Coffee culture runs deep in Malaysia. Every morning, we can see people sitting at ‘kopitiams’ (coffee shop) to have a cup of coffee to kick off their day. We have the traditional Hainanese Coffee, kopi-o, kopi tarik, white coffee and some other novelty choices like ‘cham’ (the mixture of coffee and tea).
Our traditional coffee beans are a mixture of green beans from different origins roasted with sugar, butter, and sesame. The blend of different beans and ingredients produces a strong, robust and aromatic taste in our local coffee.
Specialty Coffee is the absolute contrast of our traditional coffee. It is used to describe beans of the best flavour which are produced in special microclimates. People often mistake ‘premium’ coffee as specialty coffee. Please note that ‘premium’ coffee is a marketing term with no defined standards, while specialty coffee is coffee bean which scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scoresheet by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).
Our team in ZOM-IN is very blessed to meet Ms Yip Leong Sum from Beans Depot, the president of the Malaysia Specialty Coffee Association (MSCA) to understand her startup journey and her contribution to the coffee culture in Malaysia.
Ms Yip used to work for all those big corporates as an HR Manager for Comp & Ben. She was very committed to her career. Until 10 years ago, when her children entered teenage, she couldn’t leave them at hometown anymore, she finally made a decision to leave corporate jobs in order to spend more times with her daughters.
Knowing that she can’t be a full-time homemaker, her husband and daughters encouraged her to find something to do that interests her. Being a coffee lover for her whole life, she noticed that at that part of the time there’s no one in Malaysia selling coffee beans by origins. That was a time when the Third Wave Coffee hadn’t appeared in Malaysia yet, we only had Starbucks (the Second Wave Coffee), and Ms Yip herself was still a local coffee drinker.
To understand more about coffee, Ms Yip started to do research about the coffee culture in Italy and started to learn how to brew coffee. She also joined a group of coffee enthusiasts that held regular meetings of appreciating specialty coffee. To pick up coffee brewing skills and knowledge, Ms Yip enrolled herself into the illy’s School of Coffee.
The more she learnt, she wanted to learn even more. She flew all the way to Hong Kong to attended coffee roasting classes conducted by the SCAA. She got herself a 300g Roasting Machine to start roasting coffee beans. Then she realized, to get green beans (the raw coffee beans) in Malaysia is not easy because it required an approved permit (AP).
The journey is very tough. For almost everyone, ‘kopi o’ is still as good. Not many people would appreciate Specialty Coffee because of its higher price.”
Ms Yip understood she has to cultivate the coffee culture in Malaysia. To bring up the entire coffee scene in Malaysia, she and a few coffee enthusiasts started to form the MSCA. They gathered the coffee lovers, machine sellers and beans distributors to organize world-standard competitions. After putting in a lot of efforts, they finally got the MSCA and the competitions sanctioned by the World Coffee Events.
The process of educating people, getting recognized and getting sponsored is not easy at all.”
Ms Yip used to offer free cupping to teach other coffee lovers how to taste and evaluate a good cup of coffee. To encourage café owners to make specialty coffee, she rent her roasting machine to competitors. When we were visiting Ms Yip at Beans Depot, we saw a guy roasting coffee beans bag by bag, initially, we thought he is her staff, found out later that he is actually from another café.
She even rent her coffee bar to people during weekends who wanted to start a café to engage them in the business before investing money on setting up their café. “I’m always keen to grow people and I want to strike a balance between business and mission.”
Back to Beans Depot.
Ms Yip started Beans Depot by renting a small garage of a bungalow, with a simple coffee machine and a small table. She invited people to come and taste the coffee and the visitors tipped her. Although she has moved into a bigger space now, she still keeps the table and the cake chiller that she used since day 1. “We are still using the same coffee machine!”
The story of Ms Yip and Beans Depot is very unique. She not only built her own coffee business but also brought up the entire coffee scene in Malaysia and helped a lot of café owners in starting their businesses.
I believe in sustainability and integrity in business. I also believe together we can be better. It’s unlikely that their customers will come to me if they don’t have good quality coffee to offer. People go to their establishments often because of their personal relationships or maybe it’s nearer to their houses. I won’t earn more if I being selfish to share.”
Do you love coffee? If yes, Beans Depot is a great place for you to redefine your understanding of coffee. “We don’t have fantastic furniture, but I can promise you the best quality in your cup.”
MSCA is built to unite, develop and enhance the Specialty Coffee Industry in Malaysia. Ms. Yip Leong Sim (the owner and founder of Beans Depot) is the current President of the association.