Cafes go sugar-free as Malaysians watch diet

Kent Lee, co-founder of Kofix, says sugar is only provided upon request from the customers. — Picture by Kenneth Tee
Kent Lee, co-founder of Kofix, says sugar is only provided upon request from the customers. — Picture by Kenneth Tee

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PETALING JAYA, March 13 — Some cafes in Malaysia have started serving unsweetened freshly brewed beverages, with sugar on the side, as Malaysians become more health-conscious.

Cafe owners said the majority of their customers consumed their coffee plain, without the addition of sugar.

Kent Lee, co-founder of Kofix Cafe in Pandan Indah, Ampang, said his establishment enforced a no-sugar policy in their beverage preparations since opening three years ago.

“We provide our customers with brown or white sugar upon request accompanied by intake recommendations given by our servers who persuade customers to try the beverage in its ‘default’ form first.

“We won’t stop our customers from asking for a sweetener, but we want to maintain the bitter taste of our drinks such as coffee and chocolate because that is how they are meant to be consumed,” the 27-year-old told Malay Mail.

He said an average of four out of 10 customers make a sugar request for their coffee and chocolate drinks when prepared plain.

About 3.6 million, or 17.5 per cent of Malaysians, are reportedly diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

Malay Mail reported yesterday that most popular breakfast cereal brands contained more sugar than the recommended portion for the entire day.

Some Singaporean food courts have also started serving freshly brewed beverages without sugar, offering sugar on the side instead, in support of the government’s healthier drinks policy.

Artisan Coffee Petaling Jaya barista Praevin Ravinder said the coffeehouse practised a self-service sugar-serving policy for customers, with only brown sugar or brown sugar syrup as a sweetener.

“Most of our customers are satisfied with our drinks that are prepared without sugar and an average of two out of 10 customers add sugar to their coffee,” the 28-year-old said.

“Coffee is meant to be drunk bitter and we want to preserve that taste and we also advise them to refrain from adding sugar to their chocolate drinks because they are already sweet.”

Franchise kopitiam establishments also advocate reduced sugar intake by preparing unsweetened drinks and giving sugar sachets only when requested.

Old Town White Coffee Axis Fiesta Ampang assistant manager Zarina Ismail said the franchise only provides white sugar sachets to customers upon request.

“Each sachet is about 5g and our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) allows two to be given in one order. The SOP applies to all of Old Town’s outlets and our hot drinks are prepared without sugar,” the 36-year-old said. 

She said the kitchen crew added fresh or sometimes condensed milk instead to beverages if customers wanted extra-sweet drinks.

Zarina said she has seen a significant number of health-conscious individuals, with an average seven out of 10 people asking for less sweet drinks.

“Even some of the sachets provided were not fully used and we are able to save on our sugar supply as people better understand their own needs,” she said. 

Restoran Selera Utara in Ampang, however, said it did not serve unsweetened beverages with sugar on the side.

“How about those who are oblivious to their sugar intake? They may just add too much and some customers may be irritated by the extra effort needed to stir their drinks after adding sugar themselves,” said drink server Mohd Amin Md Isa.

“We simply cannot give each table sugar on the side because of the high amount of orders as we may run out of sugar faster than expected.”

Consumer groups welcome sugar-free drinks

Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association (PPIM) chief activist Datuk Nadzim Johan told Malay Mail he welcomed eateries serving sugar-free drinks.

“We [want] to start a crusade against sugar, to educate people of its negative effects when overconsumed, and encourage Malaysians to reduce their intake. It was never taught to us that reducing sugar is good, and some people consume sugar in everything they eat,” he said.  

Malaysia Consumers Movement (MCM) president Darshan Singh Dhillon said it would not be detrimental if vendors started serving drinks without sugar here, as he saw the positives in giving options to consumers.

“Any option is good, as we sometimes ignore how much sugar we actually take. With the option you can decide, but ultimately it has to be supported with education on the matter,” he said.

Dietitian Goo Chui Hoong told Malay Mail it would be good practice to serve drinks without sugar, saying it contained no nutrients and could be completely omitted from one’s diet.

“Now there is no option to reduce the sugar content, especially during functions and events, and even at schools, where they are premixed. If this practice can be implemented across the board, especially with schools, then it would be good,” he said.

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