Penangite Michael Saw, someone who never went near durians in his childhood, has created an instant coffee mix with powdered durian flesh that is proving popular in coffeeshosp.
THE durian, often referred to as the the King of Fruits, is the favourite fruit of many Malaysian.
Yet its potent taste and smell can be unbearable for some and has been likened to “sweaty socks” as well as other unpleasant and inedible objects or substances.
But the love for durian here prevails. Passion for the fruit is perhaps matched by the fondness Malaysians have for coffee.
Love at first sip
Penang Original White Durian Coffee is the name of the official product that was created by Michael Saw, the enterprising individual who realised that this beverage would indeed be different from the existing offerings in the market.
“Creating the product happened as an accident around 2011. A few friends and I gathered together to feast on durians at a durian buffet in Balik Pulau on the island of Penang.
“We also had coffee and some of the durian flesh dropped into the coffee without us realising it until we drank the coffee.
“When I tasted it, it strangely mixed very well and all of us instantly came to like it,” explained Saw.
The discovery made him realise that the drink could be an ideal tea-time beverage and could complement donuts and other pastries that it spurred him to set up a business process for his new invention.
Within three months, his company, Eight Kingdom Enterprise Sdn Bhd made revenue of close to RM50,000 from this drink alone.
Although that amount was rather modest, sales began to grow quickly as he enlisted more distributors and increased business channels.
“The business is growing at about 5% to 10% per month but there is definitely more room for growth in and outside Malaysia.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to distribute the product to East Malaysia and other countries in Asia in the next few months.
“Right now, customers in Singapore and Johor can purchase the drink mix from www.mudahmall.com and www.eightkingdom.com.my,” said Saw.
Eight Kingdom also distributes and sells other instant tea and coffee mixes including ginger tea, hazelnut white coffee, chocolate milk beverages and condiments.
The durian-coffee mix is not sold in supermarkets yet as the company distributes the product to selected cafes, restaurants and food retailers in Malaysia.
“We started our distribution to coffee shops in Penang that were mostly in tourist areas.
“But we didn’t have the complete packaging for our products yet and just sold the powder mix,” explains Saw.
One might assume that Penang folk would readily accept the drink because of its origins, but Saw saw, to his chagrin, many of Penangites instantly rejecting the product and even grimacing at the thought of having coffee with durian.
“Durian and coffee by themselves are always popular, but people couldn’t come to terms with both ingredients mixed together initially.
“My sales team had a hard time trying to show the shop owners that this drink is actually delicious and has big potential. Eventually our hard work paid off and the response turned out to be positive, so it was time to venture out of Penang,” recounted Saw.
Besides Penang, the drink mix is now enjoyed by customers in Kuala Lumpur and Kedah.
The product is also retailed in Country Tidbits and Candies Cottage in Kuala Lumpur’s Mid Valley Megamall, Pavilion KL, Sungei Wang and Penang’s Gurney Plaza.
“I noticed that the Country TidBits outlet in Penang was selling Penang White Coffee and tourists will frequent the store because of their unique and interesting food products.
“I approached them in an effort to promote my product and they took to it quite easily.
“We now continue to receive frequent orders from them and it indicates that the market is responding well to it,” says Saw.
Interestingly, Saw points out that the sales of the drink mix is growing at a faster rate in Kuala Lumpur than in Penang.
He thinks that one of the reasons is that there are many “durian loving” Penang folk residing in Kuala Lumpur.
Getting it right, and getting it out
While there are the more common mixes of coffee together with milk, chocolate and even hazelnuts, a durian-coffee drink usually ignites curious tastebuds and it most often becomes one of the top choices for avid coffee drinkers or durian lovers.
But creating the right mixture of durian and coffee is the “secret” that makes this drink carry a taste that’s just right, with the richness of the coffee and sweet bitterness of durian.
These are attributes are meticulously blended and is something that durian and coffee lovers understand and can appreciate.
“When I started the business, One of the first things that obviously needed to be done was to have the operations at a factory in Teluk Gobah.
“The factory produced drink mixes mainly for the export market. I spoke to the research and development team about the idea I had and then the experiments began.
“It took two weeks to get the mixes right because we used different species of durians, with each type has their own distinct flavours.
“We needed another six weeks to fine-tune the mixture, to correct the ratio of durian to coffee.
“During this process of trial and error, we found that if too much durian is used, the smell is too strong, if there’s too much milk and creamer, the drink will be too milky which hides the durian and coffee flavour,” he explained.
The drink became a “four-in-one” concoction of coffee, durian, milk and sugar.
But because durian is a seasonal fruit tin Balik Pulau, Saw freezes fruits of the more popular species like the Musang King and D24.
The flesh will be extracted and turned into the powder for mixture while the coffee powder is made from local coffee beans.
After concocting the mixture to make an ideal durian-coffee drink, Saw solicited the help of his friend who introduced him to a team of designers who created the product’s package.
“Twelve sachets are placed in the main pack and it depicts nostalgic images of the origins of Penang and the famous monuments of the island — Komtar building and the Penang bridge. This product is not just durian and coffee, but it is synonymous with Penang, its people and culture,” said Saw.
At that time, Saw was prepared to launch the product into the market with roadshows and drink tasting booths at supermarkets.
He found that the majority of people liked the drink, including Chinese tourists who seemed to buy the product in bulk to take home.
“China has a demand for durians and that’s why durians from Malaysia is exported there. In one week, I receive about three enquiries from China to distribute our product there so the country will soon be our target for our business expansion plans,” he said.
Meanwhile, Saw is also working on his new concoction and while he remains cryptic about the identity of the ingredients, it will also involve a favourite natural food among the Penang locals.
“I hope to contribute to the on-going effort to make Malaysia known for its agricultural and natural products as well as its unique cuisine. As an entrepreneur and foodie, I hope to produce delicious and enticing concoctions for everyone to enjoy,” he said.
THE durian was the only fruit that Michael Saw detested as a young boy right up to his early adulthood. Not only that, he refused to drink coffee because he couldn’t bear its bitterness and potency.
In the words of Alanis Morissette “Isn’t it ironic?” Saw is now the brains behind Penang Original Durian White Coffee.
“My father would offer me durians and I didn’t want them because the smell and taste was too strong and I didn’t like it.
“In fact, I would run and hide when my family ate durians because I knew that they would tease and dare me to have it, knowing very well that I would be close to gagging!” he said with a chuckle.
This is always an interesting topic of conversation for the Penang native as the question he always faces is: “But you’re from Penang where people are most passionate and proud of their durians, how can you be the odd one out?”
The same story goes for his initial dislike for coffee, or “kopi” as it is more affectionately called in Malaysia. But as the years went by, Saw began to appreciate the taste of both the King of Fruits and one of the most popular beverages in the world and they are now his favourite indulgences.
He especially can’t get enough of the Musang King durian, a species of the fruit that emits a distinctively pungent taste and smell that literally “hits the spot”.
“The stronger the taste of the durian, the better it is especially if it’s bitter-sweet. Eating durians isn’t just a favourite past time for me, but it helps to determine which type should be used in the durian-coffee mixtures for a better taste,” he explained.
Saw has always been an inquisitive individual who is fascinated by new creations and other fields of interests that involves some degree of study.
“I practiced and learned feng shui back in 2000 from a master. That was probably my foray into entrepreneurship when I wanted to start a business in this area, but other opportunities came by,” he said.