Southeast Asia

Crazy flavours and multiple mixes driving hipster coffee culture

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Crazy flavours and multiple mixes driving hipster coffee culture

Related tags Coffee

Café patrons in northern Southeast Asian countries are far more conventional than those to the south if what they order in cafés is any judge.

While those in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam prefer a dash of vanilla, hazelnut or butterscotch in their daily joe, or sour flavours like passion fruit in their teas and sodas, visitors to coffee shops in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia like to push the boundaries with more experimental tastes, like durian and jackfruit.

And while they are usually happy trying foreign trends like bubble teas at least once, northern hipsters will respond with little more than an ironic “meh​” to these imports.

Most people in northern countries will drink coffee from robusta beans, which they roast with butter or margarine to give a kind of butterscotch aftertaste​,” Lorence Khoo, menu development specialist for Kerry’s Da Vinci brand, told FoodNavigator-Asia at the Fi Asia-Vietnam show in Saigon. 

So if you want to pair flavours to go with this type of coffee, caramel is popular, as is toffee, butterscotch or fudge, as these give sweeter notes that complement the flavour of the beans​.

They don’t really like peppermint, chai, Irish cream and cinnamon in their beverages because these flavours are similar to traditional medicines and remind them of when they are sick​.” 

International influence

On the other hand, beverage consumers in the south of the region are more influenced by international innovations, and are open to experimenting, ironically or otherwise.

Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are more mature in terms of coffee and tea, for which they get a lot of influence from Australia and New Zealand, so they are more experimental​,” continued Khoo. 

Dark chocolate, white chocolate, caramel and hazelnut are among their favourite flavourings, but they will experiment with durian and mango, even in coffee​.” 

Khoo runs Kerry’s flavour café in Kuala Lumpur, where foodservice owners can visit to experiment with bottled and powdered flavours to find ways to pep up their menus. By expanding their flavour offerings, she say, progressive owners can increase profits by attracting new customers, getting them to stay longer and increasing menu options. 

I haven’t yet seen anyone putting mangosteen and jackfruit into their coffee or tea [in southern Southeast Asia] but I expect it’s going to happen. They are trying to do some crazy things with speciality coffee in cafés there, and they are already putting them into cakes​,” she said.

But when it comes to foreign products, like bubble tea, which is much more popular in Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia, consumers in northern countries will usually try them but they won’t go crazy about them​.”

Many flavours

According to Datamonitor, the region’s current preference for single flavours, like a shot of butterscotch in a venti latte, is set to make way for the rise of flavour combinations over the next five years—something foodservice owners would be wise to take note of.

The beverage world is evolving and outlets not adhering to these trends are in danger as consumers are demanding more​,” added Anthony Wilkinson, Kerry’s regional foodservice marketing manager. “It’s all about flavour combinations. Currently, single flavours dominate, but this is about to change quickly​.”

The international trend for more interesting or advanced beverage menus is across the market, so consumer demand is there. Increased prosperity means that people are getting more demanding—using ingredients to enhance menus is a good way for them to grow​.”

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