At CLEO, we’re constantly on the lookout for game-changers who are dedicated to making a positive change in the world. Every year, we seek out young female professionals who are not only great at what they do, but also inspire others. This year, we found 10.

Regina Tay, 30, Co-owner of Bearded Bella

Thirty-year-old CLEO Change Maker Regina is no stranger to taking leaps of faith. At 23, the marketing post-grad flew all the way to Brazil, using the money she had saved up from her part time job as a barista in Melbourne, to learn more about coffee.

“I think what drew me towards being a barista is that I got exposed to many different origins of coffee, and every single coffee is different. On top of that, there are a lot of things a barista can do to change what the customers are getting in their cups in the end.”

The three-week coffee trip in 2011 only cemented her conviction to carve a career in the coffee world.

“At that point, my visa was up. I had to come back to Singapore from Melbourne. I was done studying, so I was at this crossroa and had to decide whether I should start working in marketing – which is something I’ve studied for five years – or go into the coffee industry properly,” she recalls. The rest, as they say, is history.

And how did her parents react?

“They weren’t the happiest,” Regina admits with a chuckle. “I mean, I did post-grad studies. It was a lot of money from my parents.”

“But I was willing to work hard from the bottom up. I knew what I had signed up for. Even in Melbourne, I had spent six months washing dishes before I was even allowed to touch the coffee machine. My parents recognised that, so they didn’t question my decision too much.”

“They were really supportive. I was really lucky,” adds Regina.

After three years of being a barista and a coffee roaster in Singapore, Regina felt like she had hit a professional rut and found herself hungry for some inspiration. She also had doubts about continuing down this career path, because specialty coffee was still quite new in Singapore then and she felt like she wasn’t learning anything new because people were hesitant about sharing their knowledge.

“The coffee scene wasn’t as vibrant as it is now. At that time, everyone was still very secretive about the way they roast their coffees and how they operate. I wasn’t used to it, because back in Melbourne, you could just ask anyone in the industry and you can end up talking about coffee for two hours!”

“I felt very stagnant then, I didn’t see any room for progress for my career,” she recalls.

So then, she took a second leap of faith and quit her job. She then took up a consultant role a coffee roastery in Indonesia. At the end of 2017, she took her third leap – coming back home to set up her own café, Bearded Bella.

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It still feels so surreal but this wouldn't have been possible without the support of so many amazing people. I'd like to thank @daryantowitarsa @ystanu @autan1 @boba_hotep @ben_morrow @mattperger @yessyliaviolin @johniroadrunner for their guidance, support and for believing in me. Thanks to @singaporecoffee for supporting my passion and hosting this astounding event tirelessly year after year for the industry. @willlleow for helping me out with the grinder; all sponsors who made this competition possible; to all judges – your professionalism makes all the efforts in putting together a good routine worthwhile. To all fellow competitors whose passion and dedication to specialty coffee are an inspiration to me and everyone who sees it. To strangersreu for making me who i am; and to everyone who came to show their support 🙂 lastly, kayseewong for being here for me the whole time. Wouldn't have done it without all of you. 📷credit #cafeasia2016 #snbc2016 #roadtoWBC

A post shared by Regina Tay (@geeohreggie) on

“Some people asked me ‘What are you going to do after being a barista?’” says Regina.

“People don’t see being a barista as a real job; they think it’s something you take up during school holidays. So it was difficult to convince the people around me, even my relatives and friends.”

Nevertheless, the girlboss of Bearded Bella persisted. Today, she has a fledgling café and the title of Singapore Barista Champion 2016 to show for it.

“I have my mentor to thank for that,” says Regina. “He told me to dream big – he taught me how to be ambitious and set my goals really high, so that even if I don’t achieve the end goal, I’ll still be further than where I expect myself to be.”

During this time, she also initiated the Guild of Baristas, which is a community for coffee professionals to share their experiences and exchange knowledge.

“The experience of participating in competitions, and working in Jakarta, gave me a lot of confidence,” says Regina. “I realised that not everybody has access to the opportunities that I did, so there has to be another way for people to learn. I want to contribute to the community here.”