Are specialty coffee pods the Fourth Wave of Coffee?

MORNING curates a selection of roasters from around the world such as St Ali in Australia and Volcano Coffee Works in the UK — Pictures courtesy of MORNING, Perk Coffee and Hook Coffee
MORNING curates a selection of roasters from around the world such as St Ali in Australia and Volcano Coffee Works in the UK — Pictures courtesy of MORNING, Perk Coffee and Hook Coffee

SINGAPORE, Oct 4 – Coffee is the constant of life for many of us. We seem to have been drinking it forever; there are even specific periods known as the First (commodity coffee, sold to the mass market), Second (large chains such as Starbucks) and Third Waves (higher quality, “artisanal” coffee).

Perhaps it’s time for the next stage of how we drink coffee.

Three Singapore-based, online-centric coffee purveyors – MORNING, Perk Coffee and Hook Coffee – are expanding into the Malaysian market (and perhaps beyond).

With well-designed coffee subscription services and the introduction of specialty coffee pods (typically Nespresso-compatible capsules using higher grade beans), could this be the Fourth Wave of coffee?

Two coffee industry veterans, Andre Chanco (left) and Leon Foo (right), founded MORNING
Two coffee industry veterans, Andre Chanco (left) and Leon Foo (right), founded MORNING

MORNING is led by two coffee industry veterans: Andre Chanco of Yardstick Coffee, Philippines and Leon Foo of PPP Coffee, Singapore.

The duo aims to make a curated selection of capsules from roasters around the world – such as St Ali in Australia and Volcano Coffee Works in the UK – easily accessible to everyone.

Andre shares, “Both Leon and I have been in this industry for 8-10 years. This is a point in time that the stars aligned – the specialty coffee roasters are putting high quality coffee into coffee capsules while consumers are starting to drink their coffees in various formats.

"Equally important that we met manufacturers who can help us change the way coffee drinkers consume their cups of coffee at home.”

While studying in the UK, Hook Coffee founder Ernest Ting was impressed by a snack and coffee subscription service and dreamed of providing the same convenience back home.

He recalls, “I got quite geeky about coffee then. I eventually got my coffee roasting certification in London.

Processing at a coffee farm in Panama that Perk Coffee sources from (left). Roasting beans at the Hook Coffee roastery in Singapore (right)
Processing at a coffee farm in Panama that Perk Coffee sources from (left). Roasting beans at the Hook Coffee roastery in Singapore (right)

"When I came back to Singapore, I saw nothing like a coffee subscription service, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to start one.”

Married couple Serena and Paul Berthelsen founded Perk Coffee after settling down in Singapore but their initial contact with coffee came years earlier when they both lived in Kenya.

Serena grew up in Kenya while Paul moved there after finishing law school in Australia to farm Masaai land.

Serena says, “With Kenya being one of the main producers of tea and coffee, I naturally developed a love for tea and coffee.

"It was not just about enjoying a good cup of coffee, but everything that surrounded it – daily routines, deep conversations, and time spent drinking coffee with loved ones, that made it a special part of my lifestyle and culture.”

All three companies have Singapore as their base and have branched out to Malaysia as a key market. Operations vary, depending on their team make-up, distribution channels, sourcing of beans and growth strategy.

Serena and Paul Berthelsen, the founders of Perk Coffee
Serena and Paul Berthelsen, the founders of Perk Coffee

Hook Coffee divides manpower for both regional markets, taking advantage of well-oiled logistics.

Ernest says, “We have a PR & Marketing team in Malaysia, but operations are based out of Singapore. The roastery is in the Singapore headquarters as we are in the midst of setting up our local roastery in Malaysia.

"However, customers in Malaysia are assured of the freshness as our beans take just three days to get to their doorsteps.”

Freshness is taken to a new level by Perk Coffee as all their beans are freshly roasted before delivery.

The only products that are not roasted on demand are their PerkPods and Perk Coffee Drip Bags, as these are kept fresh through nitrogen flushing, where the oxygen is removed from the packets.

Paul says, “For us to continue to provide high quality, freshly roasted coffee to our customers, all the coffee roasting needs to be done locally, and only when an order is placed.

Some of Perk Coffee’s offerings include single-serve drip bags and Nespresso compatible PerkPods
Some of Perk Coffee’s offerings include single-serve drip bags and Nespresso compatible PerkPods

"Our model in Malaysia is the same as in Singapore. As we roast the beans on demand, this means we do not keep inventory or any stock of our roasted beans.

"Once you miss the roasting day, you will need to wait for the following week until we roast again.”

Diversity is what sets MORNING apart, both in terms of their teams and work locations. This makes the company the most expansive in terms of reach, extending beyond merely the Singaporean and Malaysian markets.

Andre explains, “Most of our operations are based out of Singapore and Vietnam, and we do order fulfilment out of Singapore and Hong Kong depending on the origin of our customer.

"We work with various coffee roasters from all around the world, all the way from UK to down south in Australia. We curated these roasters based on the quality of the coffees, but also from our relationship with them after being in the industry for many years.”

A March 2019 Euromonitor International report observed that Malaysia’s volume sales of fresh coffee beans in 2018 has rapidly increased as out-of-home consumption gained traction.

Coffee pods, in particular, have witnessed a trend towards flavour sophistication. How, then, do these companies differentiate their product offerings from others in the market?

The Godfather ShotPods is wittily marketed as “Strong and powerful like The Godfather of the mafia... with an aromatic dark Italian roast”
The Godfather ShotPods is wittily marketed as “Strong and powerful like The Godfather of the mafia... with an aromatic dark Italian roast”

With PerkPods, the Berthelsens focus on quality first and foremost. Paul says, “We only use specialty coffee, which means our coffee has a cup score of 80+.

"Furthermore, we both have a deep care for the human race and the environment. For us to feel that we are contributing towards a better society, we will only source quality coffee from responsible farmers, so that individuals are only drinking the best.”

To reduce their carbon footprint, all of Perk Coffee’s packaging is biodegradable, and they are currently working on PerkPods to be biodegradable too.

These values – quality, time, freedom, and responsibility to the environment – are embedded in their products, as a reflection of what the company stands for.

The strategy Ernest is taking with ShotPods revolves around making the brand very millennial-centric, in order to make specialty coffee much more enticing and approachable. This explains catchy, creative names such as The Godfather and Hands Off My Nuts!

He says, “Before I started the business, I often got dumbfounded by coffee with tasting notes like bergamot and sometimes as ridiculous as roasted capsicum.

"It feels like you are almost being judged if you don’t know all these. I thought that was quite a turn off. Why can’t coffee be more colourful and fun?”

Ernest Ting (back, second from right) and his team at Hook Coffee
Ernest Ting (back, second from right) and his team at Hook Coffee

MORNING is targetting an audience that is more coffee savvy and exposed to various specialty coffee roasters around the world.

They aim to solve the conundrum of what happens when one enjoys coffee from a really good roaster but are unable to access their beans easily. Many do not ship to certain countries or may be too expensive.

By reaching out to a curated list of roasters, MORNING is able to help them bring their coffees to a wider market. Andre says, “St Ali, for example, is one of the most popular coffee roasters based out of Melbourne, Australia. They are well recognised around the world. However, their location is restrictive in terms of shipping outside of Australia due to cost, same goes for other roasters.”

By working with St Ali and other roasters, MORNING is able to provide a platform for consumers to access a wider selections of coffee capsules, without having to pay a lot for shipment which adds up if they are ordering from different countries separately.

Whether you’re conscious about the provenance of your beans or you want a variety of different world-renowned roasters to select from or you simply want to have more fun with your pods, there is a specialty coffee pod for every taste.

What is clear, however, is that crossing boundaries is a must; limiting offerings to a single country would be giving up untapped markets.

A coffee start-up wouldn’t just miss out on riding the Fourth Wave of Coffee, it’d struggle to survive in the race to supply the best pods to consumers who have tasted the best... and are asking for more.

Discover more about specialty coffee pods at

MORNING: www.drinkmorning.com

Perk Coffee: www.perkcoffee.co

Hook Coffee: www.hookcoffee.com.sg

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