There’s something brewing with coffee

The Star, 20 Feb 2014

DIAMONDS may be a girl’s best friend and dogs may be a man’s trusted companion but coffee keeps everyone happy.

Even if you are not a coffee drinker, you would have relied on a cup or two while pulling an all-nighter completing an assignment or to cure a hangover following a night of too much fun.

It also works wonders for those with sleep deprivation. But having a cup of coffee is no longer just about getting a caffeine fix.

It has evolved to something more than a just a drink that can keep you calm, sharpen your mind or provide the vital boost to make it through a boring mid-day meeting.

This can be seen in the number of cafes springing up around the country.

Spilling the beans

The meteoric rise of coffee cafes not just in Malaysia, but around the world — dubbed the “Starbucks effect” — is amazing.

In Brazil, where the level of poverty is well above the norm for a middle-income country, cafes that serve premium coffee and sell the coffee drinkers lifestyle are booming.

According to research conducted last year by market research company Mintel, a quarter of Brazilian coffee drinkers claim they prefer premium over regular brands of coffee and the market volume for coffee in Brazil is growing faster than in the US, year on year.

Two of the most populous countries in Asia are also latching on to coffee culture these days and their long relationship with tea may never be the same again.

Many specialist coffee cafes are opening up in China and India — two countries that are synonymous with tea.

In India, specialist coffee chains have started taking over urban districts and business areas, firmly establishing themselves as hangout spots for youths.

It is predicted that by next year, there will be 4,000 specialist coffee outlets in India, almost double what the number is now.

In China, the number of coffee houses has nearly doubled in the last five years to over 31,000. In contrast, the number of tea houses has only grown by 4%, according to some reports.

Closer to home, Vietnam’s local coffee culture is booming. The country now consumes two million 60kg bags of coffee beans just a few years after its economy opened up to foreign investment.

Coffee culture has also been booming in Malaysia with coffee cafes mushrooming all across the country.

One such cafe is Ministry of Coffee located in Solaris Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. The new coffee house is the brainchild of former barista Michael Tan.

“Malaysians are starting to appreciate a good cup of coffee. From their travels, they now know the difference between a good cup of coffee and a bad one,” said Tan, who has been in the business for 15 years.

“When I started making coffee, the lifestyle was not so popular. It all started five years ago when the outlets of global chains such as Starbucks, Gloria Jean’s and Coffee Bean started opening up. Malaysians enjoy the lifestyle that came along with it,” he added.

Tan and his two of his partners launched Ministry of Coffee last year after seeing a rise in the number of coffee drinkers in Malaysia. Set up with an investment of about RM500,000, Ministry of Coffee uses 100% organic coffee beans from their own plantation in Thailand.

“We wanted to be different by providing our customers with the plant-to-cup experience. So, we decided to invest in a plantation and grow our own beans. That way we can guarantee the quality of our beans,” said Tan.

Ministry of Coffee uses 100kg of coffee beans every two to three months and each cup starts fromRM9.

Targeting teenagers who are crazy about the hipster lifestyle and working class adults who want to taste different coffees, Tan expects this culture to continue growing.

However, he is quick to warn those who are interested in capitalising on the boom to properly educate themselves about coffee.

“In my experience I have seen many indie coffee houses close within six months. Coffee is just like wine. You can’t learn about wine after a seminar or a workshop. You need to perfect your taste buds and that comes with experience. It is the same with coffee,” said Tan.

As the coffee culture continues to boom in Malaysia, it is has also sparked a rise in the sales of coffee making machines.

Taking it home

RoastCoffee2u, though started as a coffee roaster, switched its business model to bringing fresh premium coffee to homes and offices a few years ago.

“Coffee has many perks. It can help people stay sharp during a meeting and bring people closer. This is a proven fact. It is an healthy alternative,” said RoastCoffee2u chief executive James Khoo.

“A coffee machine can blend a perfect cup of coffee.” he added. RoastCoffee2u started selling coffee machines in 2010 and business has been growing ever since.

RoastCoffee2u now aims to capture the home market as more Malaysians are appreciating a good cup of coffee.

“About 90% of our clientele are business owners who take their coffee seriously. Now, we are planning to expand into homes,” said Khoo.

He also believes it will not be long before Malaysians start investing in coffee machine just like they would a microwave or a television.

“We hope that every beautiful home has a beautiful coffee maker. This is possible as our machines have won design awards globally,” said Khoo. With prices for a machine starting from RM2,900, Khoo thinks that it is an investment for those who need their coffee fix at home. He says coffee consumption in Malaysia is expected to rise and more Malaysians will be looking to have their house with coffee makers.