Based in Singapore, Dianyi Wong is a permanent fixture on the specialty coffee scene in town. Until recently, he was guiding things at cycling-themed Crank n‘ Chain before moving to set up a new cafe. In this interview, Dianyi breaks down his trajectory in coffee and suggests some ways of thinking about coffee in Singapore.
When did you start your career in coffee and how did you come across the industry?
I first came across the coffee industry when I was working in marketing three years ago. Back then it was a real struggle to get up and head to the office daily knowing that a 9-5 wasn’t something I enjoyed.
It was really a spur-of-the-moment decision to take up a part-time job at Starbucks in an attempt to escape the monotonous office culture.
Undoubtedly, I was met with a little incredulity from my wife back then as my first-born daughter was just three months old at the time and it was a challenge financially to keep the household running. Yet she was supportive in my search for a career that would bring me more fulfillment, and looking back, I am incredibly grateful for that.
My time in Starbucks taught me a lot, and full credit to them for providing a very structured training program which makes the learning curve very much less steep than expected, which allowed me to achieve my “Store Coffee Master” certification by the end of my fourth month, and my “Advanced Coffee Master” certification by within six months.
Since then, I have moved around the industry, learning from different cafes and trainers, elevating my own passion and ability. Of course, it has not been smooth-sailing all the time, having worked for an incredibly horrible boss in particular at some point, but I can safely say that the majority of people within the industry are very welcoming, helpful, and generous with their knowledge.
What's the status of specialty coffee in Singapore?
Back in April 2017, Starbucks made a huge move by opening their first Reserve Bar in Singapore. This was in the midst of increasing interest in third-wave coffee around the world, and the Reserve Bar only served to spread the interest from a group of aficionados to the general public, and the past couple of years we have seen a surging of interest in specialty coffee. With this growing interest and understanding of specialty coffee and a stable economy, specialty cafes have been springing up at an almost alarming rate, which only serves to encourage more people to explore and embrace specialty coffee, and the cycle goes on.
What types of people are suited to working in the industry?
Having met and worked with so many different people with such a diverse range of personalities and characters, I find it hard to determine a specific “type” suited to the coffee industry. However, there are a few traits that I have found to be both easier to work with and to train.
I would think that first and foremost, the most important trait would be “friendliness”. Being a customer-facing job is an inescapable truth when choosing a career with coffee and friendliness plays a huge part in making a difference between a customer and a regular.
Some other traits include willingness to learn, being humble, striving for constant improvement, and a calm disposition.
If someone is new to coffee and looking to start out, what would you recommend they start with?
It really depends. If someone wants to start out in coffee as a career, I would recommend starting at Starbucks. Despite whatever prejudices people have towards them, they do provide very structured basic training. From then on, there will be many things to learn from various specialty cafes.
If a career in coffee is not the goal, but to be a home-based barista, it would be wise to start off with simpler machines like the Breville/Sage range. Or if the interest is with hand-brewed coffees, then start off with a French Press or a V60. There is a wide range of books and videos that would aid in grasping the basics and one of the best books for beginners to start out with coffee at home is certainly “The World Atlas Of Coffee” by James Hoffmann. Mr. Hoffmann is very well-regarded in the coffee industry and also has a wide range of videos on his YouTube page.
Are there some central blog posts or websites that you go to gain more knowledge, develop further skills?
One of my favourite pages to visit for further learning, Perfect Daily Grind. Their blog is full of information, publishing new articles regularly with interviews and opinion pieces done collaboratively with industry professionals.
What's next for your career? What's on the horizon and what goals do you have for the coming three years?
As of July 2021, I have just begun a position as a Front-of-House manager in a new café/. It has already been a huge learning opportunity in terms of the actual setting up of the café space, liaising with suppliers and planning the entire operation. Thankfully, I do have a very capable team that has been integral in every part of the process so far. Over the next three years, it will be my goal to help the company expand this café and hopefully expand to a few more outlets.
Find Dianyi on Instagram at @pointonebarista to learn about the new venue and location.