A local barista who started not too long ago but quickly rose to connoisseurship after being invited to be a judge at a coffee event in Jakarta, Indonesia has simultaneously brought Brunei’s coffee scene out in the region at an event with international repute.
Shaikh Fadilah Shaikh Ahmad was invited as a guest judge for the Indonesian Coffee Art Battle in Jakarta, Indonesia from November 9 to November 12 last year.
The five-day event was part of the Salon International de L’alimentation (SIAL InterFOOD) 2022 expo. This marked the first time he was invited for an international-level event as a known coffee connoisseur. During this event, Shaikh Fadilah had the opportunity to work alongside Indonesia’s best in the coffee industry from roasters, baristas, brewing champions to coffee trainers and educators, as well as coffee business developers.
Shaikh Fadilah was also invited to be a speaker at a talk show at the expo theatre, hosted by Bayu & Dion to share his coffee experience and business development in Brunei.
“Becoming a barista is not just about making coffee; it’s only half of the equation and the other half is to be good at making it, and it helps if you get certification. We need to go for courses and customer service, entertain them, recommend coffee drinks for them to choose and must have knowledge of the coffee you are brewing,” Shaikh Fadilah reiterated.
Shaikh Fadilah was first inspired to pick up coffee barista skills while pursuing a Master’s Degree in International Affairs at the Australian National University in Canberra in 2007-2008.
After completing his exams, he decided to travel to Sydney to check out the local coffee scene, and came across Sydney Coffee School at Pitts Street.
The Coffee School piqued his interest and he decided to attend a two-day course there, which opened up his world of coffee appreciation. He acquired an understanding of the world quality coffee brewing standards that Australia is very proud of. From the course, he understood the importance of using espresso machines, how to texture milk effectively, grinder operation, cleaning and care requirements for a coffee machine.
Returning to Brunei Darussalam after the course, his interest to open a coffee business hadn’t quite stirred just yet.
Years of travelling and living abroad made him become more interested in deepening the art of coffee appreciation and knowledge. Holiday times were spent visiting and meeting café owners, roasters, baristas from around the Southeast Asia region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Kingdom (UK).
Shaikh Fadilah decided to utilise Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) as his benchmark for coffee brewing. In early 2020, Shaikh Fadilah took SCA intermediate courses on coffee brewing and espresso from DCA in Seri Kembangan, Malaysia, with certification from SCA New York. After working with Brunei Darussalam’s civil service for some 30 years, Shaikh Fadilah decided to embark on a small business. He began his café adventure by focussing on delicious bakes and specialty coffee brewing.
“My personal favourite would be filter brew every morning, with a fruity note. Later in the day would be latte,” he shared.
He also said that he would impress his clients with his specialty filter coffee, freshly brewed and served piping hot or chilled down with ice for cold coffee enjoyment.
Shaikh Fadilah has never attended any baking class or floral decoration. He was inspired by his late mother, Sharifah Hajah Maimunah binti Syed Mohamad, who used to teach domestic science for spouses of senior officers for over 10 years (1973-1983). Since a young age, Shaikh Fadilah was exposed to his mother’s cooking and baking. During fasting months, together with other siblings, afternoons were spent helping their mother bake cakes and cookies for Hari Raya festivities.
Shaikh Fadilah began focussing on his retirement dream as early as 2019, owning a small café serving coffee and bakes. He decided to join various weekend pop-ups organised by social entrepreneurs Big Bwn Project and The Collective Arts, such as Sahur Saturdays, Street Fest and Infinity Con, to introduce himself to the market and opening exposure towards digital payments. From there, Dil Coffee Trail was born as a business and he started to rent spaces at the Wildflower Café at Peak Performance Recreation Club, on Sundays, to brew filter pour overs to café patrons.
Apart from owning the business, Shaikh Fadilah envisioned being able to train local budding entrepreneurs about business, customer service and the art of excellence.
“I have no intentions to employ baristas throughout their life but to use the Café working experience as a stepping stone to start their own business in the near future, to inculcate the values of working professionally, the tasks that had been laid out as well as customer service,” Shaikh Fadilah underlined.
In March 2022, he decided to revamp the business brand to Dil’s Cafe, as part of his business expansion programme.
On November 4, 2022, a new chapter in his journey began with the opening of a commercial cafe in Batu Bersurat, after two years operating from home. Shaikh Fadilah said that he sees the coffee culture in Brunei getting bigger and is quite impressed with it.
“This is good for the coffee industry in Brunei and entrepreneurship, and also makes up places to hang out for the people of Brunei to meet up friends and family,” he said.
“There is a lot of misconception with the word barista, where some people would think it’s all about making coffee and serving customers,” Shaikh Fadilah said.
“It is actually an art, it creates work opportunities to, first working as a barista and ultimately own a company,” he added, encouraging locals to take up the challenge.