COFFEE drinking has long been a part of everyday life for many Malaysians. The number of cafés and specialty coffee outlets has been growing in the country and What’s on Tap is looking to tap into this trend.
But there is a need to differentiate your offerings to stand out from the variety of coffee drinks available in the market today.
There is definitely a growing acceptance and demand for a different coffee experience, notes Eric Chung, head barista and founder of What’s on Tap, which is located at Plaza Mont Kiara.
Having honed his skills and coffee knowledge in Melbourne, a city steeped in coffee culture, Chung thinks he has an idea or two about the ingredients that are lacking in Malaysia’s coffee scene.
Chung had spent a decade working his way up from a waiter to a barista, then a café manager and eventually became the head coffee roaster at a joint in Melbourne.
He is meticulous about delivering a different experience for local coffee drinkers and it shows the moment you walk through its doors. Unlike most typical neighbourhood cafés, What’s on Tap employs a minimalist design. The outlet exudes a bright and spacious ambience, preferring white and a “tech touch” over the usual vintage and cosy feel of a coffee place.
“I think people here are too used to the sterile environments of a typical coffee joint, with laminated wood, hidden coffee machines and where everything is highly commercial. If you go to many of these well-known coffee chains, they all look the same with standardised interiors and fittings.
“But here, the open concept is done because we want to let our customers see and expose them to some of our innovative coffee brewing methods and increase the understanding of the importance of production and what are the steps involved in processing good quality coffee,” he says.
While many other artisanal coffee outlets depend heavily on the baristas or are helmed by a famous coffee experts to pull in the crowd, What’s on Tap lets the machinery and technology do the job.
The equipment used for coffee making are laid out in clear view, like what customers will see at a restaurant with an open kitchen.
By “hacking” the layout and placement of the coffee machines, Chung says customers will be more engaged in the entire process of brewing a regular cup of coffee.
Trends will come and go, but the adoption of technology and the consistent upgrading of the process will be key in ensuring a consistent quality standard that can help secure longevity and sustainability in the business, he adds.
For example, the outlet relies on technology to produce its signature coffee-based drink Orange Nito Fizz, which is derived from the nitrogen infused cold brew, Chung explains. The drink, he says, can be considered as one of the hallmarks of specialty coffee.
The nitro-infused coffee creates a rich, velvety texture and creamy head that is increasingly in demand among coffee consumers in more advanced markets.
By the second half of the year, What’s on Tap is due to receive its coffee bean roasting machine and will start to source and roast its own coffee blend, using beans from countries such as Brazil, Kenya, Guatemala and Ethiopia.
Riding the current wave
One of the trends making a wave in the coffee world today is specialty coffee. But Chung sees this latest trend more as a way of shaping a relationship between the consumer and the coffee.
To be able to thrive in this wave, an understanding of the dynamics of coffee and the distinct characteristics of coffee beans from different parts of the world is crucial.
Like grapes grown to produce fine wines, coffee beans from different regions have distinct flavours and the quality of the beans vary each harvest year depending on the weather, water and soil.
This eventually affects the quality and taste of the coffee.
This is where the expertise in setting a consistent standard for coffee flavours comes in, says Chung, coupled with the ability to match a glossary of common flavour profiles to various sensory experiences of smell and taste.
Having a deep understanding and knowledge of coffee helps a coffee outlet create unique blends and signature drinks.
Besides its core coffee offerings, Chung is also hoping to tap into other trends that are prevalent in the beverage industry. He says What’s on Tap is looking to introduce other healthy alternatives that include tea and new flavours derived from sesame, beetroot, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and green teas.
This development could result in a whole new offering of visually pleasing yet healthy non-coffee alternatives from ingredients well known for their wealth of beneficial properties.
With his experience, expertise and passion for all things coffee, Chung is naturally the force behind What’s on Tap.
But he acknowledges his family’s support in helping him get his business idea off the ground.
Chung’s brother, who runs a renovation and interior design business, took charge of the renovation and designing works of the café while his sister-in-law, who is well-versed in administrative matters, took care of the operations and human resource issues for What’s on Tap. This also allows him the luxury of shuttling between Melbourne, where he is still based today, and Kuala Lumpur.
In the longer term, Chung is aware that developing a new culture requires scale and widespread awareness to be truly entrenched among coffee drinkers.
But he notes that What’s on Tap’s reliance on technology enables the business to be consistent, efficient and replicable. This opens the possibility of a franchise model in the future to develop the brand further.
While Chung notes that kopitiam and mamak stalls will continue to dominate the market for casual coffee drinkers in Malaysia, he hopes What’s on Tap’s price positioning will help it grow a steady following.
It is, no doubt, a common thing for entrepreneurs to turn their passion into a business, but only a select few will have the vision to take it a step further and turn their expertise into a new culture. If Chung succeeds in his endeavour to bring a more engaging experience to the local market, driven by the use of technology, Malaysia may just see a new culture taking shape where the experience and consumption of coffee goes beyond a quick morning caffeine fix.