Samsura’s Coffee Adventure

Since the inception of One Fifteenth Coffee in 2012, a lot of things have changed in coffee industry. However, there are some things remain the same, for example, Doddy Samsura’s humility, even from the first time we met him in 2011. When we texted him to request for an interview, he humbly replied, “how can I help you? Am I still popular?” His answer has some truth in it. Since he left Morph Coffee, a roaster, also a sister company of One Fifteenth in 2017. There’s not much updates has been heard from the champion of IBC (Indonesia Barista Championship) 2011 and 2013.

We met the man in Pantai Indah Kapuk. He’s a bit restless because his new project, Reirom, a barista school, is delayed due to some things. They’re still working on the first floor of the building which will act as coffee shop, the second floor for the barista school. In our long discussion, Doddy talked about his adventure
from Yogyakarta, winning competitions, One Fifteenth, to his current activities, exclusively to Passion.

How did you start in coffee business?

In 2008. I applied as barista in Kedai Kopi Espresso Bar in Yogyakarta, a well-established coffee shop at the time. It was a Starbucks wanna be, because we have no other success business model to look up to. The name of my position was “barista pro”, I thought pro means professional, it actually was production.

As a Philosophy student in UGM who was working on my thesis, my mentality was trying to understand the reason behind everything, including in coffee. In the beginning, I was a bit shocked because the coffee I knew was instant sachet coffee, but in training days, we use actual bean that had to be ground, and then we have temping process. I have so many questions I have to answer, because the guests started asking questions, the simple ones actually.

For example, when we use Java Vintage bean, when asked from which region of Java did the bean came from, I couldn’t answer, I didn’t event know my roaster. I answered as stupid as I can get. They began to show distrust. I remember it very clearly, so I said to myself, “I can’t keep on being stupid like this.”

When did you start to do competition?

In 2009, when I had a laptop, I started browsing and found out that coffee industry is already developed, from farm, roaster, to latte art. Until we had small internalcompetition, at the time I got a video of 2007’s WBC (World Barista Championship) which include a competitor form US, Heather Perry, when I looked
at her presentation, I suddenly realized that coffee is not just about making ice blend, tea, or thick foam, something’s different, it looked very cool!

In 2010, we had a change from SCAI (Specialty Coffee Association of Indonesia), due to high enthusiasm, they made road show in 5 cities aside from Jakarta, Yogyakarta was one of them, to look for Indonesia Barista Champion. I collected videos of competitions to prepare myself. In the preliminary competition, I was so nervous that I forgot to do temp my espresso, luckily I make it through the next round.

When the roadshow proceeded to Surabaya, where I also went because Kedai Kopi Espresso Bar also had some outlets there. The most memorable experience was when one of the judge, Adi Taroepratjeka, talked about Yogyakarta regional who had the worst score. He even mentioned there’s a competitor who did the dosing vigorously until the grinder was moving, after put it back, another dosing and it went off again. I was very embarrassed, it’s like a slap in the face because he was referring to me.

I had 3 months preparation for final, so I went all-out. I imitate almost the whole pattern of Gwilym Davies’ (WBC Champion 2009) presentation, but I copied Stephen Morissey’s (WBC Champion 2008). Perhaps the judges weren’t as updated as now, they couldn’t tell my imitation attempt and I became the champion of 2011’s IBC. From then, I know I had to be serious in coffee because the winner of  2011’s IBC will be sent to compete in Asia Barista Championship in 2012’s FHA (Food Hotel Asia).

I think it’s the first time we met, when you do the road to FHA 2012, in Liberica Coffee, Pacific Place, isn’t it?

Correct. It’s a special opportunity because not every country had its own representative. I had 1 year preparation time, but I almost did nothing, until SCAI called me to Jakarta twice, the first time was basically to scold me because of my zero progress.

And then some people like Adi and Andrew Tang (former owner of Morph Coffee), helped me practice, sometimes through Skype. I got the idea for my signature drink using norit (laxative) from Adi. He asked, “what’s the coffee tradition in Yogya?” I answered Kopi Joss, coffee served with charcoal, actually norit is an active carbon, when it burnt, it’s basically the same as charcoal. He initiated the idea, using some ingredients, but I had to think of the execution.

At the time, I felt like every person in Indonesia helped me, because actually, the coffee people in Indonesia were located in Jakarta, let say Anomali, Casswell, Kopiku, Liberica, Toffin, all the owners of the big brands helped me, even to wash my cups, until today, I never forget this. After managed to be the runner-up in
ABC, I felt the urge to move to Jakarta, to get close to them and learn more.

And then you got job offer from Onefifteenth?

No, even though I was the champion, the offer didn’t automatically come to me, I have to apply first, with the help of Mr. Hendri Kurniawan (owner of ABCD Coffee). The initial concept of One Fifteenth was to copy coffee shop in Australia as communal place. If coffee shop was identical to separated tables and dim lighting, One Fifteenth was the opposite. In addition, we offer the specialty coffee concept. The definition? We took a shortcut, to us, specialty coffee shop means using specialty coffee bean, first, we use bean from Nylon (Singaporean roastery).

One Fifteenth also do the unboxing of the first La Marzocco Strada in Indonesia. At the time, Mr. Toni Wahid, through his blog, the most influential coffee media, wrote 2 articles, about the Strada unboxing, and about me. One Fifteenth became sensation because of those factors: expensive Strada, imported bean, introducing manual brew, champion Head Barista, baristas from Yogyakarta. I brought for 3 of my friends from Kedai Kopi Espresso Bar, and asked them to
struggle with me, I didn’t know whether we will survive or not.

What struggle? One Fifteenth was the most luxurious coffee shop at the moment!

Yeah, the outlet was luxurious, but not for us. I’d say that the things we knew in Yogyakarta were nothing when we brought them in One Fifteenth. Not to mention the people’s massive expectation. From regular coffee shop into specialty, we had major differences. I didn’t know about manual brew, roasting profile, they weren’t on my coffee dictionary. And then I was introduced to a concept that the responsibility of serving quality coffee is not solely on the hand of the baristas we have production chain behind it.

Basically, specialty coffee requires transparent communication from farmer, processor, buyer, roaster, to coffee shop. Some of the transparency was the roasting date, roasting profile, the intended application. I never dial the grinder, suddenly in One Fifteenth we needed to change it up to 5-8 times a day. To get the right
setting, we spent 500-700 gr coffee bean until we were fed up.

Along the way, we realize we still had a lot to learn. There was a time when we felt that we had information overload, meanwhile the time to experiment was very limited because of our daily job, this is what I meant by struggling. Behind the luxurious bar, things are getting out of hands, not to mention the stock supplies, the food cost, the sales.

I felt One Fifteenth is responsible to make the perception that specialty coffee has to be expensive, and from its name (1:15 was regarded as the golden ratio of coffee:water), you gave the idea as if there are magic numbers in coffee.

Like influencing in negative way? (laugh). Because at the time, that’s what we knew. We tried to introduce something that’s very “indie”. We’ll do any uncommon things if we felt it was good. Back then, 20 second extraction was not common, but we did that. When everybody thought espresso got to be 30 ml, we had 15-20 ml.

With limited supply of coffee bean, we don’t want customer to return and have the same cup. However, the downside was, when they got what they like, they couldn’t get another. We didn’t even have house blend. Finally, after some suggestions, we started to reformulate everything.

We started to have journey abroad from the owners of One Fifteenth to get imported bean, sometimes we got it from their relatives. We had overload of coffee bean so we need to think hard to tell which one should go first, because coffee has its own peak time. As a result, we have lot of bean that couldn’t be sold, it’s either we enjoyed them or we gave it to loyal customers for free, at the time, our sales record was far from perfect. The customers who got the free coffee would
definitely return, incidentally, it’s the marketing strategy that we did.

We also introduced Panama Esmeralda, it was the first COE (Cup of Excellence) in Indonesia. People were excited even though they didn’t know what COE was all about. The price of 125 gr roasted bean was Rp 1.500.000, we offered it with tubruk method Rp 100.000/cup, it lasted only within 2 days.

And then you became roaster in Morph Coffee. It’s like the blueprint career path for any Head Baristas.

After I won the 2011 IBC, I won again in 2013. After that I became a roaster. Many people think that’s the usual career path, because, who’s more powerful than head barista? Of course it’s roaster because he’s responsible for more, not only in 1 outlet but to all of customers.

To me, it wasn’t a career path, it’s my learning journey. I was a barista in Yogyakarta with all of its limitation, One Fifteenth also wasn’t enough for me to learn about quality of coffee. When I had the offer to roast coffee, I thought this is a chance to explore more on quality. After becoming a roaster, I had another door
opened, actually it’s not the roaster who determine the quality.

I guess, you’d end up as coffee farmer.

That was the dream. But in my journey, I started to visit farmers, I realized that in every post, you need experts. I had expertise in barista and roaster. If I wanted to gofurther, I need another research, there’s knowledge, finally I admitted that not everyone has the luxury to do farm to table experience like Tim Wendelboe
(2004’s WBC champion). After winning, he built a coffee shop with his name, he does everything from farm to table, he was our idol in One Fifteenth. I said to
myself, I can’t do that.

Personally, I’d love to own a coffee farm, but if I have to be a farmer and do the processing, I guess I have to let the experts do it. After becoming a barista and a roaster, now I’d like to try education. It’s the path I regard as non-block, the ego was relatively non-existent. Even for the jobs behind the scene such as roaster,
processor, and farmer, the ego have become terrifying. I don’t think it’s healthy and comfortable to be in the industry like that for too long.

What’s your objectives in education?

Honestly, I want to make my own community with like-minded people in it. To me, quality comes from 3 things: varietal, origin, and processing. The first two things are in God’s hand, if you believe in God. But the role of human is so small, then what’s the point of claiming yourself as the best barista, roaster, processor or farmer? If everybody boasting his own ego, we’ll never get along.

I agree when you say the coffee community is not as comfortable as it was, we tend to argue about right or wrong, polarized.

If you use the term “uncomfortable”, I call it high ego. If you say now is not as comfortable as it was, I feel it too. But If I want to restore it as it was, I need to do
something, one of it is by building a community. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, let’s not disturb each other, this is how I do coffee.

What’s your best coffee experience you ever have?

In One Fifteenth, whenever new bean came up, sometimes I was very selfish, I had to do open the  packaging first, I’m the one who should brew and taste it first. At the time, the bean was Panama Esmeralda from Coffee Collective, a roaster which belongs to Klause Thomsen, WBC 2006’s champion. We’ve tried local and imported bean, but I don’t know, at the time, when I brew the coffee using Kalita Wave, I was like…… is this coffee? I got the jasmine notes, bergamot at the back, from 4-5 notes that was written, we got 3 very clearly. When I was drinking it, I felt like in a flower garden, fragrant, peaceful, perhaps I was exaggerating, but that’s how I felt.

At the moment, we had 8 people. With that many, every person only got 2 sip. I was leaning down at a pillar while drinking, as I looked at the other, they’re having the same stupid grin on their faces. After finished, quietly I brewed the coffee for the second time, very stupid of me! Guess what happened next? Everybody asked for this second brewed coffee.

Are you happy with the current coffee business development?

At one side, I have to be optimistic. This is interesting, at least we have more people care for coffee, and then we have more coffee drinkers. It’s easier for me to educate, I don’t have start from zero, we can leap further. We also have more choices, we used to have very few coffee shops, now, we can’t even keep up with the opening of new ones. It used to be so luxurious, now not anymore. Strada is selling like hotcakes, as if every coffee shops have it, even though they only have 1-2

What’s not so interesting is, as we have more players, sometimes they don’t understand specialty coffee but claiming themselves as one. Sometimes it ruined our
reputation, why? If I try to be proactive, it’s the education. If we try to be honest, we have to admit that we have what we call as commercial coffee, it’s grade below specialty coffee.

In One Fifteenth’s era, we’re so afraid of using non-specialty coffee even though we had to pay so much to guarantee quality. But suddenly other coffee shops claimed themselves as specialty coffee simply because they were using the same expensive machine. That’s why, education is crucial. If we just let it, the community who want to believe in specialty coffee will decline.

Why we have so many coffee shops that use expensive machines?

People think it’s easy to build a coffee shop, you just need place, equipment, barista, so they think they could easily imitate. However, we often forget, basically this is business, there should be idea, capital, system, and management behind it, sometimes these factors were not met.

Let say someone has Rp 2 billion, usually he’d survey around the coffee shops, look for skillfull barista, and offer them the job. Does the barista understands everything? Of course many were hired, but in many cases, they know nothing. Because we had so many coffee shops whose owners keep the business aspect for themselves. In my experience, after working for 1 year, I never know my roaster, it’s company’s confidential.

Often times, even crowded coffee shops didn’t get any profit because of mismanagement, and they were closing down. Of course a barista should be able to make delicious coffee with any given equipment and capital, but there should be limitation for the expectation. You can’t consume 8 kg coffee per day if your machine is not tough enough.

People said the price for a cup of coffee is too expensive, I blamed One Fifteenth because you guys started it.

Because we were actually using expensive beans, I got coffee worth Rp 400.000/kg and I sold it for Rp30.000-Rp35.000/cup. Our assumption was, we wanted to serve specialty coffee, and globally that was the selling price. When the bean arrived in Indonesia, we didn’t even count the shipping cost to keep the price low. When we offered coffee worth Rp 100.000/cup with Panama Esmeralda, if I’m not mistaken, it was the most expensive coffee in Indonesia, aside from Luwak coffee. People were complaining, but after tasting it, they stop complaining because it was worth it.

On the other hand, to make good coffee, the waste will reach 80%, so from 100 kg of coffee cherry, you’ll end up with 20 kg green bean, after roasting, it will lose 20% of the weight. Customers paid all of those expenses. I just returned from Gayo, Aceh, they sell the cherry coffee Rp 13.700/kg, meanwhile, in Morph Coffee, the most affordable roasted coffee would be around Rp 280.000. People compare the price merely on the weight, but sometimes we forget to notice the volume loss.

Please explain a bit about yout recipe, Cold Brew Seruni.

In Indonesia the biggest market is still in ice drinks because they fit our tropical climate. When we use hot coffee with ice, the taste will be altered, therefore I’m using cold brew, brewed fro 24 hours with ration of coffee:water 1:9, using Mandheling coffee.

Theoritcally, cold brew method can tone down the acidity, in competition, you should pronounce it as acidity is one of the important factors. Thus, I use lemon because most coffee from Sumatera doesn’t have dominant acidity. To add sweetness, I prefer to use the so-called healthier honey, as people started to oppose sugar consumption. I make the drink for beginning coffee drinkers, that’s why I avoid the use of lemon zest as it has bitter notes. Beginning coffee drinker who has bitterness, usually won’t care for another drink.

I present the cold brew as alternative to the trending iced coffee milk. To give more Indonesian identity, I put ginger, it’s the local spice that is present in almost every Indonesian culture. For decoration, I put slices of lemon inside the ice cube.