Home > Dining > Drinks > Chivas Regal I Rise, We Rise: Caden Chua of Bar TERUMI enjoys instilling the element of surprise in her craft
Chivas Regal I Rise, We Rise: Caden Chua of Bar TERUMI enjoys instilling the element of surprise in her craft

In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Lifestyle Asia KL and Chivas Regal join forces with four illustrious female bartenders in town. At Bar TERUMI, we chat with cocktail whiz Caden Chua on her journey getting to where she is today; her eccentric style of mixing; and her hot take on what it’s like being a woman behind the bar. 

Together with Lifestyle Asia KL, Chivas Regal celebrates International Women’s Day with the country’s most celebrated female bartenders. Mark your calendars on 8th March 2023 for a special Guest Shift at BAR TERUMI, featuring Caden Chua and Shirmy Chan from BAR TERUMI; Maria Escobia from Penrose KL; and Megan Lim from BAC. Find out more HERE.

It’s expected that Taman Paramount’s TERUMI or “the tender bar” — so aptly named for its calming atmosphere — is often synonymous with owner and veteran mixologist Shirmy Chan, but along with its grand opening last August entered Caden Chua, with a comparably long history in the bar scene. As Shirmy eagerly ushers us into TERUMI (which looks less like your run-of-the-mill bar and more of a zen Japanese tea house), I spot Caden behind the bar, bright-eyed and just as excited for our shoot but in a less effusive way.

“Caden may seem a bit shy at first, but wait till you see how she is behind the bar,” Shirmy announces to the room all mother hen-like, making Caden fluster. “That’s when she’s in her element.”

“May I recommend Ramee?” Caden chimes in, ‘business face’ on as she hands us the cocktail menu. The Ramee is a localised tropical sour, with rambutan as its main feature. It has not yet started raining, and through the tall windows in TERUMI the floors are being bombarded with sunrays. “It’s very refreshing.”

Once she unfastens the bottle of Chivas Regal and properly gets to work, flitting to and fro behind the counter, I see just what Shirmy means. The quiet unassuming persona is quickly shed, making way for the ‘Caden Chua’ that no doubt captivated crowds both locally and internationally. With close to a decade in the bar scene, Caden has not only competed professionally but also scooped several awards along the way, including the Monin Cup in 2018. (In that same year, she was dubbed ‘The Rising Star’ at the Bar Awards.)

She is dressed in an all-black ensemble — TERUMI’s relaxed uniform of sorts — sporting a closely cropped ‘do that complements her androgynous features, with a laser-focused gaze to complete her altogether unconventional look.

Conquering the bartending world with bizarre combinations

Caden is all about the unconventional. Her triumph at the Bar Awards in 2018 — a daring shot at mixing gin with traditional local ingredients — hinged on her talent to put together ingredients that would make you go, Huh, I never really thought about that.

“My style of mixing is more toward flavour pairings,” Caden opens up. “I like to challenge myself that way. What I do is I take a very common ingredient and look into how to make the pairing more interesting. For example, when you think of tomatoes, what comes to mind — a Bloody Mary, right? You would think vodka, tomato juice, spices. But I look at it this way: what if I pair a tomato with something else, something not so common? Maybe a strawberry. With a bit of balsamic vinegar.”

A meme from last year resurfaces in my mind: that clip of House of the Dragon actor Emma D’Arcy describing their unusual go-to drink, “A negroni… sbagliato… with Prosecco in it.” In the same way that D’Arcy’s co-star is thrown off in the clip, I take some time to picture Caden’s ‘Bloody Strawberry’ concoction. The strange and the totally out-there — that’s what makes a ‘Caden Chua’ cocktail. “I’m always curious about new combinations,” Caden sums up. “Reimagining the classic, and all that.” 

Before she embarked on her career in bartending, Caden first started out in the industry as a cook. It’s only logical that someone like Caden, who loves branching out creatively, might find a kitchen stifling. “I couldn’t take the heat, it was just too much for me,” she confides. “I decided to step out and try my hand as a barista, but after a while I felt it wasn’t really my thing either.” As it happened, CK Cho — award-winning bartender and founder of Coley, one of KL’s top cocktail bars — had a pop-up right behind the café where Caden worked. “I knew that the barista thing wasn’t working and I needed another ‘step’, so to speak,” Caden adds. “So I thought I would try bartending. At first, it was more like, ‘Okay, I’m going to just give it a shot and try.’ Little did I know that it would come to be my career right now.” 

Then in late 2022, Caden, constantly going where the current takes her, joined TERUMI’s radical all-female team under the guidance of Shirmy Chan. At Bar TERUMI, Caden takes on the role of Beverage Innovation Manager. Through her title alone one can tell that her job involves shaking things up — both literally and figuratively — to keep TERUMI’s menu fresh.

“I have a lot of freehand to do what I want to do here,” Caden says. “Shirmy has been very supportive and open to new ideas, which I really, really appreciate. It’s a very transparent environment here, and everyone is open to sharing and brainstorming new ideas. Anything crazy that we want to try out, we can just talk to Shirmy and she’ll make sure to source all the things we need.”

“I’m always curious about new combinations, reimagining the classic and all that.” —Caden Chua

Mixing ‘busy-ness’ with pleasure

Entering the bartending biz was no easy feat for Caden. Coming from the food service (and later coffee) industry, the working hours overlapped — which means Caden never really got to taste the thrill of bar-hopping until she became a part of the lifestyle herself. “My relationship with alcohol was mostly made up of the time I spent at convenience stores,” she says with a laugh. “Just a couple of beers and very simple stuff like rum and coke or rum and tonic, that was it.”

After Caden instilled the love of bartending into her, she was confronted with other challenges. “For women to work in a male-dominated industry like bartending, the first and most important thing you need is your stamina,” she advises. “It’s very hard to keep up with men, seriously, no joke. And you need to pick up all the heavy stuff. I mean, the crates go up to 45 kg — as heavy as me! You just have to push yourself. And then of course, there’s the long hours. While the world is sleeping, that’s when you’re at work.”

As our conversation turns to the topic of women in the field, I ask her about the misconceptions she might have come across over the course of her career. “Oh, there’s a lot — sometimes they don’t think I can make good cocktails just because I’m a woman,” Caden says, jumping straight in. Her unconventionality, fortunately, extends to the way she views the world. She learns to find happiness in the cracks, and to better appreciate the things she gets to see on the job. From a live proposal to spontaneous karaoke sessions in the bar, Caden has been privy to all the drama — but she’s grateful to get to be part of it. Still, that doesn’t quite spare her from getting side-eyed by those who think she can’t make good cocktails.

“But in a way, I like the way they ‘judge’ or look at me because that’s where I let the surprise element come in,” she continues, looking pleased with herself. “After all this time, I have actually kind of enjoyed this misconception. When they look at me with that doubt in their eyes, I would just be like, ‘It’s okay, never mind. I’ll prove it to you.’ I don’t even have to say anything. I prove it through my cocktails. And then I do! When they praise my drinks, I just tell them that they can come and look for Caden.”

Underneath the cool and calm exterior lives a lively spirit, and underneath the serious spirit mixer lives a budding sweet tooth. “Everything I drink has to be sweet,” Caden affirms. “That’s my jam. That’s my poison. A classic favourite of mine is a rum and tonic, with a squeeze of lime.” When she’s feeling a little fancy, she’ll whip up a Ramos Gin Fizz just because — it requires a good 20-minute shake, but for Caden, it’s absolutely worth it. Whether it’s to disprove the naysayers or to treat herself, it’s clear that Caden isn’t afraid to keep rising to the occasion.

To get your hands on your own bottle of Chivas Regal, head over to its official Shopee page HERE.

editor & creative direction MARTIN TEO | assisted by RONN TAN | production NEW STORYBOARDS PHOTOGRAPHY | location BAR TERUMI
Chivas Regal I Rise, We Rise: Caden Chua of Bar TERUMI enjoys instilling the element of surprise in her craft

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