A local barista who started not long ago but quickly rose to connoisseurship after being invited to be a judge at a coffee event in Jakarta, Indonesia at the same time Brunei’s coffee scene in the region to an event with international brought reputation.
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 was the first time that he was invited to an international level as a well-known coffee connoisseur. During this event, Shaikh Fadilah had the opportunity to work together with Indonesia’s best in the coffee industry, from roasters, baristas, brewmasters 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 Theater 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 doing it well, and it helps when you get certification. We must go for courses in customer service, entertain them, recommend coffee drinks for them to choose and must have knowledge about the coffee you are brewing,” Shaikh Fadilah reiterated.
Shaikh Fadilah was first inspired to pick up coffee barista skills while pursuing a Masters 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 joined the Sydney Coffee School in Pitts Street.
The coffee school caught his interest and he decided to attend a two-day course there, which opened up his world of coffee appreciation. He has 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 effectively texturize milk, the grinding operation, cleaning and maintenance requirements for a coffee machine.
After the course returned to Brunei Darussalam, his interest in opening a coffee shop was not yet fully aroused.
Years of traveling and living abroad made him more interested in deepening the art of coffee appreciation and knowledge. The holiday periods were spent visiting and meeting cafe owners, roasters, baristas from the South East Asia region, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UK.
Shaikh Fadilah decided to use Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) as his benchmark for brewing coffee. In early 2020, Shaikh Fadilah completed SCA intermediate courses on coffee brewing and espresso from DCA in Seri Kembangan, Malaysia, with certification from SCA New York. After 30 years of working with the civil service of Brunei Darussalam, Shaikh Fadilah decided to start a small business. He started his cafe adventure by focusing on delicious bakeries and specialty coffee brews.
“My personal favorite would be filter brew every morning, with a fruity note. Later in the day would be latte,” he shared.
He also said he would impress his customers with his specialty filter coffee, freshly brewed and served hot or chilled with ice for cold coffee enjoyment.
Shaikh Fadilah has never participated in a bakery or flower decoration. He was inspired by his late mother, Sharifah Hajah Maimunah binti Syed Mohamad, who used to teach domestic science to spouses of senior officers for over 10 years (1973-1983). From a young age, Shaikh Fadilah was exposed to his mother’s cooking and baking. During the fasting months, along with other siblings, afternoons were spent baking their mother cakes and cookies for Hari Raya festivities.
Shaikh Fadilah started focusing on his retirement dream as early as 2019, owning a small cafe that serves coffee and baked goods. He decided to participate in several weekend pop-ups organized 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 open exposure to digital payments. From there, Dil Coffee Trail was born as a business and he started renting spaces at the Wildflower Café at the Peak Performance Recreation Club, on Sundays, to brew filter cartridges to café patrons.
Besides owning the business, Shaikh Fadilah set out to train local budding entrepreneurs on business, customer service and the art of excellence.
“I have no intentions to employ baristas during their life, but to use the cafe work experience as a stepping stone to start their own business in the near future, for the values of professional work, the tasks that were presented, and also customer service,” Shaikh Fadilah emphasizes.
In March 2022, he decided to rebrand the business to Dil’s Cafe, as part of his business expansion program.
On November 4, 2022, a new chapter in his journey began with the opening of a commercial cafe in Batu Bersurat, after two years from home. Shaikh Fadilah said that he sees the coffee culture in Brunei growing and is very impressed with it.
“This is good for the coffee industry in Brunei and entrepreneurship, and also creates places for the people of Brunei to entertain and meet friends and family,” he said.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding with the word barista, where some people think it is all about making coffee and serving customers,” said Shaikh Fadilah.
“It’s actually an art, it creates job opportunities to first work as a barista and eventually own a company,” he added, encouraging residents to take up the challenge.