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What’s brewing for Woon Tien Yuan (above), director of local heritage brand Killiney Kopitiam? Healthier beverage options and plans to globalise. Photos: Facebook/@Killiney Singapore and @NUSBusinessSchool

If Killiney Kopitiam Boss Were A Local Drink, He Would Be Teh C Siew-Dai - Here's Why

Practice makes perfect, and more than a century of practice has certainly given one local heritage brand the opportunity to perfect the art of the humble kopi and loti combo.

Founded in 1919 at 67 Killiney Road, Killiney Kopitiam (then called Kheng Hoe Heng coffeeshop) has been dishing out this quintessential Singaporean breakfast of kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and aromatic kopi for 103 years.

Today, the household name is being led by 35-year-old Woon Tien Yuan aka "TY", whose uncle Woon Teck Seng (a regular customer of the coffeeshop) acquired the shophouse and business in 1992 in a bid to preserve this Hainanese cuisine and culture, of which he was a part, and changed its name to "Killiney Kopitiam".

We hope you had a great time with your family in this festive season. For #NUSBBA alum Woon Tien Yuan (BBA 2012),...

Posted by NUS Business School, National University of Singapore on Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Three decades later, TY is eager to take this well-loved local brand to the international stage. His drive aside, he tells us that his sense of discipline and being patient was something instilled in him during his national service. "This is very important in the business world where we need to remain focused and have the will and stamina to see projects through," he says.

We talk to the NUS Business School alum and second-generation business owner about offering "heathier" beverage options, and why he is like a cup of teh c siew dai.

Which parts of the world do you plan to take Killiney Kopitiam to, and how do you think it will stand out from popular F&B brands there?

Beyond Southeast Asia, we do have outlet presence in Australia and the US. To stand out from the rest, we are also looking to grow our brand through our CPG (consumer-packaged goods) as we believe this will complement our outlet expansion. Our premium instant beverages are now sold in China and Germany as well, and we are looking to grow this [segment and export it] to other countries this year.

We hear you have plans to offer “healthier beverages”. What could be “healthier” than a kopi o kosong?

We recently launched our new product - Killiney Cafe Au Lait, which is our modern take on a hybrid-style coffee option that is both Nanyang-style and latte-like. What is more special about this product is that it also has the HCS (Healthier Choice Symbol) endorsed by Health Promotion Board, which means it is lower in sugar and fat.

Moreover, it is one of the first instant coffees that incorporates lactobacilli in it. So it does present consumers with an alternative choice for those who wish to get a cuppa creamy and delicious yet healthier coffee option.


When it comes to Killiney’s “greatest hits”, is there a difference between local and foreign palates?

I think it is essential to recognise the differences in palates and also to adapt to it. The biggest challenge is always how to adapt while staying true to being authentic. For example, we strongly believe that our new Cafe Au Lait would be a good introduction of Nanyang-style coffee to foreigners.

In the past, visitors might have felt that our local kopi beverages were too strong in flavour for their liking, but our Cafe Au Lait does strike a good balance.

Why is it important to launch new products? What’s the disadvantage of sticking to what you do best and what you’re known for?

As the saying goes: "Change is the only constant." This is extremely true in the case of F&B businesses in Singapore. Brands have to constantly innovate to remain relevant to the ever-changing needs and preferences of consumers. For example, if Killiney were to stick to just selling our traditional coffee, tea and toast and not sell other classic dishes like curry, laksa, mee siam... then I think we would be in a disadvantaged position.

Having a long-term vision has enabled Killiney to survive through tough times. In fact, we were one of the pioneer traditional coffeeshop chains that introduced such extensive menu offerings.

If you were a Killiney drink, which one would you be and why?

I would be a Teh C Siew Dai - I think the tea drinking culture as well as its related teh drinks have largely been overshadowed by the coffee industry, so in that sense, I would like to represent the underdog! Our milk tea is very fragrant, especially if you choose the less sweet (siew dai) version which allows the tea flavours to be more prominent.

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