KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 18 — Stacked up like a tower of Jenga blocks, the sandwich cookies would tempt any dessert lover to topple them... if only to take a bite out of one.

The taste might surprise: instead of tooth-achingly cloying, there is a deep green tea flavour with just a hint of sweetness. Each is made from a different flavour of Japanese green tea: matcha, genmaicha (green tea mixed with roasted popped brown rice) and hojicha (roasted green tea).

These treats are the specialty of BuTian Desserts, a homegrown desserts purveyor based in Kuchai Lama.

Founded by three sisters — Yeo Suan Ning, 23; Yeo Suan Ern, 28; and Yeo Suan Meng, 31 — during the first lockdown last year, BuTian Desserts stands out from the crowd thanks to their promise of low-sugar desserts.

Each sibling contributes her own expertise: Suan Ning is a business major, Suan Ern the accountant while Suan Meng has a background in advertising and graphic design.

While none of them had prior experience in food and beverage (F&B), Suan Ning points out that they all shared a deep passion for baking.

She adds, “The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown simply gave us the opportunity to explore our interest further.”

Due to the lockdown, many shops were closed, including dessert shops, and the Yeo sisters felt deprived.

The Yeo sisters behind BuTian Desserts (left to right): Suan Ning, 23; Suan Ern, 28; and Suan Meng, 31.
The Yeo sisters behind BuTian Desserts (left to right): Suan Ning, 23; Suan Ern, 28; and Suan Meng, 31.

Suan Ern says, “There was nothing that could satisfy our sweet tooth. We figured that we could actually try making our own desserts. We let some friends and family try too and some came back asking whether they could purchase the desserts!”

Thus a new venture was born. Its name comes from bù tían, which when translated from Mandarin, literally means “not sweet.” The trio came up with this brand name as they wanted customers to know their desserts tasted just as good when the flavour isn’t overwhelmingly sweet.

Suan Meng hastens to clarify that they do use sugar in their products, albeit less than typical dessert recipes would require. She explains, “After all, desserts are meant to be sweet and BuTian is just a brand name connoting less sugar content, which is now the trend among health conscious food lovers.”

While BuTian Desserts is now well known for their Japanese green tea flavoured sandwich cookies, they first launched their business selling triple-layer cakes and fruit tarts. Today, according to Suan Ning, these remain their foundation.

It makes sense, for the triple-layer recipe is a format that is easily repeated with other flavours. Take their matcha triple-layer cake, for instance. Each is structured so that the base is made from a matcha gateau, the centre made from matcha chocolate, while the topping is one of rich matcha cream.

Triple layered treats: 'genmaicha' (left) and 'dalgona' coffee cake (right).
Triple layered treats: 'genmaicha' (left) and 'dalgona' coffee cake (right).

Suan Ning adds, “Our triple-layer cakes, particularly our matcha, genmaicha and hojicha, helped garner the most interest from our customers and the most sales for us. Knowing what our customers are interested in, we figured we should continue utilising the three Japanese green tea flavours and integrate it with a new product.”

Desiring something that differed from their existing series of products, the Yeo sisters researched and tried out various possibilities, including French macarons and Japanese desserts.

Suan Ern shares, “Ultimately we found the taste of macarons lacking and we were often overwhelmed by the sweetness. For the few Japanese desserts that captivated us, we felt that we could enrich their flavours while still producing versions that were less sweet.”

After numerous experiments, they decided to borrow a similar concept from the macarons they had studied, whereby they sandwiched a green tea based filling with square cookies rather round meringue shells.

Suan Meng says, “The fillings that we produce are rich and much thicker when compared to similar desserts elsewhere. We wanted our customers to indulge in the intense flavours of matcha, genmaicha, and hojicha.

Customers may also order a 'mixed cake' made from slices of different fruit tarts.
Customers may also order a 'mixed cake' made from slices of different fruit tarts.

Their new release was an instant hit with customers. Today their sandwich cookies, particularly when sold in a box set of all three flavours, are a signature product.

There are other delights, of course. Customers may also order a “mixed cake” made from slices of different fruit tarts. Besides the Japanese green tea trio, other triple-layer cakes include black sesame, dark chocolate, Earl Grey and even a dalgona coffee cake (perhaps inspired by Squid Game, the recently popular Korean series).

Their success is all the more remarkable when one considers that BuTian Desserts was just a side gig for the Yeo sisters in the early days as they were still studying and working from home.

Suan Ning recalls, “Our operations in the early days were quite disorganised as we were not used to this. Proper time management was a challenge as we had to juggle both with our studies and day jobs for this business.”

Display section at BuTian Desserts.
Display section at BuTian Desserts.

Recognising that promptness in responding to customer queries was critical, they drafted a proper schedule and committed to following it strictly. Suan Ern says, “Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, a simple timetable actually helped us in managing our time. We were able then to balance our work and studies as well as fulfilling our customers’ orders.”

Starting a new business in the competitive F&B industry is never easy, what more during a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown. But true entrepreneurs look past the problem and look for opportunities.

Suan Meng observes, “While our reach has been rather limited by these factors, we could still rely on word of mouth to increase our brand presence. Also, initially we took limited orders manually through social media platforms. Today we have our own website and system to take orders.”

Still some sacrifices were required in order for them to get a foothold in the market. Suan Ning explains, “As our capital was rather limited and margins were quite tight when we first started, we had to accept and deliver more orders even if time was not in our favour.”

And as with most fledgling startups, BuTian Desserts had a very lean operation with lack of manpower being a constant woe. Suan Ern says, “We’d sacrifice our sleep in order to fulfil our customers’ orders. Fortunately for us, many continue supporting us. This allowed us to expand our business and hire more personnel to ease our burden along with increasing our production output.”

A slice of triple-layer Earl Grey tea cake.
A slice of triple-layer Earl Grey tea cake.

Moving forward, the Yeo sisters plan to provide a space for their customers to dine-in as they currently only do takeaways. Suan Meng says, “By doing this, our customers will have the option to consume our products under the most ideal conditions, as most of our products may melt if exposed outside the refrigerator for too long.”

There are also plans for BuTian Desserts to introduce new products and flavours to their menu. Looks like all their hard work is paying off — while their confections might be less sweet compared to other cake shops and pâtisseries, the Yeo sisters are finally tasting the sweet taste of their well-deserved success.

BuTian Desserts
18-1, Jalan Indrahana 1, Taman Indrahana, Kuchai Lama, KL
Open daily (except Wed closed) 1:30pm-6pm
Tel: 011-3320 6680
Web: butiandesserts.com
FB: facebook.com/butiandesserts/
IG: instagram.com/bu_tian/