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Business Insider: Coffee culture perks up market

Kim Chhean, business development director of Kofi, photographed last week in Phnom Penh.
Kim Chhean, business development director of Kofi, photographed last week in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Business Insider: Coffee culture perks up market

Cambodia has followed much of the rest of the world to embrace a coffee culture, putting a higher emphasis on high quality coffee products. The Post’s Cheng Sokhorng sat down with Kim Chhean, business development director of Kofi Co Ltd, to discuss how the local coffee industry has grown in recent years and trends in the market.

When did Kofi first launch and how was the market for coffee products back then?
Kofi first launched in 2009, and it was a tough business from the start. At that time, nobody knew what espresso coffee was all about. We only had four- and five-star hotels offering this type of coffee and it was very hard to get into the market because we were a new player.

What made you decide the coffee business was a good place to start?
When I studied in Melbourne, Australia, I worked part-time in various coffee shops. After I finished my bachelor’s degree, my husband and I opened a coffee shop. We ran it for three years before we sold it and came back to Cambodia in early 2009. With the money we had from sales, we started Kofi.

We try to make life easy for our clients, because we can only succeed when our clients succeed. This is why 90 percent of the coffee chains in Cambodia are working with us.

How has demand and competition for coffee products and equipment changed with the explosive growth of a coffee-drinking culture in Cambodia?
Even small stands have modern coffee machines now. If there are two stands, one with a coffee machine and one without, the one with the coffee machine will generally do better. People are starting to appreciate quality, freshness, professionalism and – most importantly – the art of coffee making.

There are many companies who see an opportunity to enter the market. I am disappointed, though, that there’s a lack of innovation to improve the industry. There are only copycats who try to copy what we do.

What are some of the common misconceptions you have noticed regarding coffee-making equipment in Cambodia?
One big misconception is that if clients buy expensive machines, their coffee will taste better. Generally, expensive machines will give you quality, consistency and reliability. But great coffee will come from the coffee itself.

The barista plays a vital role in producing a great cup of coffee, too. That is why our company places great importance on barista training and support. Our baristas do coffee-quality checkups for our customers to ensure they serve great cups of coffee using our beans.

In this industry, too, technicians must know about coffee on top of their expertise on equipment. When our technicians go out to service our customers’ machines, they ensure the machines are producing the best coffee possible.

Do you face much competition from counterfeit and low-cost imitation products?
Yes. There are a few companies and individuals who are not properly registered, and they sell cheap brands of coffee equipment. They advertise on Facebook so they don’t have to pay taxes. Unfortunately, it is quite easy to bring equipment into the country without paying duties and taxes, while we have to comply with the law and pay 35 percent in import duties and 10 percent VAT.

‘K-cup’ single-cup coffee machines are hugely popular worldwide, especially for home use. Have you seen a market for them in Cambodia yet?
K-Cup coffee should be popular because it is very convenient and the price of equipment is very low. However, there’s only a small demand in Cambodia now. The quality [of K-Cup coffee] is not yet comparable to fresh coffee. But with the traffic in Phnom Penh getting worse every day, I would like to say that it is only a matter of time before people start to buy [K-Cup] units for their homes or offices. I think many would rather push a button and get their coffee fix rather than go out and get stuck in traffic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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