KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 8 — What happens when you marry a pop-up shop with a specialty café? Well, you’re likely to get something not unlike Spacebar Coffee, a pop-up coffee bar by Joachim Leong and Shean Tan, two of the founders of CafeHop KL (a project mapping specialty cafés in Kuala Lumpur).
Spacebar Coffee offers both coffee and cascara teas, which is a pleasant, soothing tea made from dried coffee cherries. The duo first came up with the idea for Spacebar Coffee as a means to share coffee that they encountered during their travels overseas with others.
“We bought so much that we didn’t think we could finish all of them in a short period of time and the beans were losing their freshness. So, we brought them over to a café where we did a quick cupping and sharing session,” says Leong.
That first café was Awesome Canteen in Taman Paramount, where Spacebar Coffee served hand-brewed filter coffees using beans from around the world. Tan says, “We had bumped into Diane Ong (co-owner of Awesome Canteen) at our first pop-up booth at the Art for Grabs bazaar a year ago. We told her we were looking for a space to brew and share good coffee. Being a self-professed fan of our coffee, she immediately said, ‘Why not pop up at my place?’, and as they say, the rest is history.”
After a three-month stint at Awesome Canteen, Spacebar Coffee continued with another two-month spell at Le Lapin Café in Taman Desa. At Le Lapin, both espresso-based coffees as well as filter coffees were offered. Leong says, “For our espresso coffees, we were pulling shots from beans roasted and blended by a local small-batch coffee roaster, Sprezzatura Coffee. We are working with them to develop a special espresso blend for our set-up.”
By setting up a limited period coffee bar at different venues, the Spacebar Coffee baristas get a chance to practise their craft and also test the coffee preferences of a particular neighbourhood and its community.
Serving great cuppas to customers isn’t the only thing Spacebar Coffee does. Tan says, “We also do coffee appreciation classes by introducing beans from different countries of origin. There are unique traits that may make coffees taste different from each other, including the farm where they were grown and harvested, the varietal (the ‘family' that the coffee comes from), the processing of the beans and even the roaster’s particular style.”
Both baristas are huge fans of the pop-up as a learning model for a new business. Leong says, “For us, a pop-up is really just a platform where anyone can share ideas, sell their labour of art and crafts, books and more, without having to tie themselves down to a long-term commitment (i.e. at least 12 months or more). It’s a good way to boost awareness of goods and services, reach out to the community, and test out new ideas.”
Some pop-ups may eventually become more permanent with an actual full-time shop while others may keep changing their location or modify their operations altogether. Tan says, “For us, we are constantly on the look-out for a suitable location to begin our own place. However, we are still consolidating a lot of information and taking things a little slowly. We love to experiment — from the layout of our menus to our brewing recipes and bean choices — and we love to move around, trying out different spaces.”
Different locations offer different sets of challenges, naturally. The first thing the duo does at any pop-up is to gauge the type of crowd that would visit the place. For example, they realised that at Awesome Canteen, besides the young professionals from the offices nearby who were already drinking espresso coffees, many of the patrons were actually of the older generation.
“Most of the regulars at Awesome Canteen are long-time residents of the neighbourhood. They go about drinking their kopi-O at their favourite kopitiams and are often curious about what we do at our booth. We try to explain and get them to be interested in our coffees, and often end up offering them the choice of the bolder coffees we have,” says Leong.
Some of their new customers and fans must be curious about their name. Why Spacebar Coffee? Tan explains, “We had a few different names in mind, but it really clicked when our friend Leonard mentioned that ‘There’s always space for good coffee.’ We realised that we could set up a simple coffee bar wherever there’s space.”
Certainly in the capital that seems to be the trend these days: wherever there is space, there is a new coffee bar popping up. Spacebar Coffee just happens to be one that moves around. Catch them if you can!
Spacebar Coffee will pop up next at:
The Red Beanbag, Lot A4-1-8, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, Kuala Lumpur
Dates: 8-31 October 2014 (weekdays only, excluding Mondays)