Ng Ping Ho and Cheryl Marina Samad, a husband and wife team, also headliners of local entertainment scene.
Does Jalan Tun HS Lee reminds you of how bad the traffic could get after working hours? This area is perpetually jammed towards the end of Dataran Merdeka; where traffic build-up is also caused by double parked vehicles near St. John’s Cathedral and Telekom Museum. In the midst of all that, you’ll find these unassuming gems where LOKL and BackHome hostel are parked next to each other catering to the office crowd. LOKL (pronounced as local) came about in 2012 and has since been known as the new hidey-hole to unwind after work.
Usually, Cheryl does the interviews, however, that didn’t make it any less nervous for me (but excited the same time) when I sat down with Ping, the award winning film director, producer and screenwriter for Kopitiam and corporate reality TV series such as The Firm, just to name a few. With a cup of warm roasted Kopi Susu, we talked for a while and learnt a bit more on LOKL.
The whole business idea came about because he was already running BackHome hostel and had previously rented LOKL’s space to a Yong Tau Foo eatery which was popular among the working crowd in the vicinity. When the lease period was over, he thought, why not make use of the space to start a café as that was always something he had dreamt to do.
According to Ping, he chose this location due to the heritage of the area, where they also have a lot of good local food here but believed there wasn’t enough comfortable places to hangout and chat after work.
“When we started, it took a while before people warmed up to the idea. And, people looked at the menu and responded “What? You don’t serve rice here?” and walked straight out. We went through weeks like that. Eventually, the business slowly picked up,” the charming owner shares.
Get a boost of caffeine – Asian vs Western Coffee
Speaking of which, LOKL serves a variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts and both local and Western coffee. Although not a coffee expert, Ping shares his insight on the difference between Asian and Western coffee. The café owner explains that Western coffee is made up commonly of Arabica beans where it has more flavour but less caffeine. He also cites that western beans come from a cooler climate, the way of storing the beans has got to be precise and stored in a certain temperature, he adds.
“With local coffee, Robusta beans are frequently used, they are high in caffeine content but less in flavour.” Adding that, it doesn’t get any easier either for Asian beans.
“For instance, for the medium roast beans, you have between one week since its roasting to a month to serve it. If you don’t sell it within that period, a lot of things can go wrong as the taste changes every week. And, if you’re running a café and trying to keep the consistency in the flavour, it’s a lot harder to sustain them,” he shares.
Back in the old days, the secret to roasting the local Asian coffee was to add a touch of margarine for a richer buttery taste while frying them in a wok. Local coffee usually comes off extremely black as there’s not enough flavour as it is strong and that explains why one is always adding sugar and milk into it.
“Most people think going for espresso is going to help them stay awake but that’s not true because local coffee has a higher caffeine dose which actually gives you the actual kick.”
What truly determines both Asian and Western coffee is the essence and indulgence of sipping that first hot coffee. But careful, the right temperature determines the flavour. Any higher, it will burn the flavour and…. tongue.
“The best way to drink western coffee is to enjoy it without sugar, in that way, you can taste the originality of the flavour,” Ping shares. In the same manner, Ping shares how Europeans like their coffee to have a deeper nutty flavour and slight bitterness in taste. Whereas, Malaysians prefer the depth and strength of the coffee and giving them a lighter one makes them unhappy. However, when someone says ‘strong’, it just means they like a little bit of bitterness but bitter doesn’t necessarily mean it’s strong. And, that explains why local coffee is very dark.
There is no doubt that there are certain attributes that makes a cup of coffee good, where the barista is able to maintain the consistency day in day out. More than that though, there is the necessity to keep the relationship healthy between the supplier and the coffee owner. This is where continuous learning and training “exist” for the growth of staff members and business altogether, that makes the coffee all the more enjoyable to drink.
At the end of the day, what truly matters is being able to taste the different types of coffee, just like wine, says Ping. For the film director, now a café owner, enjoys his cuppa in the morning with the Roti Bakar “because, it’s simple things like these that brings so much of happiness and stays with you throughout the day.” ◆
Everyone is a coffee expert these days, everyone seems to have an opinion about it. But, people shouldn’t take coffee so seriously and instead, just enjoy it because coffee is different for everyone.