An Interview With Pok Yue Weng Of Tokyo Cafe & Kyoto Cafe
Hello Pok! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview, here at BooksActually, we know you as the author of the cafe guides Tokyo Cafe and Kyoto Cafe (and perhaps the occasional zine), however you are pretty established in the field of photography and videography as well. We are so curious to find out, what other hats do you wear?
Making movies is still my first love and most of what I do for a living. I think most of the hats that I wear really share a lot of common ground. I guess it boils down to me wanting to tell stories, whether it’s about graffiti coming to life, stories about migrant workers or an old samsui woman. Or it could be an old Japanese coffee roaster sharing a cup of his freshly roasted coffee. My hats bring me to different places, whether it’s filming an illegal night car race along the highways of Taipei, or sipping coffee in a coffee house in an old Japanese temple. My hats allow me to meet with different people, from an old manga artist to newfound collaborators.
A short email correspondence with you and always seeing you in your signature hairstyle gives your cheerful nature away, what is it that keeps you going everyday?
Going into office before anyone arrives, making coffee and tending to my plants always makes a great start to my day. If I’m on a shoot, I’d go to the location a little earlier, take a walk around the neighbourhood, maybe have a cup of kopi at a coffee shop, just taking in the scenes and places I don’t usually frequent makes me anticipate the adventure that awaits my day.
You have also been very impressively foraging into the depths of VR. Has being a videographer informed your role as an author in any way?
Besides being a videographer, I direct most of the time. So in a way, I’m always writing scripts. So yes that has helped, in a way. Although I really don’t really introduce myself as an author in my cafe books. To me, I’m still a long way off from being an author. VR, in a way, interests me because it’s a new form I can use to tell stories. Obviously, there’s a whole lot of technical stuff about it, but that idea of letting the viewer be immersed in the experience of a story really made me sit up and take notice. The different people I meet on shoots do inspire me in one way or another, sometimes finding their way into my scripts as well. I get to film in many locations in Singapore that I’d never ever visit in my spare time, places probably many Singaporeans don’t even know about. But these places stay in my mind and they tend to end up in my scripts as well.
What makes a good cup of coffee? On that note, is there a type of coffee you order to test the cafes you go to?
I guess everyone has their own idea of what a good cup of coffee is. For me, I’m excited when a cup of coffee surprises me. You know those tasting notes written on the labels of coffee beans? Strawberry? Cola? Tobacco? I’m excited when I do taste those elements in my coffee. Cafes who roasts their own coffee usually get samples from coffee bean merchants for the beans they would like to purchase. They do a simple small batch roasting on these samples and cup them, to decide on the coffee beans to buy. So this process of cupping is pretty interesting and really opens up your mind to various aromas and tastes. Most of the time you can be cupping and tasting at least 8 samples and above. So most of the time when I visit a cafe, I’d order a pour-over of their own roasted beans. Asking them about their coffee beans is always a great start to get to know them.
I see the future of videography and filmmaking as VR, so what do you think the future of coffee is? Do you foresee a change in today’s experience of brewing and enjoying a cup of coffee?
I hope in the future people will be more informed about where their coffee comes from. Whether its from a small family coffee farm in Kenya or a small batch coffee producer in Costa Rica, the coffee we drink is a result of the efforts of many people and the more we are able to put a face to it, the more people will appreciate it. I think in the near future, roasting coffee will leave the confines of the cafes and into the homes of the consumers. People would be able to enjoy a cup of coffee that is roasted and brewed to their tastes.
What have you been obsessed with recently?
I’ve been really obsessed with bizarre plants recently. I have always been growing plants and occasional vegetable crops out of my home balcony. But for the past couple of years, I have been into collecting and growing rare and bizarre plants. Strange and odd looking plants endemic to far flung places like Madagascar, Somalia, Tanzania and Chile, interest me a great deal. Most of the plants come to me bare rooted, so I spend quite a bit of time and effort to acclimatise them to Singapore’s weather.
We look forward to seeing you around in the store! As a closing question, what can we hope to see from you in the future?
More coffee books, I promise, until I get sick of Japan, which probably won’t ever happen. More community zines, I hope, as a form of giving back to society. There’s too much of Singapore that is being torn down or forgotten and the zines are my way of preserving memories. Maybe a book about film in Singapore as I hope to start a publication as an ode to what I love most, making movies. Also some fiction as I hope to get a series of fiction books published.