Why Malaysia and Singapore have become unlikely hubs for home coffee roasters

home coffee roasters
  • A recent survey shows that 61% of Malaysians are regular coffee drinkers
  • The popularity of home coffee roasting has increased in both Malaysia & Singapore
  • As this trend grows, authorities are expected to bring in stricter rules & regulations

EACH YEAR, Malaysia Coffee Week attracts thousands of visitors from around the world. Aimed predominantly at consumers, it is a platform for showcasing the latest coffee trends and helping foster an appreciation for all stages of the supply chain.

However this year was different. While brewing equipment usually dominates, March’s event saw considerable interest in home roasting.

“We started a live roasting corner which quickly became one of the popular highlights of the day,” says Steven Tan, executive director of the Singapore Coffee Association.

As well as the live roasting corner, he says that consumers were visibly more curious about different coffee origins and the seasonality of the green beans. “This shows people are willing to buy very fresh coffee,” he explains, “which is a telltale sign of a growing interest in home roasting.”

Home roasting is the process of roasting green coffee beans on a small scale for personal consumption. Unlike commercial roasting, it can be done using a range of equipment, from skillets to popcorn machines.

While it has been in practice around the world for centuries, it is a relatively new concept among Malaysian and Singaporean consumers.

“I would define home roasters as people who consider their interest in specialty coffee to be a hobby,” Steven says. “This encourages them to learn more about roast profiles, before eventually roasting coffee themselves. For the past few years, I have definitely seen this trend grow.”

home coffee roasters

Specialty coffee ‘skyrocketing’

For generations, traditional coffee houses, also known as kopitiam (kopi means coffee in Malay and tiam means shop in Hokkien) were the go-to-places for people to share a cup of coffee with friends.

In recent years, specialty coffee roasters and cafes have increasingly sprouted up across both Malaysia and Singapore, signifying a burgeoning specialty coffee movement.

While the local kopitiam still remains a favourite hang-out spot for many, there is mounting interest around the specialty coffee market. The growing number of home coffee roasters in the two countries is a clear indication of this trend.

“Appreciation for specialty coffee has been skyrocketing throughout the region, not only in Singapore and Malaysia, but in Asia and beyond,” Steven says.

A key driver is greater accessibility to green coffee and roasting equipment. Thanks to the proliferation of ecommerce and online marketplaces such as Shopee and Lazada, affordable, sleek, and easy-to-operate sample roasters have increasingly found their way into the homes of Malaysians and Singaporeans.

The availability of information and resources, as well as social sharing platforms, have also encouraged many to try their hands at home coffee roasting. For example, one Facebook group for Malaysian home roasters boasts more than 5,000 members.

However, according to Steven, the common denominator – whether roasting specialty or simply drinking it – is age. “They are mostly from a younger generation,” he says.

One reason for this is exposure to developed coffee cultures abroad. Australia, a country with rich coffee culture, is among the most popular study abroad destinations for Malaysians and Singaporeans.

This, in turn, created a new generation of consumers who are adventurous, have sophisticated taste palates, and are enthusiastic about creating coffee tailored to their own taste preferences.

green coffee beans

How will it affect the specialty coffee market?

According to a recent survey, 61% of Malaysians claim to be regular coffee drinkers. While instant coffee still dominates, the market for specialty is becoming more and more popular. Steven believes that as the number of home roasters increases, it could play an important role in expediting the transition.

“I see the [growth of home roasters] as a way of pushing people’s liking and understanding of coffee,” he says. “This means that the footfall going into specialty cafes should continue to grow. I think it will be a big boost.”

The increasing demand for green coffee beans will also allow traders to tap into new markets, specifically, the end consumers themselves.

“Because of the continuing trend of people buying home roasting machines, there will be more and more machinery distributors.” Steven says. “We are already seeing a good number of coffee machine manufacturers trying to find distributors in both countries.”

Ultimately, this could mean that there will be a wider range of products and services available in the coffee market for Malaysian and Singaporean consumers. However, Steven is mindful that high levels of activity in the home roasting community may lead to intervention by the government.

In particular, issues such as air pollution arising from roasting or home roasters eating into the share of other commercial players may force local authorities to step in.

“The overheads are so low for home roasters,” he says, “which means they can undercut other roasters who have to adhere to regulations. So it’s obvious that if the number of home roasters continues to grow and become more commercial, the authorities will step in with some guidelines. It’s only fair.”