According to Melati Founder Lorin Winata, the non-alcoholic aperitif was inspired by not just one but a combination of several traditional remedies in Asia, combining various herbs and botanicals from within these remedies to make a ‘sophisticated yet restorative’ drink.
“Asia has so many wonderful traditional remedies from traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to Ayurveda to Jamu in Indonesia and so many more, and all of these are based on herbs and botanicals to create balance in and tonify the body – so my idea was really to bring these restorative properties together in a format enjoyable for today’s sophisticated crowd,” Winata told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“So I started off with a list of over 60 local ingredients, and worked with a food scientist and an Ayurvedic specialist to create this, making sure that the ingredients blended together in terms of both flavour and functionality – we’ve got herbs in there that can help to detoxify the liver, help heart health and many more.”
Some of the major herbs and botanicals in Melati include pomegranate, raw cacao and damiana (all with mood-boosting properties); aronia and ginger (relaxing); sencha, goji berry and choke berry (antioxidant) and kampot pepper and hibiscus (detoxifying).
The ingredients are also sourced from all over Asia, e.g. aronia from Korea, kampot pepper from Cambodia, bitter orange peel from Indonesia, and cacao, hibiscus and ginger from Bali.
“Unlike most other non-alcoholic options out there, we don’t use any sugar as our focus is on this being a restorative product – it’s hard to not use sugar when making non-alcoholic beverages as it’s a pretty important filler, but we’ve opted to use things like berries and hibiscus to sweeten instead,” Winata said.
“Additionally there is also pomegranate and bitter orange peel in there, so what Melati does is that when you smell it, there’s a floral, fruity, comforting smell which will sort of give the perception of sweetness – then when you taste it it’s not just sweet, it’s fruity and floral, then moves to spicy, then just a little bitter note at the end.
“So the key here is that we’re not trying to replace any alcoholic drinks per se, like more other firms in this space are – Melati basically is its own flavour, not copying anything but still providing a sophisticated yet healthier drinking experience.”
Interestingly, though Melati’s main market position is as a non-alcoholic drink, Winata told us that after starting sales she has found that it is appealing to alcohol drinkers as a mixer as well.
“I’ve had customers in the US tell me after purchasing many bottles that they’re using this as a mixer with vodka, and calling this the ‘Melatini’ – and it’s loved because it’s not as sweet as other mixers, plus there’s been feedback that drinking this doesn’t cause a hangover the next morning, possible due to the botanicals’ effects, although I haven’t tried that theory out yet,” she said.
“But although we did expect the main consumer crowd to be non-drinkers, Melati really is designed for everyone who wants the benefits of a restorative drink – we’ve even made it vegan, halal, and focus on ethical processing so it will appeal to those consumers too.
“Sales so far have been, interestingly, skewing male and covering all races and most age groups, mainly aged 26 and above, and working professionals – though I will say that most consumers are those who’ve reached a stage where they still want to socialize but don’t feel that pressure to drink alcohol when doing so.”
Melati is currently available in retail stores such as Little Farms and Temple Cellars, on its online store, and in a variety of food service outlets from Michelin-starred (Odette, Restaurant Zen) to more casual places (Cicheti). It is priced at SG$68 (US$50.34) per 500ml bottle.
Going global in 1.5 months
Melati only started sales in October 2020, but as of mid-November, the product has already been seeing international reach.
“We’re very focused on raising awareness of the product in Singapore first, but at the same time we’re already shipping globally – I’ve had orders from the US, UK, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Canada and Dubai,” said Winata.
When asked if there were any plans to establish a production plant or facility to cope with growing demand, she said this was not on the radar just yet, and more market research would be in store first.
“We make just 500 bottle batches each time right now as it’s hand-crafted,” she said.
“It’s all a very traditional process, where we macerate and then do cold extraction individually on each botanical we source for up to six weeks to get the oils, flavour and body – no distillation, as this would kill the beneficial properties – then we filter these and hand-blend into the 500 bottle batches.
“The cold extraction process is another way we get around using sugar, as the process will bring out the oils that give the end product that necessary flavour, mouthfeel and depth.”
Challenges and future
Given that Melati’s price is pretty similar to that of alcohol, Winata said that this would be viewed as expensive if the value of the product is based on alcohol content – which it shouldn’t.
“The price and value of a product should not be related to its alcohol content, rather the labour intensity to produce it and the quality of ingredients going into it,” she said.
“So we’re definitely not looking to replace alcohol, we’re bringing value for being a functional product and also being a homegrown Asian brand using Asian botanicals.”
Moving forward, Melati will be launching a Christmas set with smaller 200ml bottles this year, as well as some new flavour options in 2021.