Sip Blog

Written by coffee lovers, for coffee lovers

Humans of Sip: Interview with Marian Aguilar from Cata Coffee

While most teens spend their weekends relaxing, Marian spent hers in the mountains helping out at her parents' coffee farm. Having being involved in coffee since she was a child, it's no wonder that Marian has accomplished what she has today, with two specialty coffee brands under her name.

Marian traces her roots back to a small city in the Venezuelan Andes called Valera. Her parents purchased a coffee farm when she was eleven, and her entire family would travel up the mountains to work on the farm during the weekends, with the exception of her father who went every day.

When Marian and her brother went to a bigger industrial city called Valencia to study, they helped to run their family cafe in the same city. Subsequently, she followed her brother to London where she honed her barista, cupping and roasting skills, and later went to Thailand with her sister, where the pair founded Ceresia Coffee Roasters in 2013.

Her marriage to a Singaporean brought her to Singapore, where she founded Cata Coffee. With an emphasis on making exceptional quality coffee, she sample roasts different single origin beans seasonally to pick the best ones, after which she would roast, cup and package them weekly for sale and brewing.

Aside from the taste, Marian also pays special attention to the entire coffee chain process; from how the coffee beans are cultivated and processed, to how they are being transported from their country of origin. She would call up coffee producers in South and Central America to understand their stories and the passion behind each cup of coffee.

Besides operating a web store and offering mobile coffee services for weddings and corporate events, Cata Coffee also runs their coffee bar at The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough. When I met Marian for the first time, she struck me as a warm and friendly person. Seeing that it was a hot day, she brought an electric fan to our table to make me more comfortable. Her enthusiasm was infectious as she described each single origin coffee in her store to me, and later on as she explained every step involved in making a Kalita pour over coffee.

Marian preparing Drip Coffee, using a Kalita pour over coffee brewer.

Where did your passion for coffee come from?

It came mostly from my dad! He's a civil engineer, but he had always dreamt of buying his own coffee farm. When he finally bought one, he replanted all the crops diligently as the farm was old. His passion rubbed off on the whole family and coffee soon became our lives, spurring two of my siblings and I to pursue coffee. I have a very good role model in my dad; he works very hard on something once he sets his mind to it.

What is your favourite memory from helping out at your parents' coffee farm?

My favourite memory is looking at and re-planting coffee seedlings with my family! I remember everyone getting very excited whenever a seedling emerged healthily from the soil. The farm used to have hundreds of beautiful coffee plants planted in rows. They were so green and lush.

You ran the family cafe with your brother when you were in university, how was that like?

It was very interesting because our cafe was situated in one of the busiest hospitals in the city! I really liked the idea of people coming into our cafe to relax, while having a good cup of coffee and a snack. We had an amazing reception too - I remember opening on a Friday, around 1pm, and immediately there were customers! The fact that we were a family business offering homegrown coffee from the Andes was what made people interested in us. Our coffee was well-received too, to the extent that we had customers who specifically visited the hospital to try our coffee! This positive response made me incredibly happy. My dad was the key to our success as he had an entrepreneurial spirit and encouraged us to open the cafe.

Is there anything you wish to change in Singapore's coffee scene?

I find that people in Singapore enjoy coffee a lot, so I only have positive things to say! My only wish is for more people to appreciate specialty coffee.

The beans Marian used to make my coffee.

What inspired the name 'Cata Coffee'

I wanted to use a name that's short and easy to remember as Singaporeans speak different languages. Hence, I eventually settled on Cata, which is Spanish for 'coffee tasting sessions'.

Just a fun fact, some may not know that the flower in our logo is actually a coffee flower! It's a white flower that blooms only for a few days. I remember seeing them in our farm - it looked as if the entire field was covered in snow!

How did you end up working together with The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough?

I met the owners at the Tanjong Goodman Weekend Market last year, where our booths were opposite each other. It was the perfect opportunity. They were looking for a coffee partner to complete their bakery, and as I was there with Cata Coffee, I gave them some samples to taste. The rest was history! I couldn't be more grateful for this partnership as they believe that coffee and bread are a perfect match. They respect my dedication to serve good quality coffee, and I admire their passion for making delicious sourdough. It's very important for partners to respect each other, and I'm very glad that this is the case for us.

Fresh bakes by the bakery.

What is a day in your life like, currently?

My daily schedule really varies. I roast coffees at Mercanta every Monday and whenever there are new samples; I do this till around 1pm. After which, I'll head over to The Bakery. If I'm not roasting in the morning, I will do some paperwork or meet up with clients. I regularly conduct workshops such as barista training and brewing techniques, as well as cupping sessions! I work mostly every day, so if I'm not roasting or doing an event, I'll be at The Bakery.

There are times when I become exhausted at the end of the day, or wake up the next day unable to move at all. In spite of that, I'm still very happy! Whenever customers come back for another bag of beans or to have their daily dose of caffeine, I can see their genuine happiness derived from my coffee. It's the littlest things like this that keep me going.

Why this focus on single origin coffee?

I really like how the individual coffees taste! We can brew single origins using different brewing methods at home or in the workplace. At the Bakery, we use Kalita Wave for our single origins; this is a great way to showcase our coffee.

An overhead view of the coffee brewer.

Which coffee on your menu would you recommend to someone who is a) feeling great, b) adventurous, and c) having a bad day?

For someone who's feeling good, for example if they were having breakfast on a beautiful sunny day, I would suggest getting our drip coffee made using Ethiopian beans. When paired with a butter and jam toast or an orange brownie, they go deliciously well together!

For someone feeling adventurous, I would recommend a rarely used coffee such as Usongwe AA from Tanzania. It has lots of tasting notes to discover, filled with blackberries and cranberries flavours.

For someone having a bad day, I highly recommend a mocha as it serves as a retreat! We make our own chocolate sauce using dark chocolate and raw natural brown sugar, which gives a beautiful taste when combined with a double shot of espresso and silky milk.

Cata Coffee's menu.

Which coffee is your personal favourite?

This is tricky, because I like a lot of coffees! However, I generally prefer a sweet taste in espressos, which is why I believe in using blends to make them as this would offer more sweetness, flavours and complexity. In our current seasonal espresso blend, for example, the Fazenda Pedra Redonda brazilian beans gives off hazelnut with toffee notes, while Finca La Armenia from Colombia is really sweet with peach flavours. I find the resulting well-balanced flavour in the espresso beautiful!

As for single origin coffees, I find the coffee from Kochere, Ethiopia outstanding, as it tastes like nectarines and sweet melons.

The coffee offerings of the day.

What plans do you have in the future for Cata Coffee?

I want to continue buying excellent coffee, roasting it in small batches and offering them fresh to our customers! I will also continue to conduct workshops as I really enjoy it. I love working with people and passing on my knowledge to them, and in turn I learn so much. In coffee, I believe that you never stop learning, as there will always be new ways of processing, brewing and roasting coffee! Nevertheless, I live in the moment and I enjoy what i'm doing now, so we'll see.

The Bakery by Woodlands Sourdough
10 Jalan Serene, #01-05 Serene Center.
Singapore 258748

Opening hours: 8.30am - 6pm (Wednesday to Saturday), 8.30am - 8pm (Sunday), closed on Monday and Tuesday

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