Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 15th Sep 2015)
ZULKIFLY Mohamed Din might be the friendly barista you meet as you grab your daily dose of coffee, but the 23-year-old is not just competent in the art of brewing coffee but is also nifty in playing the saxophone. Zulkifly, a Starbucks shift supervisor in Ampang Jaya, is a self-taught saxophone player. He says his love for coffee enables him to play better music; showing passions do go hand in hand.
What stirred your passion in coffee?
I studied a little about coffee when I was pursuing my diploma in plantation and management, but it was with Starbucks that I learned all about coffee.
Tell us your experience with Starbucks.
I've been with Starbucks for almost two years. It took me some time to learn the recipe for every beverage. Espresso beans are rich and 'caramelly', and are used for latte, cappuccino and mocha. There are also flavoured beans for brewed coffee. These beans can have a cocoa or lemony flavour, and different blends such as willow blend, medium blend and dark roast. This can be differentiated through smell, acidity, aroma and body – the four major steps in coffee tasting.
I also learned the art of brewing coffee. Starbucks uses three types of coffee machines – La Marzocco, Verismo and Mastrena. For Mastrena and Verismo, the machine automatically grinds the coffee beans to make an espresso shot, but for La Marzocco you need to grind the coffee beans manually before using it to make the espresso shot.
Working in Starbucks is a unique experience as I not only need to make beverages, I also have to serve food and be the cashier. It makes me a well-rounded person. I also learnt about people and their demands. Some customers are in a hurry so we need to serve them quickly, while others are friendly and easy to communicate with.
What's your most memorable experience as a Starbucks employee?
One of the memorable experiences was joining a CSR programme at Kg. Lubuk Jaya. The community there runs a banana farm which is one of Starbucks' banana suppliers. Starbucks built a computer centre in the village for its community.
As part of the programme, we did some landscaping and made storybooks with the children there.
Why the saxophone and how did you master it?
I started playing the saxophone when I was 15 years old. I was inspired by a friend who regularly went to Istana Budaya to practise and perform. I chose it because it presents me as a gentleman.
It wasn't easy learning to play the saxophone. I taught myself with some guidance from my friends and YouTube. I also learnt improvisations through books and friends.
When I first started playing the saxophone, there would be a little noise and squeaky sound if I blew it wrongly. Back in school, I joined the marching band and it was there I first learnt about music.
I have played with a band called D'Highschoolian Quintet in Alamanda Shopping Centre, The Curve and One City Mall. Nowadays, I play the saxophone twice a week but when I miss it, I would play it every day.
How do coffee and music make a good pair?
After I joined Starbucks, I became a coffee lover and realised that coffee makes me a better musician. I need to manage my time between work and playing the saxophone. When I am practising, I put aside my job and am more focused in what I am doing; vice versa.
What is your plan for the future?
I want to have my Starbucks' Coffee Masters and am studying for it. My aim for next year is to jump to the next level of my career.