KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 — Artisan food producers are a passionate bunch and the people behind Ai Yogurt — Tea Soo Song, 44, and Tneh Yen Kiaw, 45 — definitely fit that description.
Since they started their small business in Putra Heights last February, the two friends have been striving to make a difference with their artisan-made yogurt in a market dominated by mass-produced brands.
Their name “ai” means love in Mandarin. “It represents our passion to share the goodness of the yogurt.”
“Yogurt is nothing new to us,” explains Tea who worked with Tneh for 10 years in a Danish biotechnology company that sold bacteria cultures and probiotics for industrial yogurt applications around the Asian region. Between both of them, the qualified food technologists have over 30 years of experience.
For many, eating yogurt is a daily habit since it’s filled with bacteria good for the gut to keep the body’s system finely tuned. The yogurt produced by Ai Yogurt is naturally thicker and smoother compared to the mass-manufactured brands. Moreover, there’s no added emulsifiers, stabilisers and thickeners.
“We wanted to create something different to give more choices to consumers,” says Tea. Both of them believe there’s a lack of good yogurt at a reasonable price in the market. “It’s a simple recipe and process to make a better tasting yogurt that does not resemble starch or porridge.”
As yogurt tends to be sourish, commercial makers add more sugar to balance out the sour taste. The team behind Ai Yogurt prefer to use their expertise to balance out the sourness through their manufacturing process rather than add sweeteners.
This makes their yogurt not excessively sour but lower in sugar with a more balanced taste, which is better suited towards the Malaysian palate.
Even though Ai Yogurt’s manufacturing capacity at their Putra Heights shop is still rather small compared to the commercial makers, the duo takes pains to ensure it’s conducted in a clean room environment to maintain high hygiene levels.
“What we’re doing is in between a commercial and homemade method, more of an artisan way as it’s handmade.” According to Tneh who handles the production, it is a long process that starts as early as 6am with a lot of preparation work and small details. “Good yogurt does not come easily.”
Consistency is important for every step. The duo prefer working with imported powdered milk solids rather than fresh milk since it’s easier to control the quality.
The milk is cooked and pasteurised in a commercial cooker. Subsequently, it’s cooled down to a temperature around 40-42 degrees Celsius for the bacteria to react. The mixture is then left to ferment for seven to eight hours.
Sometimes, Tneh advises it may take longer depending on the bacteria. “Bacteria can be emotional and naughty.” If that happens, they can troubleshoot that particular batch based on their vast experience.
The yogurt is also tested twice for it’s ph readings, as it needs to be around ph4.5 to 4.7. “It’s important to have the proper ph level to get better consistency or a balance between sour and sweetness.”
Ai Yogurt carries a wide range of flavours like plain, roselle, honey aloe vera and even one flavoured with organic molasses. “We try not to go mainstream by offering unusual flavours like red beans and honey aloe vera.” One of their unusual offerings includes their layered yogurts with flavours like matcha green tea and cocoa paired with the plain yogurt.
The production takes more time and work, as they need to wait for one layer to set first before pouring in the next layer. Response to these layered yogurts have been incredibly encouraging as customers love to mix the two layers together to create pretty patterns.
Moreover the taste is perfectly balanced, when it’s mixed. The cocoa layered yogurt did take some time to develop to ensure it had the right intensity of flavour without the sour taste.
Walk-in customers can also purchase their yogurts at their Putra Heights outlet. They also bring their yogurts to bazaars in Plaza Mont Kiara, Publika and Jaya One, where you can buy them topped with fresh fruits or muesli.
As people are unfamiliar with their brand, usually they let them sample the yogurt to gain their trust. Ai Yogurt also offers delivery of the yogurts direct to your home or office within a designated Klang Valley area, provided there is a minimum order of 20 cups.
Delivery to Johor Bahru and Penang can also be arranged via a cold transport courier. Details for online orders are available on their website (http://www.aiyogurt.com.my). The preservative-free yogurts can keep chilled in the refrigerator for three weeks.
Since the yogurts are sensitive to handling, Tea prefers to send it directly to customers. In July, Ai Yogurt has also started supplying four types of their yogurt to Presto Supermarket’s outlet in Avenue K with a good response.
Since they don’t have much of a budget, both of them do everything from manufacturing, marketing and even delivery of the yogurts. They also learned after they started the company that it’s the small steps that take up a lot of time and work.
“As it’s a new brand, there’s not a lot of budget so we do it alone with a lot of passion.” In the future, they hope to introduce larger cups for their yogurt. “There’s a lot of manual work but the reward is the happy faces we see when they eat our yogurt.”
Ai Yogurt, 22A-G, Jalan Putra Mahkota 7/4B, Putra Point Business Centre, Putra Heights, Subang Jaya, Selangor. Open: 10.30am to 7.30pm. Closed on Sundays. https://www.facebook.com/Ai.Yogurt1