SCA Alumni Spotlight: Sum Ngai of Coffee Project NY

SCA Alumni Spotlight: Sum Ngai of Coffee Project NY

Every year, over 30,000 coffee professionals complete an SCA education program with more enrolling each year. As a new regular feature, we’d like to spotlight some of our amazing alumni and share their successes. Our first featured alumnus is Sum Ngai of Coffee Project NY. She and her partner Kaleena have been bringing great coffee to their New York neighborhoods and are now turning their attention to serving the wider coffee community by offering SCA coffee courses through becoming AST certified. We’re proud to say that Sum is an alumnus, excited to share her story with you and looking forward to seeing all she will accomplish in her career.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!  How did you get started in coffee?  What do you love about what you do? 

I started Coffee Project NY in 2015 with the idea of creating a neighborhood coffee shop with my partner. We both worked every single day for a year and I truly enjoyed brewing coffee for everyone I met. Be it our regulars who came in and asked “What is a macchiato?” or a coffee professional who has been in the industry for many years, I always try my best to brew their coffee with all my heart. Now, I’m leading a team of 13 passionate coffee professionals who all see themselves building a career in the field of specialty coffee.

Throughout all these years, I have always tried my best to fulfill my responsibility as a barista—presenting a cup that will not disappoint the farmers, producers, and roasters before me. Through experimenting with different brewing methods, my goal is to always bring out the best of each coffee I can get my hands on.

In 2017, to further my understanding of green coffee, I became an Arabica Q-grader. Being a Q-grader has expanded my appreciation of coffee to another perspective. Now I am not only focusing on brewing, I have begun to admire the characteristic of green coffee and the producers’ creativity in processing. Since then, I had the opportunity to share my knowledge with other fellow coffee professionals through cupping events and be there to support New York City’s Coffee Community.

Tell us a little bit about Coffee Project NY.

Coffee Project NY was founded in 2015 in Manhattan, New York City. It’s a tiny mom and pop shop with only 370sf in a very simple setting; Espresso bar, Batch Brew, Slowbar and pastries. We serve coffee from rotating multi roasters, do coffee-flights, inventive coffee beverages, and pour-overs, which we are very proud of.

In 2018, we started our second location in Downtown Brooklyn, NYC. It is a bigger location (approx. 1000sf) and we aimed to be the “playground for baristas.” We brought in a variety of brewing equipment like the Ground Control Batch Brew, Alpha Dominche’s Steampunk, Synnesso MVP and more pour over devices. In our first location, even though space is limited, we created a slow bar for pour over. In this downtown Brooklyn location, we have dedicated an entire spot just to do pour overs and engage with the consumer. Soon after we launched this location, this space became a “gathering place” for coffee professionals from all walks of life. We leave behind the company that we represent and come in together as coffee people, no labels, no judgment, and we do coffee things together in this space (eg. community cupping, trying out new equipment, practice TDS reading, etc.). This has given me the biggest motivation to start my third project – our third location, that focuses entirely on coffee education and the community.

Our third location is coming this fall 2019. It is located in Long Island City, which is also going to be an SCA Premier Training Campus, a roastery and a tasting bar. It is about 3700sf and we want to create a space for everyone to do coffee things together. 

Why did you choose the SCA Education program?

I need a protocol, I need a common language among the community. I believe having SCA to refer to during an event that involves coffee professionals from different countries, backgrounds, and practices make communication so much better. Furthermore, SCA has definitely done way more research than me at any level. With the SCA education program, I can come up with my own hypothesis, but I have a foundation from SCA education, and I can use these foundations to prove my hypothesis – whether it supports my hypothesis or helps me gain new insights.

Which courses did you complete or are in the process of completing?  What certificates do you hold?

Completed – Intermediate Brewing, Professional Brewing, Intermediate Barista, Professional Barista, Q-Grading

In the process – Intermediate Roasting, Professional Roasting, AST

What are you most proud of as a coffee professional?

Bringing the coffee community together. Inspiring consumers to find out more about our career, about their cup of coffee, and about our lives as coffee professionals.

What successes or accomplishments have you had professionally since enrolling in SCA Education? 

I have gained enough confidence to participate in Brewers Cup. I am able to train my baristas better because I can communicate better using the modules I’ve learned in SCA. I can encourage better bar practices and workflow. I can communicate confidently about a finding (through SCA curriculum) and have facts to back up my statements. Most importantly, I have expanded my network and met more people.

Lastly, what advice would you give to others who are considering SCA Education or wanting to launch a career in the coffee industry?

Believe in the modules/curriculum – I had 3.5 years of behind bar experience before enrolling into SCA education and I am still amazed with what I learned. This is also the reason why I want to be an AST, I want to continue to educate and give other coffee professionals the “light bulb” moment that I experienced during my training. There are so many skillsets where we all know the logic behind it, but only when we are given the time to practice and carry out is it practical and we can further dissect this logic and develop this skill properly. Right now I no longer hesitate in a decision I have to make to improve my brew and my workflow, even during rush hours.

If you want to launch a career in the coffee industry, you need to learn how to do all the work from the foundation.

Would you like to be featured in an upcoming Alumni spotlight?  Email to let us know!