Kevin Ly went from a mechanical engineer to a respected barista in his own cafe, Brewristas, which opened less than six months ago in Sydney’s inner west.
As a self-confessed and self-taught coffee nerd, Kevin Ly travelled nationally and internationally in search for the best filtered based coffee, visiting specialty cafes, asking for tips, and learning on the fly.
This was the start for Ly, and the creation of Brewristas, a specialty coffee house for Sydneysiders. He decided he wanted to turn what initially was an obsession of experimenting at home into a two-year long “side” project.
Since opening Brewristas in November 2014, in what was once a vacated space in the heart of Glebe, the cafe, micro roaster, and retailer, is now frequently visited by industry folks in the evening looking for a cup of coffee made to their standards.
Since having such a vested interest in filtered coffee, Ly recognised there was a gap in Sydney’s coffee scene that needed filling, something he admits Melbourne, and even Adelaide have already.
“I looked at the Sydney scene and thought, ‘Why isn’t there any good places to have coffee after five?’ We only have chocolate chains like San Churro, Max Brenner, and Oliver Brown. You then have places that are open like Strathfield and Eastwood, but you don’t go there because it’s good, you go there because it’s open,” he said.
“So I wanted to bring the filtered based coffee scene to the night. We want to celebrate coffee at night. Imagine your Reuben Hills or Paramount Coffee Project at night that you could go to.”
Not only that, Ly said his vision for Brewristas was to create a filter bar that stocked beans from different regions, and varietals, and not be the average café where people go into for a cappuccino or latte.
At the same time, he wanted to create a space that allows customers to have conversations with the barista, much like how people go into a bar or hairdresser, so customers would be able to walk out more educated.
I wanted to bring the filtered based coffee scene to the night.
“We go through educating them and empowering them with that knowledge about filtered coffee, and they essentially fall for that because people get so curious they want to try it. They go, ‘Wow I can drink black coffee without any sugar or milk’, and they absolutely love it. It’s a healthy alternative; it’s a better way to drink coffee so with that knowledge they actually teach it to their friends.
“It’s so gratifying when they come back with their friends and everything I’ve told them they’re repeating to their friends. They feel empowered, and all of a sudden we’ve got three coffee experts. The beauty is they can come back every time and have a different coffee experience each time.”
He said it may appear daunting at first and many often say filtered coffee looks like a scene from Breaking Bad, but it’s really nothing new.
“It’s just old methods with new equipment,” he said.
But for someone who is a co-founder of a coffee house, Ly has no hospitality or barista training, but rather his background started off in mechanical engineering, a degree he completed during his university days.
“I wanted to become a Formula 1 engineer at the beginning, which was the reason why I did mechanical engineering. But after being apart of the Formula SAE team for a year, I realised it wasn’t the path that I wanted to go down because there was no life; you’d be locked underground working hours on end, and you wouldn’t see your family or friends,” he says.
“I couldn’t do that. There was no real money involved so that’s how deep people were into it; I couldn’t see myself competing with that.”
While Ly couldn’t wholeheartedly give himself up to become an F1 engineer, his appetite for filtered based coffee shined as he described the process involved in making the perfect cup. His knowledge is so extensive that anyone would be fooled to think he had been working in the industry for years.
“There’s a reason why it’s called specialty coffee in the way it’s sourced, the way it’s processed, the people that are required to take that on board to source it, to pick it, there’s so much quality control involved. It costs so much more than your standard bean. So by the time it comes here it’s already four times the price of your standard bean.
“After that it’s up to the barista or brewer to make the most out of that, and if you can make good coffee, the cup that you get is 10 times better than your standard espresso cup because your standard espresso cup, when people drink it, it’s just ash and sourness.
“When you drink a filtered based cup you have a great cup, and you can’t believe it’s just black coffee without any sugar; that’s how flavoursome it is.”
Ly may have initially been the brains behind Brewristas, but he knew in order to be able to deliver his idea, he recruited help.
“Who better to ask than childhood friends?” Ly said.
Denny Luong, Katherine Suy, and Steven Wong together with Ly are the four-person team behind the filter coffee education institution.
It’s just old methods with new equipment.
To add to the team, they also managed to have recruited some of the industry’s best, including ex-Bill’s Darlinghurst Dante Woo as head chef, and Tyler Walsh, a coffee guru in his own rights and former Tasmanian latte art champion.
While Brewristas has only been open for less than six months, Ly said there’s always room to strive for better. He already has plans to make changes, including doubling the size of the business within the next six months, as well as forming programs to launch classes on filter based coffee. Ly also has his sight set on possibly competing in the World’s Brewers Cup in next six months.
73 Glebe Point Road