Coffee Drinking Culture in Malaysia

01/09/2022 09:17 AM
Opinions on topical issues from thought leaders, columnists and editors.

By Dr Hanis Hazwani Ahmad

Trend of Coffee Culture

In Malaysia today, specialty coffee shops are not an uncommon sight. Despite the historic popularity of the traditional kopitiam, things are starting to change. Chains and independent cafes are changing the way many Malaysians consume coffee in public. There are many coffee shops offering a variety of coffee and their numbers are growing rapidly because of the culture of coffee drinking.

The increase in coffee consumption in Malaysia has been attributed to several factors, including urbanisation and hectic lives. To increase productivity, coffee drinking has become ingrained in Malaysian culture. One of the factors contributing to Malaysia’s surge in coffee consumption is urbanisation and busy lifestyles. The introduction of coffee, which we in Malaysia refer to as ‘kopi’, during the British colonial era laid the foundation for ‘kopitiam’ (which means coffee shop in the Hokkien dialect). Since then, Malaysians have claimed ownership of this beverage, where, in contrast to the rest of the globe, kopi is created by pouring boiling water through a cloth filter rather than being brewed.

Figure 1 (below) depicts the amount of coffee consumed by Malaysians in 2021 and 2022, which was 800,000 60kg bags. (Department of Statistics Malaysia[DOSM], 2022). The majority of Malaysians’ daily lives have typically included warm beverages like tea and coffee. The elderly typically drank coffee in their neighbourhood kopitiams or coffee shops. On the other hand, Malaysians who had moved overseas and started drinking coffee picked up the habit and started a café culture. Additionally, the expansion of national and local coffee shop chains like OldTown White Coffee and global retail cafe companies like Starbucks® and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf increased its appeal to younger people. Liberica, which makes up most of the country's grown coffee beans, and robusta are Malaysia's two main coffee bean kinds. In 2018, Malaysia produced 2.1 million bags of coffee weighing 60 kg. Malaysia purchases coffee from its neighbour, Indonesia, to satisfy domestic and international demand.

Figure 1: Total coffee consumption in Malaysia from 2013-2022 (DOSM, 2022)

Figure 1: Total coffee consumption in Malaysia from 2013-2022 (DOSM, 2022)

Coffee Drinking Boost Productivity

Coffee and sleep are fantastic on their own, but when combined, they may be a strong tool for increasing alertness. Studies in England and Japan have shown that if you drink coffee right before napping and sleep for 20 minutes or fewer, you can focus on work better than if you just drank coffee or had a regular nap.

Most individuals drink coffee to get a boost to start their day or to get through a lunchtime lull. Others drink it to stay focused, which is why you see so many individuals with computers, hard at work, or a community coffee pot in practically every business break room across the world. Numerous studies have shown that caffeine may be quite beneficial in little quantities, giving your body a brief burst of energy and alertness. It has also been shown to improve motor and cognitive function, short-term memory, response accuracy, and the capacity to focus attention, among other things.

According to one research, 200 milligrams of caffeine can boost your capacity to recognise phrases and words faster than you could without coffee. Many entrepreneurs set out to develop new skills, master new technologies, or better understand their business to compete in their field. A couple of coffee cups can be all you need to pay full attention to the content you’re learning and apply it to your company. The objective for many people is to consume as much caffeine as possible. Others are seeking the perfect flavour, and many have discovered a perfect match between these two extremes. For example, espresso coffee is the quickest way to enhance your productivity since it provides an instant cerebral boost that might endure for several hours. So, the caffeine in an espresso offers you a productivity boost, allowing you to quit watching Netflix, get out of bed, go for a bike ride, and return with plenty of energy to start your day.

Bulletproof coffee is a beverage made from oil, coffee, and butter. This creamy coffee is served hot and resembles a latte. The core physics behind the formula is that the coffee and necessary fats offer energy to the brain, resulting in a balanced, non-nervous stimulation that lasts for hours. This combination is thus worth exploring if you want to counteract mental weariness during work. Caffeine, in general, has been shown to increase productivity. It is excellent for activating cognitive activities, improving energy, and enhancing attentiveness. Best of all, coffee may be a beverage that you can drink all day.

Encouragement to be Youth Agroprenuers

The success of young ‘agroprenuers’ works as a magnet, tempting other Malaysian youths to investigate the world of agriculture, which has the potential to lift them out of poverty. The industry might assist the government in addressing the critical issues of young unemployment and food security. Young agroprenuers who have successfully utilised contemporary, creative and technology ways in the industry might act as role models for their colleagues and inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

Emerging new technologies can stimulate innovation in product quality and production volume to fulfil consumer and market demand while also maximising profit for young agroprenuers. The industry must transition from being dominated by older, less technologically proficient farmers to more contemporary, young farmers. Unfortunately, the agriculture industry continues to lag behind other sectors, such as services and manufacturing.

The key difficulty that must be addressed to increase the number of successful young agroprenuers is changing young people's perspectives. They believe that working in the industry is arduous, risky, unglamorous, and low-paying, and that it does not provide a promising future. These myths must be dispelled.

Youth Agroprenuers’ Initiative in Coffee Industry

The Agriculture and Food Industries Ministry (MAFI) through the Agriculture Department, is ready to assist individuals who are interested in becoming coffee entrepreneurs, from beginning to end starting with the preparation of the planting process, irrigation system to coffee processing. However, according to the coffee entrepreneur, the main problem in this industry is manpower which is needed to pick ripe coffee beans as not all beans in one stalk of coffee will ripen at the same time. Therefore, there is a need to re-pluck the ripe beans from that stalk at another time.

In his statement, Agriculture and Food Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee, who presided over the online celebration of World Coffee Day, stated that his ministry will give special consideration to developing new initiatives to promote young, local entrepreneurs to enter the coffee-growing business. The Nescafe youth entrepreneurship initiatives, on the other hand, are offered by the company. Nescafe opened pop-up shops on campuses all around Malaysia as a result. Students got the opportunity to run the coffee hubs as their own companies here. These students excelled in the areas of marketing, management, and promotion, which are all aspects of business.

Additionally, as part of the Heong Leong Bank Jumpstart programme, Coffee for Good will see an increase in branding and marketing efforts to attract more trainees, particularly on social media. These efforts will include the installation of pop-up cafes in a few of the offices of Hong Leong Bank and its affiliated companies, the introduction of cashless payment options, and financial literacy workshops led by the bank’s SME specialists. HLB provides a jumpstart programme as part of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) platform for cooperation to support the sustainability of yet another social company. Faridah Halani and Dalia Abdul Aziz launched the social venture Coffee for Good, a coffee specialist, with the goal of empowering young people from the B40 group through an on-the-job training programme. They will gain knowledge and skills about coffee via the programme that will make them marketable, and it will place them in jobs as qualified baristas.

In Malaysia, the food and beverage sector, and specifically the coffee culture, is flourishing, but there is a dearth of baristas with the necessary training. It became clear to the local cafe owner, who was having trouble finding qualified baristas to recruit, that they could combine their commercial acumen with B40 youth empowerment to address the ongoing skilled labour issue that affects cafe owners worldwide. Hong Leong Bank's social purpose is concentrated on the young, especially school dropouts from the B40 income bracket who may have few job options owing to a lack of academic credentials and vocational abilities. Giving them work skills like a barista will ideally give them a stepping-stone to finding employment with a steady pay check.

Effort to Sustain Malaysia’s Coffee Industry

Coffee’s quality and aromatic character reflect its terroir, the health of the soil, and the surrounding environment. Coffee growing regions are particularly exposed to the effects of climate change. Extreme temperature swings, high rainfall and drought all pose major threats to coffee plantations. Coffee is a crop that needs specialised understanding. Agronomists provide training on sustainable agricultural techniques, increasing farmer experience and competence while helping them to increase the quality and production of their coffee. Some steps are relatively straightforward, such as teaching farmers how to hand-harvest only cherries that are perfectly ripe. Others are more complicated, such as how to ‘stump’ a coffee tree by chopping it down to enhance production.

Malaysian producers’ biggest issue is selling their coffee beans at a reasonable price to local purchasers. Coffee beans are non-perishable and require less capital to grow than vegetables. Farmers are willing to cultivate coffee if they can sell their beans at a higher price. Furthermore, providing good comments from downstream players can enhance farmers’ confidence, allowing them to sell high-quality beans to downstream players such as local roasters. Local roasters experience difficulties in obtaining high-quality coffee beans since they must import them from other countries, which is costly; thus, purchasing premium coffee beans from local farmers may be a viable option.

Sabarica, the producer of Sabah’s Arabica coffee species, is attempting to raise awareness among local roasters about the availability of Arabica coffee beans in Sabah to enhance the local coffee sector (The Edge Markets, 2020). As of January 2020, forty local farmers were planting Arabica coffee plants with the assistance of Sabarica. Furthermore, Sabarica is attempting to develop several types of Arabica coffee plants in Sabah, such as Gesha coffee. Arabica beans are in great demand on the market and may fetch growers a higher premium (The Edge Markets, 2020).

Nestle established the ‘Nescafe Grown Respectfully’ programme in 2019 to enhance the livelihoods of local coffee growers in Kedah and revitalise the local coffee sector (Nestle, 2020). They launched this initiative with the help of local partners to ensure that all their coffee beans are ethically sourced and sustainably certified by 2025. (Nestle, 2020). They used grafting technique to recreate the mother plant, which had been cultivated since the early 1990s, to deliver seedlings to farmers.

They also provide farmers training and technical help to increase productivity and output; this includes advising farmers on optimal agricultural techniques, lowering production costs, and providing post-harvest treatments. Nestle also assists farmers in improving their livelihoods by purchasing beans that fulfil their strict quality standards. Nestle benefits as well because these beans are utilised in their Nescafe products. It also strengthens Nestle’s sustainable coffee supply chain. Nestle’s goal for this programme is to purchase 100 tonnes of coffee beans by 2022. (Nestle, 2020).

Starbucks Malaysia, one of the leading coffee brands and chains in Malaysia, sees its locations as a platform and an effective means to influence and interact with the public and consumers. They have planned a few events and programmes, such as the current one in which consumers may get an RM2 discount by bringing their own Starbucks tumbler to their stores. Customers have been refusing to use paper or plastic cups for several years. The CSR and green initiatives of a coffee chain, where the corporate social responsibility manager took the time to explain all the firm has done in accordance with worldwide trends that favour the environment. Aside from that, the waste from coffee grounds formed after manufacturing drinks which, instead of being thrown away, Starbucks would pack and give away for free to customers or the public for use as a by-product since it is a very good compost agent for soil. Other ecological initiatives have seen the coffee chain switch from previously recognisable green plastic straws to biodegradable straws, a move that is not exclusive to Malaysia but is being implemented internationally to eradicate single-use plastic straws.

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf® Malaysia confirms its commitment to environmental stewardship by taking meaningful action to eliminate single-use throwaway plastic waste. Customers will only be served with reusable silverware in-store, while take-out orders will be served with wooden, biodegradable cutlery. Customers are also urged to bring their own tumblers for take-away beverages, and those who have CB&TL tumblers will receive a 10per cent discount on their purchased beverage. This follows current rules like the use of paper straws and the elimination of plastic bags, with the objective of completely eradicating plastics.


Dr Hanis Hazwani Ahmad is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Management Science of Kolej Universiti Islam Perlis (KUIPs).

(The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and AWS and do not reflect the official policy or position of BERNAMA)