Roast quality beans, Brew fresh coffee, Stir social scene
Tang Khyhay seeks to find the motivations of coffee drinkers in the capital city, and find out why modern cafes are taking over the town.
Romantic songs play throughout the air-conditioned space and the smell of coffee fills the air. Waiters and waitresses in white shirts and black trousers are busy walking back and forth, serving customers with laptops on the tables, while groups of youths are chit-chatting. In the other corner, couples sit quietly drinking their coffee with cakes and French fries. It is a typical scene in a modern café in a city where many people seemingly flock to coffee spots.
The number of cafés has been growing rapidly in the last few years. T&C World, a brand of CBM Corporation that has benefitted greatly form this boom since it started in 2002, now has 12 branches in Phnom Penh, but they are now competing against dozens of other modern shops in town.
People in Phnom Penh are not new to coffee, but the flourishing Western-style café culture shows a shifting preference from simpler, and less expensive, local shops.
Chang Bunleang, the manager of Brown coffee and bakery, estimates that sales grew 20 to 30 percent last year, encouraging Brown to open a second branch late last year.
“More and more people are coming to Brown for coffee, especially young people and foreigners. People seem to be fond of foreign-style coffee nowadays,” he said.
As the number of foriegn- modelled cafés in the city grows, growers of local Mondulkiri coffee have also seen a spike in sales, but Cambodian producers still can’t crack into the high quality market.
Yun Thorn, the director of Mondulkiri coffee shop, which produces coffee beans from Mondulkiri province, said his sales last year tripled compared to 2008, to three tons per month, mostly due to foreigners buying in bulk.
Despite the increase in sales, his product is still not on the shelves of the modern cafés in Phnom Penh.
“We do not have any investors for Mondulkiri coffee yet, and no contracted partners either,” said Yun Thorn, adding that customers can reach them directly and get products sent to their home countries.
Chang Bunleang imports coffee from Chiang Mai in Thailand for Brown.
I go to coffee shops for leisure activities, relaxing and for group discussions about school assignments.
“Mondulkiri coffee needs more scientific methods to make and grow the coffee,” he said, explaining that the roasting techniques are underdeveloped, partly because investors aren’t funding companies to improve the skills of their staff. Chang Bunleang said Brown is considering greater cooperation and investment in Mondulkiri coffee.
It’s not just the coffee
However, coffee is not only draw to Cambodian cafes. Soun Kanika, a student at Paññasastra University of Cambodia, said she liked to go to cafés mainly to see friends. “I like the dim lights and comfortable seats and sofas,” she said. “I go to coffee shops for leisure activities, relaxing and for group discussions aboutschool assignments.”
Uong Muoyseak is another coffee enthusiast, but she prefers concoctions such as Frappes and Cappuccinos to standard iced coffee.
“It is a kind of new taste and new culture. I like the cream on the coffee and the blend of ice mixed with coffee,” said Muoyseak.
The decision to sell foreign coffee to ensure a good business was also made by Café Sentiment. The three branches of café has used Illa coffee, which is an Italian brand, to serve to its customers.
Koeung Kimsreang, the operation manager of Café Sentiment, said they decided to use Illa coffee because of its quality and brand name plus the international standard from the factory.
Explaining Mondulkiri coffee is different from foreign coffee, Kimsreang said that good coffee was grown in a mountainous area where the temperature was cold and it was difficult to harvest, only once or twice a year. Yet Mondulkiri coffee is grown at the foot of a mountain, which means the quality of coffee beans produced is not so good.
“The roasting process also greatly affects the taste of coffee,” said Kimsreang, who added that Cambodian’s skills in making coffee are still limited, which means there are no reliable standards like in most international products.
He said that to survive in the competitive coffee market in the city, he did not dare risk the business, for foreign customers believe in brand names.
Lim Keaheng, who was buying Mondulkiri coffee from a stall at the One Province One Product Exhibition at Koh Pich, said the coffee tasted pretty good, but he also pointed out that it was hard to make a cup of coffee since it was not instant coffee.
“When I want to make a cup of Mondulkiri coffee, I have to do some other tasks such as filtering the coffee beans, which takes time to just drink coffee,” said Lim Keaheng, who pointed out that he preferred drinking coffee at modern cafés where he could also enjoy using free wireless internet.
“To me, foreign coffees taste better, but the price is also high,” he said.
While modern cafés boom in the city, Mondulkiri Café and Hotel, which serves Mondulkiri coffee in traditional ways, suffers from a decreasing number of customers.
Srey Youlida, an accountant at Mondulkiri Café and Hotel near the Sorya shopping center, said the profits from selling coffee were down due to economic issues.
“Most of the customers are in their middle age. Not many young people come to drink ice coffee,” said Youlida.
Wanting to make Mondulkiri coffee more available to average people, Yun Thorn, the director of Mondulkiri Coffee, has just introduced a new product.
“Three-in-One Mondulkiri coffee is now available in the market. The coffee can be ready in a minute. Just pour in boiling water and your drink is ready,” said Yun Thorn, who hoped his new product will sell well.