JOHOR BARU, Aug 6 — It has always been the little café that could.
Unlike many other better-funded specialty coffee shops in JB that sprung up in the past five to 10 years, jumping on the bandwagon and riding the Third Wave (if you will), Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters has always been content to be small and specialised.
Scale isn’t everything, nor does every café owner believe in scaling up. Penang-born Ang Yeesiang, the founder of Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters, knows this well as he has weathered many a storm from when he started as a barista in KL at the age of 19 to him running his own shop and micro roastery now as a father of two.
So it is quite an achievement when you reckon the largely self-managed café will be celebrating its seventh anniversary in a few days, on August 10.
Ang shares, "It is hard to manage great coffee and business at the same time. Throughout these seven years, I have been taking most of my time to ensure the consistency of every cup, every day.”
To commemorate this latest milestone, Ang will be organising a two-day talk and forum, with all net sales — including ticket sales and all sales of coffee purchase — during those two days (August 9 and 10) going to charity. The latter is something Ang has been doing since he started the business.
He recalls, "We donated to World Vision in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Then the following two years, 2018 and 2019, we donated to the Kechara Caring Organisation. It was Tabung Covid-19 Malaysia in 2020 and the Australian Bush Fire last year.”
This year, Ang notes, all proceeds will go to Hospis Malaysia "as healthcare is still the area we prioritise.”
To attract visitors to Sweet Blossom’s two-day talk and forum, Ang has enlisted the help of some good friends in the coffee industry.
The first is Rain Lee of KITA Coffee, who is the reigning Malaysia Barista Champion (MBC). She won the 2022 title after years of competing while running her own café, a hard-earned triumph.
Lee, who will be giving a talk on Tuesday (August 9) about her journey to MBC 2022, shares, "My biggest challenge will always be balancing the role of mom, café owner and barista competitor at the same time, especially during pandemic. My kid is four years old now, so my MBC prep was training alone with my kid at the terrible three, running around with a thousand questions of why!”
Still, running a coffee business is never an entirely solo endeavour even when one is a small coffee entrepreneur. Lee explains, "I still have to be there most of the time, as it’s hard to estimate the crowds after lockdown. My team helped a lot when we started to stabilise, especially the last two weeks before my MBC Semi-finals and Finals.”
These are some of the lessons and insights Lee will be sharing during her talk but also during the Malaysia Barista Forum (Wednesday, August 10) where she will be one of the three panellists, together with Ang and three-time Malaysia Brewers Cup Champion Regine Wai.
According to Ang, the Malaysia Barista Forum will be an open, interactive discussion space that aims to engage all coffee lovers, regardless of their background or professions, to learn beyond the cup of coffee they drink.
He adds, "Unlike other sharing events, we do not limit our topics to the competition but explore other aspects ranging from coffee industry trends to technical skills. Through this approach, we wish to encourage two-way conversations between coffee lovers and professionals, strengthening our coffee community by forming a long-lasting connection.”
Wai, who won the Malaysia Brewers Cup Championship in 2015, 2018 and 2020, shares, "Winning competitions doesn’t mean it will bring business revenue or opportunities to your business. But it only creates a different perspective for me to understand and learn further about brewing and coffee production.”
Besides constantly improving their coffee skills, be it brewing or roasting, Ang believes that a true coffee professional has to invest some time in customer outreach and education.
He explains, "In recent years, we started thinking more on how to ‘sell and educate’ our customers with coffee that we think is good quality and how to appreciate it. Making a good coffee in a café is totally different from running a good business, but when we manage to do both together, we can enjoy what we love while making a living.”
The lockdown has been hard on many industries, Ang observes, and small coffee shops like his were badly hit. But he is still grateful, as he says, " But now, we can all restart again; we still own our dreams and we can build them with our own hands.”
Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters: 7th Anniversary Celebration
Venue: Sweet Blossom Coffee Roasters, 28 Jalan Maju, Taman Pelangi, JB
Tue, August 9: "Road to MBC 2022” by Rain Lee [2-5pm]
Wed, August 10: Talk by Regine Wai [2-5pm]; Malaysia Barista Forum [8-10pm]
For ticket purchase and other enquiries, contact their IG [instagram.com/sweetblossomcoffee/].
All net sales from these two days will be donated to charity.