Emery School of Coffee, a M’sian startup for coffee training courses

Starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato has always been my go-to drink whenever I pay a visit to the coffeehouse. I first discovered it when one of my friends ordered it, and I absolutely loved how good it looked and more so how it tasted. 

Cadence Sim, founder of Emery School of Coffee (ESC) apparently has the same preference as me. 

“It was love at first sight. I enjoyed the complex nuances of bitterness from the coffee, and the sweet gooey caramel and warm milk,” reminisced Cadence. 

Little did she know then that she would soon learn the trick and trade of Starbucks coffee. Prior to founding ESC, she had been on a coffee journey around the world, starting with Starbucks as a barista. 

A barista working at Starbucks will be given a coffee passport which explains the different types of beans carried and offered by the brand. 

“I learnt a lot about operation and customer service skills at Starbucks. However, it had limited avenues and opportunities for me to learn more about coffee,” shared Cadence. 

Shortly after, she came across a three-day course offered by Illy Coffee, a renowned Italian coffee business, and signed up for it. 

While she got the opportunity to get hands-on with the semi-automatic machines, she still had so many unanswered questions. These included the quantity of coffee beans, the type of coffee used, and the factors affecting the coffee flavours. 

That was when Cadence decided to research proper coffee education pathways. Soon after, she came across the Speciality Coffee Association (SCA). 

Cadence’s own coffee shop and training lab / Image Credit: Emery School of Coffee

According to the founder, the coffee skills programme under the SCA is a well-structured one backed by research, findings, and industry practice. 

Once her journey at Starbucks ended, Cadence then joined a wholesale company that teaches customers how to apply mixes to various drinks. 

“From there, I found out that I actually enjoy teaching a lot, and decided to focus on coffee education,” she explained.

“The art of coffee making is not art per se. We need to put a more analytic and scientific lens in order to get the best out of every bean.” 

There is much research, experiments, and data collection that takes place to explore new flavour potentials from the green coffee varieties, farming technology, and processing techniques. 

A barista can further control the dosage, brewing time, and output again based on the origin, processing, and roast information obtained. 

Breaking barriers at competitions 

Besides being a barista, Cadence also went on to become a certified Q Grader (professionals skilled in sensory evaluation of green coffee) and a Quality Evaluation Lecturer with the Coffee Quality Institute. 

The institute is an NGO that focuses on farming research and empowering the lives of farmers through coffee education. 

Additionally, the founder is a certified world judge with World Coffee Events (WCE) for their World Barista Championship, World Latte Art Championship, and World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship. 

Image Credit: Emery School of Coffee

“Attending the world coffee competitions as a judge and conducting training abroad helps a lot, as I get to check out what’s going on there, get my hands on the latest information, and better understand the coffee scene and culture in different places,” shared Cadence. 

In order to secure a position as a judge in competitions, candidates need to be well-versed with a good amount of coffee knowledge. 

They need to be able to prove themselves as candidates who are reliable and consistent in judging, scoring, and passing the calibration round. 

Then, they will be given more opportunities to be a part of regional or national competitions. From there, they will also be able to build their experience and portfolio before applying to sit for the judge certification. 

According to Cadence, the world coffee competitions are held in different countries each year, with about 50-60 competing countries per category. 

Image Credit: Emery School of Coffee

With her experience in the industry, she also shed some light on gender distribution within the professional coffee scene, since it appears as though many professional baristas tend to be men.

“Women judges are not under-represented on the world stage, but competitors are. There are more male competitors than female, but we do have a good number of women judges sitting in the judging panel,” shared Cadence. 

She’s also had a few clients and organisers who have mistaken her for being the opposite. This is largely because they assume most trainers, judges, or business owners are men.

“While it is a little frustrating, I am usually unbothered. They will be a little surprised when they see me, but I have never failed to gain their respect with the works that I deliver,” added Cadence. 

A business with no plan, just a flow 

Besides being a coffee shop that serves coffee and pastries, ESC also offers training programmes for anyone who is interested in upskilling themselves in the coffee industry. 

Some of the programmes include:

  • Sharing, appreciation, and team-building sessions for corporate clients;
  • Leisure coffee workshop in roasting, espresso, brewing, and latte art for coffee enthusiasts;
  • Professional certification pathways, known as Coffee Skills Programme sanctioned by the SCA;
  • Industry training for cafés that wish to train or upgrade the skills of the barista;
  • Competition coaching for regional, national, or international coffee competitions; and
  • Café consultancy for those who wish to open a coffee shop or expand their line of business in coffee.
Image Credit: Emery School of Coffee

“There was no game plan, and there is no game plan for now as well. We just go with the flow,” said Cadence. 

In the beginning, the founder just wanted to try her idea out. Hence, her first location for a coffee shop was a simple setup on the first floor of a building, just so she could save up on overheads. 

She launched the training programmes with one machine and one grinder. If there were no students, she would serve coffee to the neighbourhood residents. 

Eventually, the founder began getting requests to implement breakfast options and other food items into her menu. 

“As the requests begin to overwhelm, we decided to try out a hybrid model of having both a training lab and a coffee shop in the same place,” explained Cadence. 

Hence, the team got to work on redesigning the space, and lo and behold, ESC was conceived. 

“School of Coffee means a place to learn coffee of course, but it also means the school of thought of coffee that we wish to advocate,” expressed Cadence.

Five years after launching in 2018, the coffee shop managed to establish itself within the community. 

The team now have regular streams of customers for the coffee shop and a good reputation for their training services in the industry. 

Image Credit: Emery School of Coffee

Currently, they’ve grown to have one independent location for their office, training lab, and coffee shop. 

Moving forward, ESC has plans to expand the retail side of the business, which includes setting up outposts, new outlets, or a roastery. Eventually, the coffee shop also has plans to expand its reach globally. 

  • Learn more about Emery School of Coffee here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Emery School of Coffee