After helping establish Singapore’s specialty coffee industry on the world stage, John Ryan Ting has taken his knowledge, skills, and love of teaching to Indonesia.
John Ryan Ting is one of few baristas with experience on both sides of the competition table. Before becoming a certified World Barista Championship (WBC) judge – including at the 2013 WBC in Melbourne – he had two Singapore Barista Champion titles to his name.
John began his coffee journey as a part-time barista at a chain in the 1990s. After finishing his studies, he entered the profession full time with the Spinelli Coffee Company in 2003.
“I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but I enjoyed coffee and knew I could make it well,” John says. “Then I discovered the WBC and made it my mission to compete.”
He took his first step in 2007 at the inaugural Singapore National Barista Championship, where he placed second.
“It made me want to improve and become better. I competed again in 2008 and this time, I won,” John says.
He competed consecutively the next two years, winning his second title in 2009. His streak ended in 2010 when his own boss, Keith Loh of Oriole Coffee Roasters, beat him in the competition. John had joined Oriole as an Outlet Manager in 2008, where he was able to add training and roasting to his skillset.
“Keith owned a couple of cafés and restaurants, and my role was to train people to make coffee across the venues,” John says. “In early 2009, Oriole became a roastery and we started supplying coffee to other cafés too.”
In 2012, John joined green bean trader Bero Coffee to progress his coffee knowledge even further.
“It was a good experience, but it made me realise my heart lies within the operational side of coffee,” he says. “After that, I wanted to get involved in the WBC again, but didn’t feel ready to compete. Instead, I became certified as a judge, and began training baristas who wanted to compete in national championships.”
John says judging gave him a different perspective on the competition.
“Being on the other side of the table, you realise what the judges are looking for and learn to think more critically,” John says. “It allowed me to see the important areas that other competitors are not really working on.”
John put this new way of thinking to use in 2015 when he entered the Singapore National Barista Championship after a five-year break.
“I always wanted to compete again. After judging, I think I went back as a stronger competitor,” he says. “In a barista competition, it’s necessary to engage the judges. It’s easy to get nervous and make mistakes, but you need to share the correct information and make it something they haven’t heard before.”
John won the title for the third time, and took his fresh perspective to the 2015 WBC. He continued to improve his WBC ranking over the years, going from 32nd in 2008, to 20th in 2009, and 12th in 2015. This made John the first and only Singaporean barista to make the semi-finals.
For as long as he can remember, John says cleaning product provider Cafetto has supported him and the Singapore Barista Championship to reach new heights.
“I met [Cafetto Managing Director] Chris Short many times. He is a very nice person who really cares about coffee,” John says. “While working at roasteries and cafés, we always used Cafetto Evo to maintain our own machines and recommended it to our customers, because it’s specifically designed for coffee, and it works.”
His experience judging, consulting, and training showed John the value of sharing his knowledge with young and passionate baristas.
“I enjoy connecting with my trainees, and seeing their improvement over time, whether that’s in daily operations or overall coffee skills,” he says. “It also feels meaningful to train and inspire the next generation of baristas.”
John launched Academy Roastery Café (ARC) in 2015 to explore this newfound passion. The venue emphasised training new baristas, with many participants going on to compete in or win Singapore’s coffee competitions. One such trainee was Andrea Tan, who won the first Singapore Brewers Cup in 2015. John succeeded her as the Singapore Brewers Cup Champion in 2016.
After a successful few years, ARC ended operations in 2018. Not long after, John’s former boss Keith offered him a new opportunity. In 2017, Keith had launched Caffeine Solutions, distributing coffee equipment to Singaporean hospitality venues, and wanted to expand into the larger Indonesian market. He needed a knowledgeable coffee professional to head up Caffeine Solutions’ office in Jakarta and John took up the opportunity, moving to Indonesia in April 2019.
“I was excited to work for Keith again,” he says. “While Caffeine Solutions’ focus is selling coffee machines, we operate a training centre where I still get to share my knowledge and help our customers train their baristas to the next level.”
John says Indonesia’s coffee scene is in a state of rapid growth, with consumers expressing an increased appreciation for specialty coffee.
“The coffee culture has definitely improved a lot in the last few years,” he says. “[Though Jakarta] is not quite yet at the level of the world’s coffee capitals like London, New York, and Melbourne.”
Singapore, on the other hand, is progressing at a slower rate.
“There are a few cafés serving top notch coffees, but not as many. The general market is still more commercial and the number of coffee drinkers who appreciate specialty coffee is small. It’s increasing, but it’s still early,” John says. Indonesia faces its own challenges.
“They are a producing country and the government wants to protect the livelihood of its farmers, so coffee roasters pay a high amount of tax to import coffee,” John says. “The market is still very used to Indonesian coffee and has had very little exposure to coffees from places like Colombia, Panama, and El Salvador. Only some of the bigger roasters can afford to bring that coffee in.”
With the WBC taking place in Melbourne again in 2020, John says he may soon return to Australia, this time as a competitor.
“I’ve had very little origin focus in my past routines and am planning a trip soon. I hope to really get involved in the processing of the coffee,” he says. “I’m giving myself until the end of the year to decide if I’ll compete, and to find the right coffee.”
This article appears in FULL in the August edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.
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