, I guess. Even as a kid, I always wanted to try working at Starbucks. The idea of working in a café where you get to meet people from all walks of life appealed to me.”
Azlan got some training on how to prepare gourmet coffee from his second sister, Nora. His training basically was from trial and error. He also read a lot and did his research on the internet. He kept on practising as he realised he became better the more he practised.
Azlan’s typical day starts at about 1pm at the café. He is usually at the 1 Utama outlet. Besides being behind the coffee machine, Azlan takes care of operational issues as well. He looks into the quality of the coffee, other products as well as the quality of customer service provided by his employees. The cakes and pastries served at Whisk Café are all homemade and prepared by Azlan’s mother and sisters.
“There are a lot of things to be taken into consideration when it comes to preparing a good cup of coffee. It is not just about how you mix it. It starts with high quality beans. Using high quality beans makes a lot of difference when it comes to the final brew. Good beans ensure rich aroma, taste and flavour. After all, these are the aspects customers look for in a cup of coffee.”
Azlan is an expert when it comes to preparing lattes, espressos and cappuccinos, black coffee, coffee with milk, strong coffee and mild ones. He can even recommend customers on the types of coffee to try if they are not sure of what they want.
“While preparing the coffee, I always engage my customers in conversations by asking them about their well-being. I also ensure my workers serve with warmth and a smile on their faces. It is very important to connect with the customers and to create a friendly ambience in the café,” explains Azlan.
Whisk Café closes at about 10pm on weekdays and 10.30pm on weekends. After a long day, Azlan checks on the final cleaning up and other matters before leaving for home at about 11.30 pm.
When asked about the challenges, Azlan says that if one does not have a passion, then it will indeed be a challenge. Why? Coffee making is somewhat like a math equation. It is factual in terms of ingredients and the methods to brew it.
“It is quite technical and you will be doing the same thing day-in and day-out, so if you don’t like what you are doing, then it is going to be very stressful. I remember the first cup of espresso that I served to a customer. He had a sip and asked me if I had any qualification. I was appalled and upset. But I had to take things in stride as every customer is entitled to his or her own opinion. That was a memorable moment for me. I decided then that I was going to be one of the best coffee makers in town and started working on it through practice. So, if you do not have the passion for what you do, then you will not be able to handle the various obstacles that come your way.”
Azlan’s future plan for Whisk Café is very simple. For a person who takes meticulous care when it comes to quality, his main aim is to sustain the quality and atmosphere of Whisk Café. As a community based coffee house, Azlan wants to maintain the ambience of Whisk Café.
“We see a lot of eateries where the quality of their products diminishes once they open more outlets. I don’t want that to happen to Whisk Café. I am happy with the two outlets we have as long as our quality and atmosphere is always sustained and made even better.”
For those aspiring to venture into this line, Azlan says that it is not going to be easy. Azlan believes that this line of work requires much dedication, patience and perseverance. One should only do it if one has the passion and liking for it.
“Another thing is, you cannot be passionate about coffee if you are not passionate about people. If you don’t like people, then you won’t feel like making coffee for them.” Spoken like a true barista.
Follow Azlan’s day as a coffee barista by clicking on the video below: