Every year, it’s a tradition of June Chang’s to go travelling with a good girlfriend of hers to celebrate their birthdays together.
But one year was different—the year of the pandemic, 2020 (which, as we know, later extended into most of 2021 too).
Grounded in Malaysia, as the Executive Director of Caffeinees Group (Caffeinees), the parent company of various F&B brands such as Chateau de C.A.F.F.E.I.N.E.E.S and Yamaguchi Fish Market, June turned to her trusted head chef.
She requested that he prepare an omakase course and an impressive dessert to sweeten their palates after, and off he went to work.
It just so happened then that it was coincidentally truffle season, and Caffeinees had imported some from Italy.
Into the omakase the exotic fungus went, and the head chef also decided to put it into some chocolates he’d made, likely keeping in mind a comment June had previously told her team:
“When we buy ‘truffle chocolates’, it’s because they’re shaped like truffles. But I hadn’t really tried ones that tasted like truffle. So, I was always thinking, if we can have the truffle element in there, why not?”
With the head chef’s initial creation, the Caffeinees team then began making improvements to the truffle chocolate.
Today, Caffeinees boasts truffle nama chocolates, truffle chocolate nougats, truffle chocolate cookies, and more, under its latest F&B brand, Truffle Chocolate Malaysia (TCM).
No trifling matter
TCM’s truffle chocolate desserts are made with in-house truffle oil, ensuring that they’re using genuine truffle-infused oil for aroma and flavour.
Over the years, there’s been quite some controversy regarding how a lot of commercial truffle oil isn’t actually made from truffles.
Instead, they’re made from 2,4-dithiapentane, a synthetic molecule that gives truffles their signature aroma.
June reassured us that making their own truffle oil in-house enables them to maintain strict quality control, and the Italian truffles they infuse in olive oil would later be used in other dishes at Caffeinees’ restaurants.
Giving their star products their signature chocolatey flavour is also 80% dark cocoa sourced from local farmers, and this is what June believes can propel TCM and the larger cocoa industry in Malaysia onto the global stage.
“We have to make use of our competitive advantages. It’s either rubber, palm oil, gas, or cocoa,” June said when describing what some of Malaysia’s top natural resources are.
As a long-time F&B brand then, championing our local cocoa was a no-brainer.
Down to the smallest detail
It took about eight to six months for TCM’s truffle nama chocolates to be ready for sale. Every step of the process was scrutinised, from how each chocolate was hand-shaped to even the types of boxes they would be stored in.
Since TCM prides itself on not using any preservatives in their products, the team had to ensure that the types of packaging they used would be able to maintain a cooler temperature.
If the box was too warm, the cocoa powder coating on the truffle nama chocolates would get damp, ruining the overall quality and tasting experience.
Other R&D challenges included making chocolates of different flavours such as matcha and strawberry. Those, June and her team learnt, tended to mask the flavour of the truffle.
Hence, TCM’s truffle chocolate products maintain their original rich flavour, with the star product easily being the truffle nama chocolates. Each one is delicately handmade, giving it its signature irregular shape.
Trying them ourselves, our palates noted how the velvety smooth chocolates have their deep and mildly bitter notes accentuated by the luxuriously pungent aroma and signature savouriness of truffles.
Put simply, TCM does not skimp on ensuring you taste every bit of their truffle oil in their products.
Making a “nama” for themselves
With a premium product that appealed to those with more discerning palates, TCM knew they wanted to send it overseas to markets where such flavours would be well-appreciated.
However, the lack of preservatives in the truffle nama chocolates posed a challenge in terms of freshness.
Thus, the team have sent them to the lab for shelf-life tests, and in the meantime, they came up with products that were more stable.
The truffle chocolate nougats and cookies also carry no preservatives, but they’ve got longer shelf lives than the pure nama chocolates, making them easier to ship overseas.
Despite her plans though, June also mused that perhaps they’ll keep the truffle nama chocolates exclusive to Malaysia.
Much like how tourists would visit Taiwan and buy its popular pineapple cakes, June wants TCM’s truffle nama chocolates to be something that tourists to Malaysia would want to try and buy as souvenirs.
Increasing accessibility for elevated F&B experiences
After hearing the lengths that June and TCM went to in order to create a line of premium truffle-infused products, the main question we had was: why?
It’s not a stretch to say that the majority of Malaysian consumers are still unfamiliar with truffle, since it’s not an ingredient easily found in our daily diets. Not to mention, its status as a luxury food item with a price tag to match.
June acknowledged this, and pointed out that the very reason to their “why” was exactly what’s mentioned above.
Hence, they’ve chosen to lower their profit margins by making the starting price of their truffle nama chocolates RM88. Ideally, this would make the premium product more affordable to the mass market.
“In F&B, we actually have the responsibility to elevate and educate Malaysian dining experiences,” June shared.
It’s a vision and mission that the Caffeinees team take seriously, which is why they came up with brands like Black Market for casual fine dining, Eight Gourmets Gala, described as a “high class food alley”, Feng Dining which is luxury dining on wheels, and more.
Passion & persistence is the name of the game
From her many ventures thus far, it’s clear that an important value for June to embody is persistence. Proof of this dates all the way back to when June and her brother were just starting their F&B journey.
They both initially learnt to be baristas when studying in Melbourne, which is where their dream to bring artisan coffee culture to Malaysia also began.
So, they started a café when they returned, but due to it being in a non-strategic location, they ended up making losses.
Though they eventually found their footing, June recalled how hard it was to convince their father that their F&B ambitions were a worthwhile pursuit, and their initial struggles didn’t help.
After all, he was already running their family business, a successful textile company, and would have preferred that his children continue to take up the mantle.
With June and her brother’s grit though, they won their father over, and today, June proudly shared that he’s their biggest supporter.
Sure, their lives could’ve been easier had they just continued working for the family business. “But the thing is, is that what we want to do?” June recalled.
“If I purely want to make money, I don’t have to do F&B, it’s so much trouble.”
Why go into F&B then? June’s answer was simple: passion.
“I will proudly say, that even after 16 years [of working in F&B], every day I wake up, I’m so happy about my own work.”
Passion is what drives her to do what she does, whether it’s still walking into Caffeinees to make coffee for customers despite her team of competent baristas, or refusing to put certain products up for sale because they do not satisfy her personal standards.
A foot overseas, but with eyes set on local grounds
TCM’s products (barring the truffle nama chocolates) are today already in Singapore, Brunei, Hong Kong, and China.
But this expansion plan will remain this way for a while, as June shared they’re in the midst of some restructuring, along with taking into account the increase in costs.
That being said, TCM has opened up the doors for Caffeinees’ overseas expansion as a whole, and there’s no doubt that the company will be making more international moves once Malaysia’s economic situation improves.
For now, local growth will be their priority, and to help with that, TCM has submitted an application to obtain Halal certification.
Come the end of July, the team will also be launching their truffle chocolate mooncakes in time for the Mid-Autumn Festival.
- Learn more about Caffeinees and Truffle Chocolate Malaysia here and here.
- Read about more Malaysian startups we’ve covered here.
All images credit: Vulcan Post