Kelvin Ngow Wai Hng: Brewing for change

Kelvin Ngow Wai Hng, president of the Malaysia Specialty Coffee Association (MSCA), shares what the association is doing to support its members in their commercial endeavours, and how it is growing the speciality coffee market through public events

Who are members in MSCA and how much has it grown since its establishment in 2013?
MSCA was established in August 2013 with the vision of further growing the coffee industry and building the market for speciality coffee. The association comprises coffee professionals such as coffee operators, roasters, suppliers, distributors and baristas. Membership has grown incrementally from 12 members in the beginning, to 98 members currently.

You were instrumental in helping to form MSCA back in August 2013. Why did you think that an association was needed then?
One of the main reasons the association was formed was to be able to hold official competitions for baristas so that the winners could then go on and compete in the World Coffee Championships (WCC).

One of the prerequisites to enter this competition was that the competitors must be a winner from the national body sanctioned by the World Coffee Events, which in the case of Malaysia, it is through this association. It is important for our national barista champions to join international competitions as it provides them with further exposure and it also contributes to the growth of the local café industry.

As president, what are your plans for the association?
My focus is on a few things, such as engagement with members and ensuring they benefit from our activities such as organising workshops on coffee making; organising farm trips to see how coffee is grown, and the process it undergoes from farm to table.

Last year, the association organised coffee farm visits to Jakarta and Bandung in Indonesia. This trip was heavily subsidised by the association so as to encourage participation from members. We have also run events to arm our members with business skills, and of course, we organise events such as coffee cupping so members can also network and learn from each other.

Does the association also organise consumer-based events to educate the public on speciality coffee?
Yes, we do. Every year we organise Coffee Week as a means of educating the general public on the different types of speciality coffee. The exhibitors are our members and they are mainly specialty coffee suppliers and micro roasters.

During Coffee Week, the public can sample and make purchases of speciality coffee from Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya, Colombia, Brazil and Indonesia, among many other countries. This year, there will be two events. The first event was held in Johor in March, and the next one will be held in Selangor this October. Coffee Week is always held in a mall as that is where the crowd is.

How has business been for members post-lockdown?
The incremental growth last year has been many times greater than in 2019. However, the coffee industry has not yet fully recovered. Although I expect that business will continue to grow in 2023, it will be at a slower pace than last year. I project the industry’s growth this year will range between 10 to 20 per cent over last year. The incremental growth last year was more than 100 per cent compared with 2019.

How does the association raise funds to carry out its activities?
We raise funds through our competitions and B2B coffee expos that we organise. Funds are raised through sponsorship, offering advertising spaces at the venue, as well as offering bid opportunities for coffee machine suppliers whereby the coffee machines of the highest bidder will be exclusively used in the competition.

Do you have any challenges in maintaining the current membership?
Not really. When new members think of joining our association, they will weigh the pros and cons of what the organisation can do for them. But once they have been in the organisation for some time, they will start to give back to the association. I am happy to say that the turnover rate of members is low. Usually when members leave the association, it is because they are no longer in the coffee business.