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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — For coffee enthusiasts, getting their cuppa via delivery can be a game of chance. Will the coffee still be hot (or cold)? Will half the liquid have spilled? Will it even be good?
Krave Koffee, a delivery-only coffee business founded by a trio of friends (Kenny Yap, Foo Ken Vin and Sean Lee), hopes to improve those odds. All three are existing business owners but this is their first venture together.
Yap recalls, “The first lockdown back in March 2020 was the trigger. We’re coffee lovers but we knew nothing about making it.”
Observing that there was a dearth of delivery-focused coffee options on the various food delivery platforms (back then, at least; the past 10 months have seen many changes in this area), the three friends decided there was a clear opportunity.
Yap says, “Of the businesses that make their coffees available for delivery, prices were really high after you factor in that you no longer pay for any ambience; prices usually were marked up for delivery; and while most cafes were selling an ‘Instagram’ worthy experience or located at premium locations, the coffee itself is often overlooked.”
By basing themselves on a delivery-only model, Krave Koffee hopes to avoid the pitfalls of charging their customers for ambience more than the actual beverage.
Yap explains, “So this problem of coffee being average or sub-par is amplified when you make a delivery order. After you strip away all the fancy cups or environment, you’ll know that what you’re actually paying for was the rental.”
During their usual catch-up session over a Zoom call, the trio discussed the coffees they ordered via delivery during the first movement control order (MCO) and areas they felt could be improved.
Yap shares, “We groused about the sub-par coffee we had to endure during the lockdown. Issues such as spillage due to poor packing; coffee that had no ‘kick’ at all, only a single shot of espresso was used; and cups that were so small (only 8 ounces) yet the prices were crazy high!”
Their ever-growing level of discontent eventually became a challenge, says Yap: “Why don’t we start one of our own? Get the best beans and make sure we address the above problems?”
Moving quickly, they looked for ways to keep overheads low and to funnel their resources into the actual beverage itself.
It is one thing to keep a running commentary of how existing coffee companies aren’t providing them with what they desired; it’s quite another thing to solve the problems themselves.
Yap contacted a friend who owns a catering business who had a central kitchen that was underutilised, offering to rent the space as a co-working kitchen and proceeded to turn it into a delivery checkpoint with no dine-in service.
Where product development was concerned, the trio were guided by two major principles — to create drinks that they personally liked or would want to order, and to focus on freshly-brewed coffees that were delivery friendly.
Yap shares, “Almost 90 per cent of our research was done on YouTube and coffee forums. The balance was our own test and then our ‘test bunnies.’ We sent the drinks to close friends and family who were coffee drinkers. If the drink passed these two tests, then it’s a go.”
One such gruelling development process was figuring out how to best produce cold brew coffee (branded as Cold Brew Black and Cold Brew White under their Kofreeze line) for bottling.
Yap notes that getting consistent results was difficult in the beginning as every batch was hand-crafted and the complexity increased when they produced at a larger scale.
He says, “Having the right ingredients, the right mix and right brewing conditions were tougher than we thought. The smallest things — such as oxidisation, the way we stored the beans, the age of the beans, the grind size — all made a difference. The only way to make it consistently good was with a lot of practice.”
Stumbles along the way were par for the course. During the early days, they made about only 10 bottles of cold brew coffee every two days and sometimes had to throw away the entire batch as they couldn’t even sell a single bottle.
“Bear in mind, hand-crafted cold brew has a limited shelf life so we wanted to make sure when customers ordered, it was freshly made,” says Yap.
Things have evidently improved since those growing pains. Today the Cold Brew White is one of Krave Koffee’s bestsellers, with their Cold Brew Black a close second.
According to Yap, the Krave Koffee team doesn’t try to compete directly with the brick-and-mortar coffee shops and cafés. Instead they focus on being “the coffee delivery specialist” with attention to tiny details such as ensuring their coffee cups are covered with double lids to minimize spillage.
Aside from a clear brand positioning and differentiating themselves from other players in a saturated market, not having an immediately obvious physical presence, i.e. walk-in shop, means not having to deal with in-store customer service or extraneous overhead costs.
Yap adds, “No ‘Instagram’ worthy venue (yet), so we save a lot on rental. Everything we save goes back into the coffee beans we select — a double shot of espresso as opposed to a single shot in a similar sized cup.”
Another way Krave Koffee has adapted is by taking note of the increasingly prevalent trend of “home baristas” or customers who wish to make their own espresso-based coffee at home, albeit without a full-blown espresso machine.
Yap says, “We focus on making our beverages ‘convenient’ — that’s why we went the bottling route. To make them easily storable and long lasting without preservatives or artificial sweetening.”
On top of recognisable ready-to-drink espresso-based beverages such as SuperBlack (extra strong black coffee) and SuperLatte, a more robust milk coffee, Krave Koffee has also produced a concentrated bottled espresso called Elixir.
The idea here is to encourage customers to make their own espresso-based coffee at home with Elixir. Convenience coupled with room for the customers’ own creativity, so to speak.
Yap enthuses, “Drink it neat, on the rocks or mix it with your favourite kind of milk. Elixir uses the same espresso used in all our beverages.”
Given the positive response from customers in this no-contact era, the trio is thinking hard about the next stage of Krave Koffee — whether to beef up operations, expand or scale up.
Yap says, “We’re in talks to open our first boutique café, hopefully as soon as the lockdown is lifted. No specific outlet or location has been confirmed yet.”
The Krave Koffee team has gotten a number of enquiries about franchising but the partners are not currently looking into that direction.
Yap explains, “Instead, our more immediate plan is to move into more ghost or cloud kitchens to expand our coverage area i.e. low hanging fruit for us.”