When Barrie Nasim first started Collective Malaysia in 2015, he had one aim; introduce specialty coffee to as many people as he could.
Six years on and despite facing some daunting challenges during Collective’s early years, his relentless pursuit in promoting and educating the masses on specialty coffee has paid off.
From roasting coffee to training baristas, Collective has slowly but steadily turned more Malaysians towards specialty coffee. Now he finds that people are more engaged with their cuppa, coming into the cafe knowing exactly what they want and knowing how to ask the baristas for it.
“It used to be the other way round, where the barista would recommend something that might change their whole coffee experience. Now, customers want to know how you source your coffee, who you source it from, and how it is processed.”
It hadn’t always been like this. When Collective first started, specialty coffee was still in its infancy in Malaysia, something very new and very niche to coffee drinkers in the country. Most people did not know what it was and had no reason to try it, let alone spend more money on it.
This proved a challenge for Barrie and his team in the early years.
“The first few years were the toughest. Because you are introducing something new, customers tend to question — what is this, what is so special about your coffee? Why is it sour? Why is it so acidic?”
But that motivated Barrie even more to try to grow the market for specialty coffee in Malaysia.
He and his team spent the first few years rigorously educating and spreading awareness about specialty coffee. They approached cafes to talk about specialty coffee, held food and coffee events, workshops and seminars, and hosted coffee cupping sessions to inspire coffee enthusiasts from all walks of life.
“We organised the first AeroPress Throwdown, held the first latte art competition at different cafes across Klang Valley, and also penetrated hotels all over the country, getting them to make the switch to specialty coffees instead of the commercial ones they had been using.”
People slowly started getting curious about it, trying their first cup of specialty coffee, and appreciating the mesmerising and vibrant flavours that differentiate specialty coffee from commercial blends.
“Considering how far we’ve come in the specialty coffee scene in Malaysia, I think we can safely say we’ve contributed to the growth in the industry.”
What sparked Barrie’s fervent interest in the caffeinated craft? It all started when he was working in London and stumbled upon a cafe called Notes Coffee Roasters.
Unfamiliar to specialty coffee, he asked the barista to recommend “something different and something good” to him. That was when he was introduced to the pour over, and it blew his mind.
“I never expected coffee to be so sweet, so fruity, and so sparkling. I asked the barista, “Is this coffee?”, to which he said, “Yes, it’s pure, organic specialty coffee, nothing added”.”
That was the paradigm shift that changed his views towards coffee and kick-started his journey. It was a life-changing cup of coffee.
Enchanted by that experience, Barrie set out to learn the craft of coffee making. He started reading voraciously on all things coffee and visited specialty coffee cafes around London to speak to baristas.
He even took up a stint as a barista to hone his skills and put his theoretical knowledge to practice.
He later enrolled himself in the London School of Coffee where he learned more advanced coffee making skills. The training included intensive coffee roasting and brewing courses as well as instruction in coffee making and tasting.
With these newfound skills and knowledge fuelled by a burning passion, Barrie returned to Malaysia and eventually co-founded Collective Malaysia in 2015.
Today, Barrie and his team are not resting on their laurels. Despite already making their mark in the local coffee scene, they strive to continue delivering the best coffees from carefully selected origins, putting quality and sustainability first.
In addition to directly sourcing their own coffees and roasting them in-house, Collective also provides barista training for coffee enthusiasts of all levels. They also supply machines, grinders, accessories, and provide training consultancy for people who are looking to start up a cafe, restaurant, or coffee kiosk.
What underscores everything they do has never changed — the mission to spread specialty coffee to as many people as possible through transparent, traceable, and sustainable sourcing from farmers, and provide an exceptional coffee experience to consumers.