This episode gives a very brief re-cap of my journey through coffee from Virginia, to Singapore, to Indonesia then to Portland and where Oil Slick is headed next.
- OSCar skull logo and background, podcast rockabilly skull logo: Gus Dark, Darkade
- Cursive writing logo, YouTube thumbnail templates: Evan Backstrom, The Rugged Press
- Backed Vibes Clean, by Kevin MacLeod, licensed with permission from Film Music - filmmusic.io.
- Melting Frost, by Independent Music Licensing Collective (IMLC), licensed with permission from the Independent Music Licensing Collective - imlcollective.uk.
Back in 2014, my wife was offered a position in Singapore. And at the time I had recently started my roastery Oil Slick Coffe. We were selling coffee online and at farmer’s markets and, or at a farmer’s market. And it was starting to gain traction. I felt like. I was starting to gain new customers who weren’t friends or family and. Uh, it was all pretty cool. But when Marie, my wife got offered the position in Singapore, we had a long think about it.
And it was one of those opportunities where. Um, you know, you get, you get offered to move to the other side of the world. Literally. And you should probably take advantage of it. It’s quite an experience. And so we made the decision that I would shutter Oil Slick Coffee, as it currently existed, we would move to Singapore. And I naively thought that I could just start a roastery just as easily in Singapore, as I could in my own country. The US.
And so we did move and I found out once we got to Singapore that opening a business as an immigrant or ex-pat, or basically as a foreigner, a non-citizen is much more difficult than I anticipated.
Now a backtrack. One of the decisions that I consciously made as part of that move was to maintain the blog, and the YouTube channel, the social media accounts that I had already set up, for Oil Slick, maintain all of that. So that I could maintain relevancy within the industry so that people could look and see that I’m still active. Even if I’m not actually selling coffee. And this was at the, at the time when we moved, I did have my training certification from the SCA. I was an AST. And this was early days of the ASTs as well.
But I wasn’t actively training. I didn’t, I wasn’t selling training at the time. That component of Oil Slick Coffee came on strong years later.
So when I moved to Singapore, when we moved to Southeast Asia I’m I did maintain the blog. I did maintain the YouTube channel. I started to expand into interviews on the YouTube channel. Uh, I maintained regular postings on social media; Twitter now X and Instagram. I fell off of Facebook. I’m not a big fan of Facebook. I’m still on it, but I don’t post frequently. But basically what I was doing with all of these platforms, was expanding ideas.
I was dealing in the conceptual, dealing in the ideas. I was talking an awful lot about what it means to be a small holder producer — as far as what I was witnessing. And talking about that end the supply chain. Because in Singapore, I was very close to coffee production. And that proximity to coffee production was an advantage for me because in the US, we’re not close to production. You have to go pretty far. To get to the nearest. Um, coffee producing region, which could be Hawaii, it could be, central America, South America, depending on where in the us you are.
So. With such a heavy focus on the conceptual, on ideas within the coffee industry, I started to drift away from producing something tangible. I got into the habit of developing ideas, developing concepts. You know, I developed the concept I call the central dogma of coffee, something I’ve written about extensively. And also talked about extensively.
And when we moved to Bali, then from Singapore, I started getting more into training.
I partnered with 5758 or Lima Tuju Lima Lapan in Bandung, Indonesia to train coffee roasters. And I really enjoyed that work. It was incredibly satisfying. And one of the reasons it was so satisfying is because the people who wanted to become coffee roasters in Indonesia, or who wanted to improve their coffee roasting skills in Indonesia are also people who really needed those skills.
And what I mean by that is the labor market in Indonesia is not the same as the labor market in the US. Indonesia is a developing country. And pay levels just aren’t the same as they are in the US. The living standards are not the same as they are in the US. And so being able to train individuals in Indonesia, And help them improve their means of earning a living was something that was very satisfying to me. Very, very, um, very gratifying.
So I hoped to develop that more and continue that work, but then COVID hit. And really threw a wet blanket on in-person training. And the way the SCA has set up the curriculum. The only class you can do at, at the time, the only class you could do online was the inter. Uh, introductory level classes. And those really aren’t necessarily that useful to workers in the industry. And so. It really threw a wet blanket on the training portion of the business.
And it also impacted. My wife’s industry. So my wife works in hospitality. She works in the hotel business and in Bali, especially the hospitality industry took it on the chin from COVID. Because of travel restrictions because of quarantine requirements, so on and so forth. It, it, uh, really made it difficult to maintain a hospitality in… a business hospitality business.
And a lot of the ex-pats in the hospitality industry in Bali were being let-go, because they are typically the most expensive of the business.
So once we left Indonesia. And moved back to the U S we moved to Portland and I knew I was moving into a very established coffee market. There were a lot of things I was looking forward to moving back to Portland. That was, that was one of them is, moving back to a very, well-established very old, for lack of a better word, Coffee market. And I knew that there was going to be a lot of competition on the roasting side, but there wasn’t necessarily a lot of competition on the training side.
And I knew that that was for, there were a couple of reasons that could be contributing to not a lot of competition on the training side.
It could be that there is no market for it, right? There’s no demand for training here like there was an Indonesia. Or the other cause is that it was just an untapped market.
And unfortunately what I found out when we moved here is it’s it’s the former. It is, um, there is not a lot of demand for training in Portland or in the US as far as certification programs go. And it’s, it’s one of the things that I talked about a little bit with, um, Rob Hoos when I moved here. And, um, he lives here in the region and has worked here and trained here for quite some time. And he told me that. He just does not see a lot of demand for certifications.
And that is part of what I hung my hat on in Indonesia was; becoming an AST, making sure that I had multiple different pathways that I could certify individuals on, you know, I could certify in roasting, I could certify barista. I could certify in sensory. And. Those certifications just are not in demand in the US like they were in Indonesia.
So. You know, I spent, when we moved to Portland, I spent months kind of working through that, trying to figure out, well, how do I, how do I start training here in the US. Because that was another benefit to the situation I had in Indonesia, I worked with 5758 who had the facility, they had the brick and mortar. They also had all of the infrastructure.
They had all the logistics ironed out. It was such a wonderful experience for me because they handled nearly everything except for the actual training. So they advertised the classes, they got all of the students, they may, they managed all of the payments. And I would show up, I would develop the curriculum.
And I would show up and they would have the coffee already roasted to spec. I would send them the specifications for the roasts. They would have all the coffee roasted for me. And. I would come in and maybe I would help set up the classes, meaning I would help set up clipboards, um, pencils. Cupping spoons. Get the first lab staged. Um, talk with the individual. I would get a, um, basically I would get one of their people dedicated to me.
His name was Kiki. Um, Kiki would, would be my right hand man throughout the course. And he knew. At the end of the day, he knew how I trained and he was able to anticipate my next need. And support me through that. So it was. It was a very, very good set up where I would go in and I would train, we would have activities and 5758 would have, um, Kiki and maybe one other or two other people. Clean up after the activity so that I could take the students to the next lecture. And it just enabled the course to flow very smoothly. And very efficiently.
And so when I got to Portland, one of the hopes was to be able to reproduce that. To be able to find somebody who already had a lab or a coffee university or something like that set up here. That I could work with partner with what have you. And I just didn’t find that there was, um, I didn’t get good reception to that idea.
I don’t know if people thought that I was going to compete with them or what. I didn’t get a lot of good feedback. I just got, um, I don’t want to say rejection, but it was just a lot of people saying, yeah, we’re we’re okay. The way they are. The way we are.
And so then I thought, well, maybe I will rent a commercial space and set up my own lab, but I. I’m just not ready to take that leap yet. There’s a lot of risk involved in that. And. Commercial real estate is not cheap. And there’s a lot that comes with that kind of, um, operation here in the US. There’s significant insurance. Uh, liability insurance. That goes into all that. And. After moving to Portland, we found out just how impacted Portland has been from both COVID and the Black Lives Matter protests. Downtown was significantly impacted from both of those. Events. And so the idea of trying to set up an in-person training facility just. It would be very difficult.
I mean, it would be good to be able to come in on the upswing. Right? So if we think about Portland starting to recover now and more foot traffic downtown, people feeling more safe going downtown. It might be a good time for me to get in there and get a coffee lab set up here where I can train people. But again, it’s a significant financial investment. And I’m just not sure I’m there.
So having said all of that, where I am right now is realizing that I need to shift from the. The conceptual, the ideas of developing the blog, developing a podcast, developing a YouTube channel. And working so much in the conceptual space to bringing it back into the physical goods and services space. Primarily the goods space. So I, I pivoted. I made the decision. I don’t know, maybe, um, June or July. I made the hard decision to shift completely into once again, selling roasted coffee. Because it’s something I know. It’s something I can do. And I know, I proved to myself in Virginia that you can start it and do it inexpensively.
Now, one of the interesting aspects is that. When I started this in Virginia back in 2014, 2013, I had an employer. I was working for somebody in a completely different industry. And, Oil Slick Coffee was my side hustle. It was something I was developing on the side. And, In 2014 I was fired from my IT company. They were, the company I worked for was acquired by another company. And, um, I just did not fit in with that company culture. And we parted ways. And, um, that forced me into Oil Slick Coffee full-time. But I had already spent probably a year developing, and easing into, becoming a coffee roaster.
I had bought a, um, a one kilo Diedrich roaster and had it installed in my basement was able to roast coffee on a commercial-grade roaster. Having that employer was a tremendous safety net because I had a steady paycheck. I was not dependent on my side hustle to make ends meet.
And then once we moved back to Portland, that changed. So when we were in Southeast Asia, a part of being there is what used to be called the ex-pat package. Which is basically where your, your benefits package, that the employer provided as part of you displacing yourself and moving to another country in order to work for that employer.
So we had a pretty good package when we were in Southeast Asia and that compensated for me not being able to, um, operate and bring in income. But when we moved to Portland, of course the ex-pat package is gone. And so now I’m, I’m in a situation where I am trying to set up a business.
Around August timeframe, I decided that I needed to completely separate myself from all of the work I was doing in the conceptual, abstract area—talking about blog posts, where I was commenting on the state of the industry, especially as it relates to small holders on the supply side. I needed to step back from all of the social media accounts.
I needed to step back from the podcast as well. And focus my time and energy, getting back into the physicality, the physical-ness of actually offering a good or a service.
And so, That’s hopefully explains the lack of activity that you may have noticed on all of my social media accounts. Well, both of the social media accounts, Instagram and X, formerly Twitter. And, but also on the podcast. I needed to take a step back and regroup.
And get back into the mindset of okay, let’s move forward with something that I can actually sell. I can’t sell the podcast. I can’t sell the Twitter posts or the Instagram posts, none of that generates any income. So I needed to refocus on, on generating income.
Now I have the, uh, roastery re-set up. I have an online store available where people can purchase coffee. And I’m looking for farmer’s markets here in the Portland area where I can sell.
The only problem is it’s quite a saturated market. Everybody and his brother seems to be selling coffee here in Portland. So that’s where my focus is. And that’s, that’s the reason for the, um, the crickets you’ve been hearing from Oil Slick Coffee since August.
I’m going to continue with the podcast and the social media, but it’s going to be dialed back. Uh, simply because I need to focus on developing that business side of it.
Now, I want to stay in contact with everybody. With the soft reopening that I just recently launched, a lot of the people who were original customers back in 2014, came back and supported me again, by purchasing coffee. And that, that means an awful lot to me. And I do appreciate that. And thank you to all of those who purchased that coffee.
And now it’s time for me to move forward and continue to develop that. And I, I think it means doing less of the conceptual and more of the actual hands-on things. The conceptual serves a purpose. You know, Um, continuing to develop my way of thinking about the coffee industry and sharing that with others. I think is useful. Especially right now, as, as we’re going through this huge shift in what the specialty coffee industry looks like.
And we can talk about that more. I will talk about that more in another podcast. But the specialty coffee industry has taken a huge shift in the eight or nine years since I’ve been out of the country.
And so my process of working through that mentally and thinking about, well, what does that mean? And how is that going to impact potential customers, potential partners. I think would all be interesting content for you guys. So I will continue to do that. It’s just, I won’t necessarily be able to maintain the pace that I was earlier.
Having said all that the shop is live. Now you can access it at Shop.OilSlickCoffee.com I have three coffees available. I have two washed and one naturally processed coffee. The naturally processed coffee is from El Salvador. And one of the interesting aspects of this naturally processed coffee is it’s not an in-your-face naturally processed coffee. It does have floral and fruity notes. But they are subdued. And it has a very good balance of chocolatey, caramelly notes in addition to the floral and fruity notes.
And as it cools those floral and fruity notes, come out a little bit more.
The other two coffees are washed processed coffees. One from Costa Rica, Tarrazu region. And the other one from Burundi. The Burundi is a peaberry meaning the beans are round as opposed to having a flat side. And, uh, that’s a result of in the cherry on the coffee tree, only one seed developed and it expanded into the entire cherry. And that gives it this round character, this round aspect. One of the theories is that the round beans tumble around within the roasting drum easier. And that gives it a better, more consistent roast.
All three of the coffees are very good, everyday drinkers. They’re very clean. Uh, that’s one of the reasons why I picked each of them was they just had a very clean cup.
So you can check those out. Again, that website is Shop.OilSlickCoffee.com.
This is Michael, and this is the Oil Slick Coffee podcast.