Growing a Community from Coffee
Growing a Community from Coffee
by Intan Abu Daniel
Even before the advent of the specialty coffee shops we see today, the common hangout was still a coffee shop. Back then, people would sit on stools at a local kopitiam, order a cup of coffee and socialise. Today, those old style kopitiams have evolved into urban coffee outlets (although there are still plenty of quaint kopitiams to be found around Asia) and a simple cup of coffee has evolved into a sophisticated brew of premium-grade imported roasted coffee beans. With the wider range of coffee on offer and consumer tastes becoming more complex, what was once a simple community of coffee drinkers and sellers has turned into an industry of cafés rivaling to herd in customers loyal to their brand. Walls are drawn up, coffee secrets are kept to the chest and distrust spreads – why share trade secrets with a competitor?
Yet, a healthy relationship between cafés is important to the development of the coffee industry. If a café doesn’t expand their knowledge by communicating with their rivals, it runs the risk of growing stagnant, alienating themselves and gradually, their own customers.
When Firdaus Omar, Director of TwentyFive.BN, first entered the coffee business, there was a prevailing concept that all cafés should be self-serving. “Wearing the hat as an operator, you realise that every single coffee shop is taking a slice of your cake. So this does put you on your toes. When a new player comes into a very saturated market, he or she believes there’s no room for expansion. But from an overall coffee culture outlook, it shows that the interest is there, people still continue to enjoy coffee and businesses still continue to invest in the coffee industry.”
“One of the core objectives of starting TwentyFive.BN was to provide a secondary layer to support the growing industry, meaning providing cafés with products, accessories and even raw materials. We don’t have that strong support system yet. As an operator, you tend to divide your time between running the store as well as thinking up how to source the inventory. So why not get help in reducing one of the issues you face by allowing someone else to provide you with some of these services?”
But in offering coffee shops products and services that would be cheaper and beneficial than if they were to go abroad and get it on their own, Firdaus realized he was hitting a brick wall. “We’ve expanded on what we’re doing, because of the problems we’ve faced trying to provide that support system. Yes, I want a product that someone is offering, but because he is a competitor in the same industry, I’d rather not take it from him. It’s not a misconception, but you’re putting up a barrier knowing that this person is a competitor.”
“The idea of TwentyFive.BN is that we want to be a neutral arbiter for everyone. We don’t see you as a competitor, we see you as our partners. We want to start breaking those walls down by collaborating, sharing ideas, working together, as a coffee community at large.”
Community between cafés is imperative in the evolution of coffee shops in the country. Sharing knowledge between café owners, baristas and roasters can improve the quality of your coffee, and make you more innovative with techniques and tastes.
“We were happy to bring in and introduce nitro to the market. We own a nitro unit that we rent out for events and there’s a profit sharing arrangement that we get as part of a lease.” Nitro drinks were first launched at It’s A Grind Coffeehouse in September. Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf launched its own nitro brew the following month. It has also been served in various public and private events with great reception.
Nitro was one trend that TwentyFive.BN successfully brought into the industry. “One of the questions that was asked at a recent event was what future coffee trends will be like. But without data, you can’t really say, and right now, Brunei has no raw data to help us. That’s another thing we’re trying to do – start a consultancy service that can provide information and raw data collected from surveys so we can help operators be more informed about what they can do as a business. Hopefully in the years to come, there will be a coffee association that will collect the kind of information needed for cafés to operate, and help drive the industry. With proper research, we will know things like: Do more men or women drink coffee? Do they prefer it hot or cold? Do they drink it in the morning, afternoon or evening? Then you know what you should be serving, and when. Without data, you’re just throwing things at the wall and hoping that something sticks.”
Perhaps with TwentyFive.Bn on the scene sharing their knowledge, the local coffee industry will become a tighter community and thrive together. Recent coffee events like Koffee Kurapak, Coffee and Cars and the Latte Art Showdown show a willingness of coffee shops to collaborate. So if you’re a café owner, barista or roaster, you might want to check out other cafés in the country and acquaint yourself with what the others are bringing to the coffee community in Brunei – it’s a small nation with limited resources and we could all benefit from a helping hand.
MPC Berakas, Jln Pembangunan, BSB, Brunei
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